With two races remaining in both the NASCAR Nextel Cup and the Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS), the battle for the drivers' championship is set to go "down to the wire" at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and Dodge drivers are poised to capture both trophies.
"Rocket Man" Ryan Newman aboard the No. 12 ALLTEL/Mobil 1 Dodge captured his ninth pole in qualifying for the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, finishing second in the race through the desert; he moved within 150 points of points leader Kurt Busch. Newman, the Indiana native, wrapped up this year's Bud Pole Award at Phoenix with his ninth pole and becomes the first NASCAR Cup driver to win the most poles in three straight years since Darrell Waltrip accomplished the feat in 1981-'83 while driving for legendary car owner Junior Johnson. When asked about the upcoming race happening at the track many call, "too tough to tame," Darlington Raceway, Newman said, "There will be sparks flying, I can tell you that, but the bottom line is that you've still got to race the racetrack." Regardless, Newman says it'll be tough to gain ground in the points. "No matter what the competition is, whether it's for points or not, you can only do so much at a track like Darlington. We're definitely still in the points chase. As long as we have a mathematical chance, consider us in. I wouldn't say it's a long-shot, but we're not out of it yet. We still have a chance and that's all I ask for!"
Keep on Truckin'As he has for most of the 2004 NCTS, team owner/driver Bobby Hamilton sits atop the series points with two races remaining. Hamilton, pilot of the No. 4 Square D Dodge, leads Dennis Setzer by a scant 7 points going into the final two events of the season at Darlington Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway; the Darlington 200 is run under the lights. The former NASCAR Nextel Cup driver has scored four wins, each at Atlanta (a spring race), Memphis, Kentucky, and Nashville, while recording 11 top-5s and 15 top-10s, more than any other NCTS driver in 2004.
"The minute you worry about the points lead is when it gets to you," Hamilton commented. "I'm the same every week. Other teams have been worrying too much about this. They've been falling back every week. I'm not putting any stock in this championship yet. All we've got to do is win or get a top-5 in the last two races, and we should be fine. I've won every Darlington I've entered, and we won Homestead last year. The last few races are good for our team, so we'll see how it plays out."
Well Dodge fans, there you have it-two drivers on the doorstep of the two biggest prizes in NASCAR: the Nextel Cup and the Craftsman Truck Series. Hold your breath, 'cause it will be over by the time you read next month's NASCAR Notes.