Homestead: Season finale preview

Championship battle goes to final race for ninth time DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 17, 2004) -- The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship will be settled in Friday's season-ending Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Again. As...

Championship battle goes to final race for ninth time

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 17, 2004) -- The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship will be settled in Friday's season-ending Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Again. As usual.

Four competitors mathematically have a shot at their first series titles, marking the ninth time in 10 seasons the battle has gone down to the season finale.

Bobby Hamilton (No. 4 Square D Dodge) holds the lead by 70 points over Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Silverado Chevrolet) as the series heads for South Florida. Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Dodge) is 130 points back in third with Carl Edwards (No. 99 Superchips Ford) 148 points out in fourth.

Hamilton, who finished second in last weekend's Darlington 200, controls his own destiny. A 14th-place finish will make the Nashville, Tenn. competitor the oldest series champion at 47 years and five months. Ron Hornaday Jr. was 40 years and five months old when he captured his second NASCAR Craftsman Truck title in 1998.

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series veteran has enjoyed a banner season, winning four times and posting a series-high 12 top-five finishes. Hamilton joined the series fulltime in 2003 and wound up sixth in final standings.

"We don't think, by any means, that we have the championship in the bag going into Homestead. We have plans to run our same deal there, to lead at least one lap and finish as good as we can in the race."

History is also on Hamilton's side. The points leader entering the final race has won the championship seven times. There is, however, no sure thing. Hamilton's pursuers won't willingly hand him the title.

"Last year we came down here fourth in points and left second, so we know that anything can happen in this last race," said Setzer, recalling the 2003 Ford 200 in which each of the four title contenders had a grip on the championship during the 201-mile, 134-lap event. "I wanted to be a little closer in the points, but we will just stick to our game plan and see where it goes from there."

Musgrave also was involved in last year's shoot-out. He finished third behind 2003 champion Travis Kvapil (No. 24 LINE-X Toyota) and Setzer. Musgrave, who trailed the leader by 290 points in late August, has mounted the greatest comeback this season. He finished third at Darlington.

"Our plan for Miami is to go down there and do the best that we can," said Musgrave, the 2001 championship runner-up. "We're going to try to lead the most laps and get the most points. In order to win, we really need fate to go on the other side, where key teams experience some of the bad luck we've had. We're further ahead in the points chase than we were last season, but honestly, we were probably in a better position to win the championship last year. If things would fall our way in Miami, and we'd get a good break, it would be great."

Edwards, who will move to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series in 2005, won't be this year's champion. He'll be mathematically eliminated if Hamilton starts Friday's race.

The 25-year-old Missouri native, however, can bookend the season with a victory. Edwards won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

"I feel like this championship was won or lost throughout the whole year," said Edwards, who is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Darlington 200 and a seventh in Sunday's Mountain Dew Southern 500. "If we don't win, it's not because we haven't tried here lately. I feel like we've done our best, finishing in the top 10 eight of the (last) nine (races)."

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ted Musgrave , Dennis Setzer , Carl Edwards , Travis Kvapil