Setzer's win at Martinsville gives Hamilton camp something to celebrate

Updated: April 2, 2008

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Dennis Setzer gave Dodge and Bobby Hamilton Racing a big lift in Martinsville.

Dodge Ends Drought With Setzer's Win At Martinsville

Lori Hamilton said she couldn't have written the script better herself. That's hard to argue.

When Dennis Setzer finished first Saturday at Martinsville, it boosted an entire team. Members of Bobby Hamilton Racing lived through every emotion imaginable for two years, from the cancer diagnosis and untimely death of founder Bobby Hamilton to a team-wide overhaul that included bringing on a group of partners and moving the operation from its longtime home in Tennessee to Virginia.

It was a lot to digest, but in watching a BHR-Virginia driver take a checkered flag at a track 10 minutes away from the shop, it felt like a rebirth of sorts.

"This win validated a lot of things for us," said Hamilton, who continues to run the day-to-day operations of her late husband's team. "We went through a lot of hardships in 2006 with Bobby getting diagnosed, in 2007 with his passing there was a lot of shock to us, people were saying 'What do we do, what do we do?' Our only option was, we have to carry on, this is what Bobby would want.

"Last year, we were in a fog a lot of times, but we built a program with [drivers] Mike Bliss and Ken Schrader, then at the end of the year we built this program that helped us grow from what we are now. Who would have thought we could move a team in December, hire 20 new people to come to a shop and win the fourth race out?"

The tears in Victory Lane showed this was more than just another early-season win, but the implications reached far beyond the BHR-VA shop. For Dodge, once the dominant manufacturer in the Craftsman Truck Series, a win at Martinsville in a truck meant, amazingly, just as much as a stock car win six weeks ago.

"Internally, it was every bit as big as the Daytona 500 win," said Mike Delahanty, senior manager for Dodge Motorsports. "What really makes it great, a lot of the work that went into putting that truck out front was work by our engineering team that had been working on that program for a long time. We knew it was there, we knew we still had it -- we just had to put it back together."

Dodge voluntarily dismantled much of its truck series program three years ago, ending a run that saw Ram trucks win 46 of 96 races from 2001 to '04 and championships with Hamilton in 2004 and Ted Musgrave in 2005. In 2006, only five Dodges ran full time in the series, and since last season there have been just three -- BHR's two with Setzer and co-owner Stacy Compton, and an SS Racing-Green Light Racing entry driven by Jason White.

At Martinsville, Toyota and Chevrolet had 12 trucks and Ford had nine.

"Dodge won back-to-back [titles] and it kind of seems like they said to themselves, 'Well, we've already won the truck series championship a couple times, let's move on. Let's focus more on the Cup racing side of it,'" said Musgrave, whose Ultra Motorsports team disbanded after 2005 when Mopar sponsorship was lost. "They took their engineering support, money and stuff and went over there."

As usual with racing, the flow of wins stopped with the flow of money. Hamilton won at Mansfield, Ohio, in 2005, but it wasn't until Setzer's win on Saturday that Dodge crossed a finish line first. The 72-race drought was by far the longest in series history; Ford went 27 races without a win from 2004 to '05, in part due to Dodge supremacy.

"When you're playing in a world of resources, and sometimes resources are limited, it becomes a matter of priorities. We had some great years in the truck series. We're working now to have some great years in the Cup series," Delahanty said. "It's something we look at all the time, like an investment portfolio. Right now we're pretty heavily invested in the Cup series and a little less invested in the truck series. From a series' health, it's doing a little better than the truck series right now.

"But everything's cyclical, it ebbs and flows. One thing you learn quickly by being in Detroit, you never say never, and you can count on change."

Whether significant change is ahead for Dodge in the truck series remains to be seen. The truck count isn't likely to rise, meaning BHR-VA is largely carrying the torch. It is struggling like many teams with sponsorships, though a win can do wonders there. So can being the primary team for a manufacturer, but when you're practically the only one, that can work both ways.

"It's a double-edged sword. In one way it's a tremendous honor for BHR that Dodge would put so much faith and backing into us, being their primary team in the truck series," Hamilton said. "But we're on an island of our own and we don't have as many others out there to go and depend on."

Moving to Virginia helps, though, with Dodge's extensive resources not far away in Charlotte, N.C. The team has wind tunnels and an eight-post shaker rig it can use anytime, and those are paying dividends.

