The Frontstretch: Tracking the Trucks : Ford 200 by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Saturday November 17, 2007

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Tracking the Trucks : Ford 200

Beth Lunkenheimer · Saturday November 17, 2007

 

In a Nutshell: Johnny Benson took the checkered flag 0.600 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch to win the Truck Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway Friday night. A late spin by Chris Jones set the field up for a green/white/checkered finish for the sixth time in 2007; on the restart, Benson took the lead coming to the white flag and held off Busch for the victory. Rick Crawford, Kevin Harvick, and Jason Leffler rounded out the Top 5 finishers. Behind them, Ron Hornaday, Jr. finished 7th to clinch the 2007 Truck Series title over Mike Skinner; Skinner had mechanical problems with the left rear wheel of his Toyota, went behind the wall for repairs and wound up 35th, handing the title to his rival by 54 points.

Who Should Have Won: Kyle Busch. Busch started 14th, and looked like he might struggle most of the race early on. A round of green flag pit stops put him a lap down, but the driver of the No. 51 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet got it back through a timely yellow flag; after that, he went on to lead 69 laps. However, the poor luck of a green/white/checkered kept Busch from winning his third race in four starts; with the Trucks bunched up at the finish, he was far too loose to hold Benson back for the win.

“Johnny had a better truck there at the end, one that would turn and hold the bottom,” Busch said. “Mine wouldn’t do it, and I couldn’t hold him off.”

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race

1. Should teammates be given orders not to pass in favor of championship contenders?

Last week at Phoenix International Raceway, Johnny Benson passed teammate Mike Skinner, costing Skinner four championship points and causing controversy within Bill Davis Racing in the process. Skinner wasn’t very happy, voicing his displeasure after the race when he said, “I’m not the boss. I guess we’re not a team.”

The questions surrounding what Benson should do carried over into this week, as the SPEED announcing crew refused to let the issue die off. While Skinner was leading on lap 23, broadcaster Michael Waltrip said, “If Bill Davis Racing learned anything from last week, let’s hope that they’ve learned to tell Johnny Benson to follow [Mike] Skinner. There is no reason for Benson to drive up around the leader of this race and take points away from him.”

Huh? I couldn’t disagree with Waltrip more; there is no reason a driver should just pull over and let his teammate finish better than him just because a championship is on the line. Benson clearly had the better truck of the two at Phoenix last week, and he has sponsors that expect him to race as hard as he can until the end of any event – no matter what any other driver has on the line.

After taking the victory, Benson attempted to put any such controversy to rest.

“We wanted to come here, have a great race, and not affect the points. Last week we kinda did, but I needed my points too,” he said while being interviewed in Victory Lane. Benson was right; while teammates are important and can help out in other ways, they shouldn’t be expected to slow down if they have a faster truck – that goes against what racing is all about.

2. How did Ron Hornaday, Jr. win the championship?

Earlier this season, Mike Skinner was having a season reminiscent of his 1995 title run. He found himself tied for the lead following just the second race of the season, and sat atop the standings until tire troubles on the No. 5 allowed Ron Hornaday, Jr. to take control during a terrible turn of bad luck Friday night.

Skinner held a 29-point advantage when the green flag dropped and needed merely a smooth race to clinch the championship … but it wasn’t meant to be. On lap 26, Skinner was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop for what he thought was a flat right front tire. That put the No. 5 one lap down in 36th place; down, but not out, as a Lucky Dog pass could have put him right back in position to claim the title.

Too bad things only got worse from there.

Skinner still felt what he thought was a tire going down, and on his way to the pits for a second time, his left rear tire fell off and bounced across the track. The diagnosis was a broken tire hub that sent the team scrambling behind the wall to replace the part. They completed the work quickly, but the damage was done. Skinner went back out on the track 11 laps down, and that’s where he stayed; he was relegated to a 35th place finish, while Hornaday drove a smooth and steady race to take home the trophy.

Truck Rookie Report
2007 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Willie Allen (No. 13)
Blake Bjorklund ( driving part-time for Haas CNC Racing in the Busch Series )
Aaron Fike ( suspended indefinitely )
Matt McCall ( currently without a Truck Series ride )
Tim Sauter (No. 07)
Tyler Walker ( suspended indefinitely )
Kelly Bires ( currently racing the No. 47 in the Busch Series )
Joey Clanton (No. 09) ( 16 races )
Casey Kingsland ( currently without a Truck Series ride )
Peter Shepherd (No. 50)
Jason White (No. 7)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 3
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 0

Rookie Of The Race: Tim Sauter, finished 11th
Rookie Of The Year: Willie Allen, finished 28th

Despite spinning with just two laps remaining – sending him tumbling down the finishing order to 28th – Willie Allen wrapped up the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title over Tim Sauter and Joey Clanton (26th Friday night). Allen won the Rookie of the Race award just five times this season and scored just one Top 10 finish – a 6th at Talladega Superspeedway. However, that was enough to distance himself from all competitors in a year that saw him finish 15th in the final championship standings.

“Winning Raybestos Rookie of the Year was definitely what we set out to do when we started this season,” Allen said. “It was up and down all year long … but we kept fighting. This is real big. It was definitely a struggle, but we accomplished our goal. I’m very proud of that and proud of the guys.”

Worth Noting / Points Shuffle

Before the race, Jack Roush announced Colin Braun would drive the Truck Series full-time in 2008 behind the wheel of the No. 6. The youngster will replace Travis Kvapil, running for Rookie Of the Year in a Ford F-150 sponsored by Con-way Freight.

Johnny Benson became the 12th different driver to win a race at Homestead-Miami Speedway since the series debuted there in 1996, leaving the mile and a half track the only one currently on the circuit without a repeat winner.

With the race over, the 2007 Truck Series Championship battle is now complete. Hornaday, Jr. wins by 54 points over Mike Skinner, giving Kevin Harvick, Inc. its first ever title in the series.

Meanwhile, Johnny Benson’s win moved him up two spots to third in the final running order. Todd Bodine finished the season in fourth, and Rick Crawford moved up one spot to 5th, just two points behind Bodine.

In his final race driving the No. 6 Truck, Travis Kvapil dropped three spots in the standings after a disappointing 21st place finish – he wound up sixth. Ted Musgrave finished the season in seventh, with Matt Crafton and Jack Sprague more than 100 points behind him. Finally, David Starr’s sixth place finish was enough to propel him up two positions and back into the Top 10. He ended up finishing 45 points ahead of Brendan Gaughan in 11th.

Quotable:

“That [pass for the lead] was way nice. [This was] a great race [and] fun place to be. [Crew chief] Trip Bruce is the man here. Congrats to Ron Hornaday, Kevin Harvick and those guys there.” Johnny Benson

“Haha Jack Spraque. I’m tied with you and I’ve got more wins now. It doesn’t matter how many times you go for a championship, the last 20 laps of this thing were the hardest laps I’ve ever drove in my life. What a great year. This is awesome.” Ron Hornaday, Jr.

“We were leading the race when it all fell apart. The guys did a good job. I regret we didn’t have a [tire] hub in the pits. As it came down, it wasn’t going to make a difference anyway. It was a great year.” Mike Skinner

Up Next:
NASCAR will honor ’07 Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday, Jr. and the rest of the Top 10 during the awards banquet at The Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida on Monday, November 19th. SPEED will show a replay December 7th at 9:00 pm EST.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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