Loudon: Round 18 preview

Three-way points battle boiling as scene shifts to New Hampshire DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 15, 2004) - The 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship battle heads into this week with the outcome every bit as clouded as a year ago. In 2003,...

Three-way points battle boiling as scene shifts to New Hampshire

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 15, 2004) - The 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship battle heads into this week with the outcome every bit as clouded as a year ago. In 2003, the title was decided on the last lap of the final race and the same scenario could happen this year.

Next up is Saturday's SYLVANIA 200 presented by Lowe's at New Hampshire International Speedway. Eight different drivers in as many years have won at the 1.058-mile flat oval, but only two of those winners - Ron Hornaday Jr. in 1996 and Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) in 2001 - have gone on to win the championship.

Sprague, who's 11th in the current points standings, likely will have to be satisfied with the "spoiler" rule this time around. That wouldn't be surprising at New Hampshire where Sprague's six appearances have produced a pair of Bud Poles and three top-two performances.

Up front, just 74 points separate the top-three championship contenders with eight races remaining. Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Silverado Chevrolet), who's currently second in the standings, is on par with Sprague when it comes to mastering the series' northernmost track. Setzer won at New Hampshire in 1999 and also boasts second-, third- and fourth-place finishes there.

A year ago, Carl Edwards (No. 99 Superchips Ford) was a Raybestos Rookie contender. Currently ranked third in the points standings, Edwards finished second at New Hampshire, just ahead of current points leader Bobby Hamilton (No. 4 Square D Dodge) and Setzer.

Among the top three, Edwards would seem to have the most momentum on his side. The three-time winner, who's led the points standings twice this season, quickly is overcoming a mini-slump that found him more than 200 points behind Hamilton as recently as two races ago.

Edwards has made up two-thirds of that deficit with a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway and a fifth-place finish at Richmond International Raceway. Hamilton and Setzer, meanwhile, twice have finished outside the top 10. "We closed a big gap at Richmond so a win at New Hampshire would be huge," said Edwards, who also will compete in Sunday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event.

Some speculated that running both series might diminish Edwards' chances of winning the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title - especially after the second-year competitor dropped from 34 to 204 points off the lead over a five-race stretch in July and early August.

The opposite appears to be the case, especially at New Hampshire where he'll get double the amount of track time. The SYLVANIA 200 presented by Lowe's marks the 25-year-old's 50th NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start.

"We're going to give this championship pursuit a 100 percent effort," said Edwards, a top-10 finisher in three of his first four NASCAR NEXTEL Cup starts driving the No. 99 Roush Racing Ford.

Hamilton, arguably the most veteran driver in the series, still isn't counting points.

"We'll talk about points with five races to go," he said after finishing 26th at Richmond. "There's no need to worry about them now."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Carl Edwards