Harvick takes checkered flag as Hornaday, Benson struggle

Updated: November 8, 2008, 1:51 AM ET
Associated Press

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Kevin Harvick raced to his first Truck Series victory in five years Friday night in a bizarre event that saw championship contenders Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday practically try to give the title away.

Hornaday wrecked on the very first lap at Phoenix International Raceway, and Benson was involved in four of his own incidents as neither driver was able to take command of the title race. Benson started the night with a six-point lead over Hornaday, and they now head to next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway separated by just three points.

[+] EnlargeKevin Harvick
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images Kevin Harvick celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Lucas Oil 150.
It's the closest margin between first and second with one race remaining in Truck series history, surpassing the 13-point margin Hornaday held over Jack Sprague en route to the 1998 title.

"I don't know what to say -- it was just a bad day for both of us," Benson said. "We're making it fun for the fans, I can guarantee that. It was just a weird day. We both had problems. We're just both trying to give it away."

The race got off to a strange start when Hornaday lost control of his truck as he and Kyle Busch raced for the lead in turn 4 of the first lap. It wasn't clear if the two made contact, but Hornaday spun up the track and into the wall, triggering a six-car accident behind him that nearly sent Harvick into a panic.

Harvick owns Hornaday's truck.

"When the caution comes out, and you look up in the mirror and all you can see is somebody running into the side of that truck -- I actually saw it hit the wall, and you are like, 'Man, we just lost the championship,'" Harvick said. "But then [Benson] had problems. That's what is great about our sport. It's never over until it's over."

Benson, who started a disappointing 14th, ran into the traffic and suffered slight damage in the melee. But it was nothing compared to Hornaday, who had to go to the garage and joined his crew as they frantically tried to fix his Chevrolet.

Rival team owner Jack Roush, a noted opponent of Toyota, instructed two of his Truck team crews to assist Hornaday's team in the repairs. Benson drives a Toyota.

"This is unbelievable, when you wreck a truck, to see the Roush boys, the Dodge boys, out there to help just to see a points race," Hornaday. "I had tears in my eyes."

When Hornaday finally returned to the track, he was 29 laps down.

It allowed Benson to stretch his lead to 51 points, but he too made several costly errors that prevented him from pulling away.

First, he made contact with Roush driver Colin Braun to futher damage his Tundra. Then he later wiggled into the wall as he raced T.J. Bell for position. That sent him to the garage for extensive repairs -- as Hornaday raced on his damaged truck.

"I was giggling when I saw Johnny wreck," Hornaday said. "I thought, `No one wants to win this championship.' Johnny and I said we're going to go fishing and whoever catches a fish first wins the championship, because we definitely don't want to win it on the track."

Hornaday finished 25th, Benson was 26th and has a three-point lead with a race to go.

"It was miserable," Benson said. "It was a bad day."

Harvick, who last won a Truck Series race at this track in 2003, won for the first time driving his own equipment. It was the third straight victory for Kevin Harvick Inc., which won at Atlanta with Ryan Newman and Texas with Hornaday.

"It's been a while since I've been in Victory Lane," Harvick said. "This is great, but it was a little frustrating on the first lap to see [Hornaday] turned around. But I guess it all worked out pretty good -- we won the race and they gained a few points."

Busch finished second after restarting in ninth with seven laps to go. Todd Bodine was third and was followed by Brian Scott and Mike Skinner.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press