Benson gets big win as Truck Series tightens up
Add Johnny Benson to the list of preseason favorites that finally broke through for their first Truck Series win of 2007, writes John Schwarb.
Add Johnny Benson to the list of Craftsman Truck Series drivers making up for lost time this month.
Defending champion Todd Bodine and 2003 champ Travis Kvapil finally broke into the win column at Texas and Michigan, respectively, and last week Benson joined the ranks with a second consecutive win at the Milwaukee Mile.
Benson, second in points last year in a five-win campaign for Bill Davis Racing, has spent much of this season running at the front but with little to show for it. He was second at Daytona by .031 of a second to Jack Sprague, in the top five at Kansas, Mansfield and Dover and in the top 10 in three other races.
There have also been three bottom finishes on his 2007 résumé, but in two of those races he was in second place when disaster struck in the form of a blown tire at Charlotte (with 13 laps remaining) and engine failure at Texas.
"Those are the three races that put us seventh in points," said Benson, 424 points behind BDR teammate Mike Skinner. "But we've been running good. I would rather be running in the lead and having a problem than running 15th. Our performance has been there, it just hasn't looked good on paper."
There were no such problems at Milwaukee, as he led 96 laps, including the last 41. A late caution required fending off restart king Ron Hornaday Jr., but Benson's Toyota was up to the task.
"It was nice to finally get a win, for sure, and to do it back-to-back at Milwaukee was cool," said Benson, who also added a ninth-place finish in the Saturday night Busch race driving J.J. Yeley's No. 1 Chevrolet.
Benson's team even helped Skinner maintain his dominance. The points leader wasn't strong in practice, but Benson was, so the teams compared notes. Skinner then went out and grabbed his seventh pole of the season.
He finished fourth in the race, maintaining a season-long streak of top-10s.
"We talk a little bit, our driving styles are a little different and we like different setups, but there's times when we help each other," Benson said.
Had Benson not been so helpful in another matter earlier in the season, he would be 50 points richer. Last month he let unlicensed driver Mike Lichty behind the wheel of the No. 23 during a test at Charlotte. Lichty crashed, and NASCAR came down hard on Benson with a 50-point penalty.
"I don't think the league treated me bad, I was surprised at the points. I can't gain points back at a test, so they shouldn't take them away at a test," Benson said. "We can't complain for what they did, it was our fault. For me, I'm helping a kid out, he's a good race car driver, we probably just put him in a bad position, which in return put us in a bad position.
"But you need to help people, that's what propels people in this sport. We just went about it wrong."
The two crashed on Lap 74, with Bires ending up in the outside wall. Musgrave then drove his damaged truck alongside Bires and rammed him on the driver's side. Musgrave downplayed the incident after the race, saying he had little control over his Toyota's steering after the wreck, but also criticized Bires and other off-pace drivers for not moving out of the way.
"I really don't know what happened. Someone told me 'inside' and 'outside,' next thing I knew I had someone in my right or left rear -- I'm not sure -- and just ran over me," Bires said. "I'm just trying to stay out of the way yet remain competitive and get the lap back. I don't think there was any need for that. I guess he's a poor loser or something, I don't know."
Musgrave will drop from his sixth-place position in the points. Owner Bob Germain was also penalized 50 owner points.
Hamilton remembered at Memphis
The truck series concludes its seven-week stretch of racing at Memphis Motorsports Park on Saturday for the O'Reilly 200, and the race will be full of remembrances for 2004 champion and Tennessee native Bobby Hamilton.
Hamilton, who succumbed to cancer in January, will be remembered with prerace ceremonies and with decals on each of the trucks in the race.
"We are very honored that people want to pay their respects to Bobby in such a way," said Lori Hamilton, the late driver's wife. "Going to the tracks for the first time without him is hard, but paying tribute to Bobby helps us remember the good times we had as a team."
Sprague is the defending champion at the .75-mile track, and will try to turn around a season that has turned ugly lately with four finishes of 26th or worse in the past six races.
Skinner turned 50 on Thursday. Bet on him to eventually join Joe Ruttman on the list of drivers over 50 with wins in the truck series. Aric Almirola, last seen being pulled for Denny Hamlin at the Milwaukee Busch race Saturday night, will be at Memphis in a Billy Ballew Motorsports Chevy. The O'Reilly 200 is the first of three truck races in Tennessee. The series also runs at Bristol and Nashville Superspeedway.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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