Indy IRP: Round fourteen preview

Mid-season points battle closest in NASCAR Craftsman Truck history DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 30, 2003) -- The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series enters the second half of the 2003 season with Friday's Power Stroke Diesel 200, bringing to ...

Mid-season points battle closest in NASCAR Craftsman Truck history

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 30, 2003) -- The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series enters the second half of the 2003 season with Friday's Power Stroke Diesel 200, bringing to Indianapolis Raceway Park the closest midway championship battle in series history.

For Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 Orleans Hotel Dodge) and Travis Kvapil (No. 16 IWX Motor Freight Chevrolet), the year might as well be starting anew.

Each competitor has scored 2,000 points for a numerical tie broken only by Gaughan's four victories -- his most recent last Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

Veteran Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Performance Dodge) isn't far behind, trailing Gaughan and Kvapil by 31 points.

This year's points race surpasses the 1995 battle -- the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' inaugural campaign -- when Joe Ruttman led Mike Skinner (No. 15 Vokal Clothing/Fasscore Dodge) by eight points. Butch Miller held the third spot, 35 points off the lead.

The season's first 13 races have seen eight different winning drivers -- including three first-time winners. Carl Edwards (No. 99 Roush Racing Ford), who won at Kentucky, extended the seasons to four in which a Raybestos rookie has won.

Here's how the top five in the current point standings, plus Raybestos Rookie leader Edwards, rate their performances in the season's first half, along with a self-awarded mid-term grade:

* Gaughan, last year's Raybestos Rookie of the Year, is without a doubt the hottest driver on the series -- and possibly in NASCAR. The 27-year-old former NASCAR Winston West Series and off-road champion has won two straight races and four of his last seven.

"We expect to win a lot; we don't expect to be bad," said Gaughan of his Las Vegas-based team. "I'd only say we're a B+ or an A- because there's always room for improvement."

* Kvapil's Xpress Motorsports team is right where it was a year ago -- when Mike Bliss carried the team to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship. Kvapil hasn't won yet -- but three of Bliss' four victories in 2002 came after Aug. 1.

"We need to step up our performance a little bit, turn our top fives into top threes and lead more laps," said Kvapil, whose eight top-five and 11 top-10 finishes share the current lead in both performance categories. Grade -- B+

* Two DNFs -- an accident at Daytona and engine failure at Dover -- are the difference between third and first for Musgrave, who won the inaugural Hardee's 200 at Lowe's Motor Speedway and the series' 200th race at Memphis Motorsports Park.

"We're going to build new trucks, the same thing that's helped some other teams," said Musgrave. "Right now, we're not quite there. We've just been fair." Grade -- B+

* Dennis Setzer (No. 46 AXIOM/Computer Associates Chevrolet) got off to a quick start with back-to-back victories at Mesa Marin Raceway and Martinsville Speedway. Setzer is battling to overcome two finishes of 23rd or lower but is doing so with an eight-race string of top 10s.

"We'd like to have been better at the mile-and-a-half tracks but that hasn't been our place to excel," said Setzer, with a nod to crew chief Danny Gill. "Danny does a great job calling races. He's put us in some great positions." Grade -- B-

* Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford) still basks in the glow of his Daytona International Speedway victory but admits the team struggled while crew chief Ray Stonkus couldn't travel due to illness. Stonkus has recovered and Crawford is looking for a finish to rival 2003 -- when he ranked second to Bliss.

"The season so far has been tough on the team, what with some new faces and Ray being gone for three races," said Crawford. "We have the necessary pieces but the team has to come back as a team. There's a lot of potential if we can make it all come together." Grade -- B+

* Edwards went from finishing last at Dover in May to claiming his first series victory at Kentucky in July. The 23-year-old Missourian has finished out of the top 10 just once in the past seven races.

"Before the season started I had no idea how perfect everything had to be for a driver to do well in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series," said Edwards. "For a while, we were nothing better than a C-; we're a B at this point."

The mid-year points leader has won the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship just three of eight years -- Ron Hornaday Jr. in 1996, Jack Sprague in 1999 and Greg Biffle in 2000.


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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Mike Skinner , Greg Biffle , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ted Musgrave , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Rick Crawford , Joe Ruttman , Brendan Gaughan , Mike Bliss , Carl Edwards , Butch Miller