"Working on bodies, from starting point of 'A' and they've come all the way to about a 'T' on how much they've gained," Setzer said. "A major jump on the aero package in four races, we're really proud of that right now."

Setzer won five races for Dodge from 1998 to 2000, when the manufacturer was starting to gain momentum in the series. If it is going to return to its best days, Setzer and BHR-VA will be the ones to take them there.

"What we were able to do [at Martinsville] is put our hand on the door," said Joey Arrington, a longtime Dodge engine builder for the team and now part of its ownership group. "As long as we can follow through with more wins, we can close that gap up."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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Benson, Busch Make Amends

Kyle Busch

Busch

This wasn't a case of "Rowdy" Busch living up to his name after all.

Points leader Kyle Busch got into Johnny Benson in the final turn of the final lap at Martinsville, turning both drivers' top-three finishes into 25th-place (Benson) and 26th-place days. In the aftermath, Benson's Bill Davis Racing crew angrily confronted Busch and his Billy Ballew Motorsports team, and Busch was summoned to the NASCAR hauler.

Yet Tuesday morning, it was Benson who called Busch to apologize.

"It was a racing deal. Johnny tried to block the outside so Kyle couldn't get around on the outside, and when he came to the corner, he was too high. That left the door open, Kyle tried to go to the bottom, and when Johnny came down, they hit," said Richie Wauters, crew chief for the Ballew No. 51 Toyota. "It's not like we ran into the back of him, we were up to his left rear. Just both boys racing for the same real estate. When it's the white flag, you know, [stuff] happens."

Wauters said the crew confrontations were forgiven as well.

"It's always the thing in racing -- you go to someone else's pit after a race, you're looking for a fight," Wauters said. "They just came over to run their jaw. Nothing ever happened, just some pushing and shoving. No big deal."

NASCAR did not penalize either team.

Wauters also confirmed that Busch will miss the series' next race at Kansas, consequently giving up the points lead. The team looked at every possible scenario in which Busch could drive his Sprint Cup and Nationwide cars at Talladega, Ala., and also travel to Kansas, but nothing appeared feasible. Either Johnny Sauter or David Green will drive the No. 51 at Kansas.

Gas Gamble Comes Up Short

Mike Skinner may not have ended up winning his third consecutive Martinsville race, but with four laps to go he appeared certain for at least a top-5 finish. Then the fuel tank ran dry.

The Bill Davis Racing driver made his one pit stop of the race at Lap 79 but couldn't coax 171 more laps of fuel out of the No. 5 Toyota. Skinner ran out while running in third place ahead of Kyle Busch, and Busch was helpless in running into Skinner and spinning him out.

The failed gamble left Skinner two laps down in 29th place and halted the points progress he had made the previous two races. He came into Martinsville seventh in the standings but left in 14th.

Circle Bar Racing's Brendan Gaughan also saw a good day turn sour on a fuel decision. He pitted on Lap 54 and had a top-5 Ford, provided he could squeeze out gas mileage. Under caution with 29 laps remaining, the team opted to pit for a splash of fuel rather than run out, and after surrendering precious track position Gaughan could climb back only to 11th place.

"The guys made a decision, we took a chance on it and I backed all of our chances 100 percent," Gaughan said. "I probably had something for Dennis [Setzer], but every restart all I wanted to do was make sure I was saving enough fuel, so I was being really smooth on the throttle and wasn't trying to back on and off."

More Starts For Speed

Scott Speed finished an impressive 10th in his second truck race, driving the No. 46 Morgan-Dollar Motorsports Chevrolet at Martinsville. Now the Red Bull Racing development driver will move up to one of the series' flagship teams.

Bill Davis Racing will field a fourth Toyota for Speed in at least 11 of the remaining 21 races on the schedule starting with Kansas Speedway on April 26 and at tracks used on the Sprint Cup schedule. He'll drive the No. 24, the same number A.J. Allmendinger used in three truck races in 2006.

Spare Parts

Matt Crafton finished a career-best second at Martinsville for Thorsport, quietly moving into sixth in points. He's still chasing elusive win No. 1 after a series-record 176 starts. … Chrissy Wallace drove respectably in her NASCAR debut, finishing on the lead lap in 18th. The 19-year-old will make her next start for Germain Racing at another half-mile oval at Mansfield, Ohio, on May 24.

Standings