Veteran drivers out-dueling young guns

Veteran drivers out-dueling "young guns" in early-season action. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 26, 2003) -- It's been a veteran's kind of year so far in 2003. Each of three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events, including the most recent Lucas Oil...

Veteran drivers out-dueling "young guns" in early-season action.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 26, 2003) -- It's been a veteran's kind of year so far in 2003.

Each of three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events, including the most recent Lucas Oil 250 by Glidden at Mesa Marin Raceway, has seen a forty-something competitor in victory circle.

Dennis Setzer (No. 46 ACXIOM/Computer Associates Chevrolet) captured the March 23 event -- his eighth on the series and second at the California track -- at age 43.

Darlington Craftsman 200 winner Bobby Hamilton (No. 4 Square D Dodge) is 45 and leads the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point standings by 29 over Rick Crawford.

Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford), 44, won the season-opening Florida Dodge Dealers 250 at Daytona International Speedway.

So what's become of the series' young guns?

Setzer and Hamilton say just wait -- the newcomers will have plenty of opportunities to get their shots in.

Experience has counted a great deal during the first three races of this year's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule.

"You could easily argue that it's the tracks, because of the places we've been," said Setzer, whose Bakersfield, Calif., victory extended his streak of wins in successive seasons to six, matching Jack Sprague's series record. "But I don't think that you can put all the emphasis on the experienced drivers being the answer here.

"All of these drivers including myself are with veteran teams. (They've) been together competing and winning in this series for a long time."

Setzer's team, Morgan-Dollar Motorsports, has been a regular on the series since 1999, as has Bobby Hamilton Racing. Crawford's Circle Bar outfit is third in seniority on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, having sent the Alabama competitor to the green flag in 151 consecutive events dating to January 1997.

Hamilton agrees to disagree with Setzer. That's why he believes several youngsters -- like 23-year-old Carl Edwards (No. 99 Roush Racing Ford), who led laps in two of three starts, and his teammate Jon Wood (No. 50 U.S. Navy Racing Ford), 21, second at Mesa Marin -- figure to be contending throughout the season.

"You could have a veteran driver out there leading the most laps and have something go wrong with the truck," Hamilton said, explaining why experience doesn't always get a driver to the checkered flag first. "Or you could have a young driver who is not afraid to go a little faster or try something a little different and pick up speed that others don't have.

"The bottom line is if the truck is set up as best as it can be for that race and the driver is up on the wheel, then victory lane is not out of the question for anyone," Hamilton added.

Still, Setzer had a point following his most recent victory. "I guess my 15 to 20 years of going to college on the short tracks of North Carolina didn't hurt, either," he said.

That kind of experience would figure to offer veterans like Setzer and Hamilton a continued advantage when competition resumes April 12 at Martinsville Speedway. Setzer is the defending winner of the Advance Auto Parts 250, while Hamilton won the race in 2000.


* Milestone event in Chevrolet's future ... Setzer's triumph was Chevrolet's 99th victory on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, beginning with the Feb. 5, 1995 inaugural race at Phoenix International Raceway won by Mike Skinner. The win was the first for a 2003 version of the Silverado truck.

* All three truck makers on the board in '03 ... Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford each have a win this season. The Lucas Oil 250 by Glidden saw each manufacturer represented among the top three finishing positions -- the second time in three races that's happened.

* Tina Gordon making history ... A 17th-place finish in California boosted Tina Gordon (No. 31 Microtel Inns Dodge) into the No. 1 spot in Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, the first time a female driver has led that competition on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. She's up by a slim 28-to-27 point count over Carl Edwards (No. 99 Roush Racing Ford). Gordon shares the historic rookie spotlight with Janet Guthrie, the top rookie finisher in her first two NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts (Daytona and Richmond) in 1977. Guthrie finished third to rookie-of-the-year Ricky Rudd.

* Add rookie contenders ... The addition of two more candidates has boosted the list of current Raybestos Rookie Award contenders to nine. Most recent to declare were Stephen Rhodes, Goldsboro, N.C. (No. 66 W.P. Rose Dodge) and Tim Woods III, Chino, Calif. (No. 54 Chino Hills Ford/Vokal Ford).

* Newcomers abound at Mesa Marin ... Eight competitors, among a starting field of 36, made their NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut in the Lucas Oil 250 by Glidden. Brandon Miller recorded the best finish among the group, eighth, in Kevin Harvick's No. 6 Lucas Oil Chevrolet.

* Etc. ... There has yet to be a repeat winner in eight previous NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races at the .526-mile paved oval at Martinsville.


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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Mike Skinner , Kevin Harvick , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Rick Crawford , Tina Gordon , Janet Guthrie , Carl Edwards , Tim Woods , Brandon Miller