Toni Montgomery · Thursday November 17, 2005
We’re going to take a page from the past in today’s column and talk about both the Busch and the Craftsman Truck Series. This is the final weekend of the 2005 season and it’s a good time to take a look at how the championship picture is shaping up for both series. Actually the big picture is quite similar for both. It’s a two man race with a would-be champion who mainly needs to stay out of trouble and continue running the way they have been. In both cases, they are being pursued by a determined competitor who still has a chance.
In the Busch Series, Martin Truex Jr. leads second place Clint Bowyer by 64 points entering Homestead. Truex looked like a shoo-in when he came storming to the top of the points standings over the summer but a run of bad luck as the season entered it’s final third made the race much closer. Leaving Richmond, Truex led Bowyer by only 26 points. The defending champion regrouped and expanded his margin to over 120 points but Bowyer wasn’t giving up that easily.
Over recent weeks, Truex has still been finishing well but not winning. Bowyer, meanwhile, has gone on a tear of his own, finishing ahead of his rival on most occasions and chipping that margin back down to just 64 points. What makes it more interesting is that Bowyer has been making his gains at a disadvantage of sorts. Practice and qualifying crashes have sent Bowyer to the back of the field but he responded by racing his way to the front to finish ahead of Truex.
Championship races always come down to a magic number. That’s the position that a contender must finish in to beat a rival should that rival score the maximum amount of points in a race by winning and leading the most laps. Most of the time it doesn’t come into play because logically any contender only has a 1 in 43 chance of winning the race. Realistically a contender’s odds are better than that if only because not all 43 cars will have a chance to win. Bowyers chances may be even higher because of the way he has been running lately. He has a legitimate chance to dominate and win every time he takes his car out on the track. That means Truex better keep a close eye on his magic number because it’s very likely to come into play. This race is most definitely not over.
However it turns out, both drivers would be deserving champions. Truex already has a championship and his run to the top of the points over the summer further backs up his claim for being one of the best drivers to emerge from the Busch Series in awhile. If Bowyer can do the seemingly impossible and catch him, it also speaks highly of his skills and would make for a champion that earned it the hard way.
In the Craftsman Truck Series, Ted Musgrave holds a lead of 58 points over second place Dennis Setzer. These are two cagey veterans fighting for the title. Both are deserving. Much like Truex, Setzer looked unstoppable when he hit his stride and pulled out to a 200 point lead over the summer. Also like Truex, Setzer stumbled badly heading into the last half of the season. That stumble is what allowed Musgrave to catch up, but unlike Bowyer who never quite caught Truex, Musgrave caught and passed Setzer. Setzer has been in catch up mode ever since and while that road has been bumpy, he has left himself with a chance. Musgrave now faces the same task as Truex in that he must stay out of trouble and post a decent finish to defeat Setzer no matter what Setzer does.
It is the Craftsman Truck Series more than any other that makes me realize just how much of an anything goes proposition this is. In 2003, Brendan Gaughan went into the final race at Homestead with the lead and the same mission. He needed to stay out of trouble and have a decent finish in order to capture the championship. Gaughan was part of a four man race that year that also included Ted Musgrave, Dennis Setzer, and Travis Kvapil. Gaughan was doing exactly what he needed to do and had things well in hand when an extra truck entered by Jim Smith for newcomer Tracey Hines wiggled out of control in front of him. In the end, Brendan Gaughan ended up with a crumpled truck and crumpled championship dreams on the frontstretch.
The remaining three contenders raced in close quarters into the closing laps with the title changing hands between them. Here’s where Setzer and Musgrave come in. It came down to one final restart with the contenders running bumper to bumper. Musgrave needed to get around Setzer to claim the title and he did, only he began his pass to the left before the green flag. Musgrave appeared to take the title but his actions drew a penalty from NASCAR. Travis Kvapil took the big trophy while Setzer came up just nine points shy. Musgrave and Gaughan were left sorely disappointed.
Since that day, I’ve been convinced that both Setzer and Musgrave are deserving of a championship because these two staples of the Craftsman Truck Series have fought hard and come up just short more than once. This year it will be one of those two capturing the big prize but don’t ask me to guess which one going in because anything can happen when the trucks start their engines.
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