- John Schwarb
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The route to victory this holiday weekend was through gutsy calls in the pits, or rather bypassing them altogether. Dario Franchitti stayed on the track late with an eye on stormy skies and won the Indianapolis 500, and Casey Mears gambled on fuel and became a surprising winner at the Coca-Cola 600.
Then there was Dennis Setzer on Saturday, avoiding the pits late. And early. And before and after three lengthy rain delays.
To the disbelief of some of his competition, the Craftsman Truck Series veteran won the Ohio 250 at Mansfield Motorsports Park with a pit strategy of no pitting at all, the first time such a scheme has led to a win since the series began live pit stops in 1998.
Five hours of rain delays made for a long day at Mansfield, but it was a perfect storm for Setzer. He had thought about a pit-free approach before Saturday, then saw it become possible as rains repeatedly interrupted the short-track race.
"We figured if it was going to happen, Mansfield was the place," said the Spears Motorsports driver. "[Crew chief] Tom Ackerman, at about 95 laps, said it was an option. We knew there was more rain in the air."
The Mansfield bullring, a magnet for cautions even in great weather, had a series-record 103 caution laps Saturday, some of which were used for drying the track. Those laps saved precious fuel for Setzer, as did a few other tricks of the trade such as waiting to crank the engine late after red flags so as to not let the engine idle for long and burn gas. It also didn't hurt that Mansfield, though listed by NASCAR as a half-mile oval, is actually .444 miles, so the 125-mile race was closer to 111.
Second-place finisher Jack Sprague was mystified after the race when told of the plan, but Setzer said his Chevrolet passed postrace inspection without a hitch and his team said Tuesday that the truck even had eight or nine more laps' worth of fuel in the tank.
The win was Setzer's 17th in the truck series, but more importantly, it broke a 22-month drought. Last year's winless season snapped an eight-year run of at least one victory, and he fell to 13th in points after runner-up finishes from 2003 to 2005.
Morgan-Dollar Motorsports lost its Chevrolet manufacturer sponsorship at the end of 2006, so the 47-year-old became a free agent for the first time in six years. Spears Motorsports, the series' oldest team (it's the only active team that dates to the first truck race at Phoenix in 1995), scooped him up.
Success was slow in coming through the season's first six races, with one top-10 and three finishes off the lead lap. But one win changed everyone's outlook.
"I guess the first one is big," Setzer said. "A few years ago, I was worried about getting a win in a year -- now it was getting a win with a new team, getting everyone saying, 'We'll be OK; we'll make this deal happen.' It lets everybody breathe a little bit easier; we can maybe work better than we ever had before."
Later this season, that could mean another breathe-easy day for the No. 75 pit crew. With other short tracks such as Indianapolis and Martinsville, Va., remaining, Setzer said another no-pit strategy might get the job done again.
Bill Davis Racing driver suspended
NASCAR announced Tuesday that it has suspended Tyler Walker of Bill Davis Racing indefinitely for violating its substance abuse policy.
Walker, 27, was replaced last week in the No. 35 Toyota by rookie Ryan Mathews after a disappointing start to the season that found him 18th in points after six races. He had an average finish of 22.0 with one top-10.
"We agree with the vigilance that NASCAR is taking in this instance," team owner Bill Davis said in a statement. "We also have a zero-tolerance substance abuse policy at Bill Davis Racing and will take the appropriate action concerning Tyler's future status with our company."
Before this season, Walker -- a Los Angeles native and former sprint car driver -- raced 19 Busch Series events in 2004-05 and made three truck starts in 2003.
Cup stars rising to top
Friday night's AAA Insurance 200 at Dover International Speedway is a companion event to a Sunday Nextel Cup race, so a handful of Cup drivers will take a turn in the trucks. A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin and Ken Schrader were on the preliminary entry list.
Cup regulars have finished 1-2 in the truck race the past two years on the 1-mile oval, with Martin winning in front of Carl Edwards last year and Kyle Busch beating Tony Stewart in 2005. (Stewart hasn't raced a truck since.)
The lone Dover winner among current truck regulars is Ted Musgrave, who won in 2002. Rick Crawford -- one of three drivers to start in all seven Dover races, along with Terry Cook and Setzer -- has three top-5s and an average finish of 7.0.
"It's exciting for a driver to run because you're on edge at all times, and it's a very, very fast racetrack as far as how much throttle you use. It dares you to go faster and faster, and sometimes you just get over the edge," said Musgrave of Germain Racing. "Dover is a high-banked track, and when you go down into the corner, you fall into a hole and the forces really stick the truck to the track. It's kind of like you're at Bristol, only on steroids. You take Bristol twice as big, and that's what you've got for Dover."
Dover is the 300th event in truck series history. Chris Showalter, truck chief for the Morgan-Dollar Motorsports No. 47, is the only competitor to be in the garage for all of them. In 1995, he was a 21-year-old mechanic for Butch Miller and Liberty Racing. … With his fourth-place finish at Mansfield, Mike Skinner increased his points lead to 121. But now in second is Ron Hornaday, finishing sixth in his Chevrolet at Mansfield while Todd Bodine finished a season-worst 31st. It's the first time all year Toyota has not owned the top two spots in the standings.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.