Phoenix: Penultimate round preview

* Top-10 rankings still up in the air as 2005 season winds down * Musgrave could clinch NASCAR Craftsman Truck title at Phoenix DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 7, 2005) -- The measure of a driver and a team in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has...

* Top-10 rankings still up in the air as 2005 season winds down

* Musgrave could clinch NASCAR Craftsman Truck title at Phoenix

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 7, 2005) -- The measure of a driver and a team in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has been a top-10 championship finish.

Achieving that goal has never been more difficult.

Heading into Friday's Silverado 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, the standings remain in flux -- just as they have been since the season began in February at Daytona International Speedway.

Twenty-one different drivers have held a top-10 position through the year's first 23 races. The No. 10 ranking -- last to earn a spot on-stage at the Dec. 11 Champion's Awards Ceremony in Orlando, Fla. -- has changed 14 times among nine drivers.

With two races remaining on the schedule, only 97 points are the difference between eighth and 12th. The battle pits veterans like Jimmy Spencer (No. 2 Team ASE Dodge) against such newcomers at Todd Kluever (No. 50 Shell Rotella T Ford). Spencer is eighth; Kluever 12th.

"The added competition in the series has made it more difficult to stay in the top 10," said Jack Sprague (No. 60 Jeff Wyler Toyota), who has occupied a position among the top 10 in each of his eight fulltime seasons. The three-time Phoenix winner currently ranks ninth. "Of course, there is added pressure -- pressure I put on myself," Sprague said.

"I've had an up and down year with only one win but I've managed to stay on the bubble of the top 10 in driver points all season."

David Reutimann (No. 17 NTN Bearings Toyota) has accomplished one goal in his sophomore season. He won at Nashville Superspeedway.

But another career milestone continues to elude the 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, who's 13th and 46 points out of 10th.

"At this point of the season, after the run of mechanical failures we've had, the only thing left for us to do is get back into the top 10," said Reutimann.

"It's not going to be easy to get back in the top 10 because there are a lot of great drivers vying for the same spots. Our mindset for these last two races is to finish in the top five or win both."

This week's bubble driver is Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards/Seal Best Chevrolet), who earlier this season might have been considered an unlikely top-10 candidate with a team that never has finished a driver among the top 10 in seven fulltime seasons. Crafton was 11th in 2003.

Crafton, however, has been 10th or higher since the season's second race and looks forward to staying there -- ahead of some pretty significant competition.

"It's not going to be the end of the world for us if we don't," said Crafton, adding that he wants to make a statement about the growth of his ThorSport Racing team. "We want to be a top 10-team because we are a top-10 team. We want to run good in the last couple of races because it will give us great momentum for next year."


This year's championship battle essentially has evolved into a two-driver race with Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Dodge) leading Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Silverado Z71 Chevrolet) by 63 points. Musgrave could close out the race at Phoenix although odds are that it will go down to the Nov. 18 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the 10th time in 11 seasons.

Four drivers -- Musgrave, Setzer, Todd Bodine (No. 30 Germain Motor Company Toyota) and Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) -- mathematically remain in the title hunt. Musgrave clinches by winning the Silverado 150 and leading the most laps if Setzer finishes 34th or worse. If Setzer finishes 36th -- and last -- Musgrave only needs to win the race.

Given both drivers' records at the one-mile oval, Musgrave and Setzer have to be considered for contending roles in the Silverado 150. Until last year's 19th-place finish, Musgrave had run among the top five on four occasions and never worse than sixth. Setzer has six top-10 finishes in eight starts, the best a third in 2003, and has finished off the lead lap just twice, both times due to accidents.

"Right now our team could use a good run and this could be the place to get it," said Setzer, who has finished outside the top 10 in seven of his eight most recent starts.


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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Todd Bodine , Jimmy Spencer , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ted Musgrave , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Matt Crafton , David Reutimann , Todd Kluever