The Frontstretch: Tracking the Trucks : Toyota Tundra 200 by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Monday August 11, 2008

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Tracking the Trucks : Toyota Tundra 200

Beth Lunkenheimer · Monday August 11, 2008

 

In a Nutshell: Johnny Benson took the checkered flag 0.889 seconds ahead of Erik Darnell to win the Toyota Tundra 200 Saturday night at Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, TN. Benson held onto an extremely loose truck early in the race and led just three laps on his way to his third consecutive win this season. Todd Bodine, Jack Sprague, and Ron Hornaday, Jr. rounded out the Top 5.

Who Should Have Won: Todd Bodine. Bodine started on the pole and held a 4.2 second lead over Stacy Compton just 30 laps into the race. Bodine went on to lead 74 laps before Stacy Compton took the top spot on lap 75. After losing the lead to Compton, Bodine’s truck remained strong enough to run in the Top 5 for the majority of the night; he ended up taking third at the checkered flag, but looked to be far better than where he wound up at the finish.

What once was a close battle for the championship might become a runaway win for Johnny Benson, who celebrated his third straight win in Nashville Saturday night.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:

1. How did Robb Brent fare in his Craftsman Truck Series debut?

Saturday night, Robb Brent and Brad Keselowski Racing made their Craftsman Truck Series debut at Nashville Superspeedway. Brent, who drives for Brad Keselowski Racing in the ARCA / ReMAX Series, came off of a fifth place finish at Pocono with high hopes for his first race in one of NASCAR’s high-tier divisions.

In the first practice, the 20-year-old ran the 32nd quickest lap, more than six miles an hour slower than the leader. Things didn’t change much in the final practice when Robb Brent ran 31st fastest, but the team was able to gain about three miles an hour on their lap times. However, Brent’s struggles continued when he qualified his unsponsored No. 19 Chevrolet in the 26th position.

After starting 26th, Robb Brent managed to move up into the Top 15 before dropping back in the field. He never really made any kind of a challenge to get into contention to win, but Brent did remain on the lead lap before settling into his final finishing position of 21st.

While he didn’t light up the track or run high in the field, Robb Brent made his debut with a team that was also making their series debut — and both Brent and Brad Keselowski Racing should be satisfied with their run. The driver of the No. 19 Chevrolet managed to stay out of trouble, finish on the lead lap, and gain valuable experience behind the wheel of a truck. Look for Robb Brent to improve in his next race at Gateway in September.

2. Can Johnny Benson keep his momentum and win his first championship?

Just five races ago, following the Cool City Customs 200 at Michigan International Speedway, the Top 10 in the Truck Series standings were split by just 152 points. Following the Toyota Tundra 200, Johnny Benson has managed to help spread the Top 10 out with his fourth win in five races, and currently holds a 374 point lead over David Starr in tenth.

While the Top 10 has spread out considerably in the last five races, the Top 3 remain relatively close to each other and are separated by just 91 points. Johnny Benson finds himself leading Ron Hornaday, Jr. by just 45, and Matt Crafton remains close by in third.

The No. 23 team picked up right where they left off this season, when they finished off 2007 with a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Johnny Benson and the No. 23 team made a hard charge at Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Mike Skinner, who ran the tightest points battle in the history of the Truck Series, but ran out of time to make the gains needed to really challenge for the championship.

In 15 races so far this season, Johnny Benson has scored four wins and eleven Top 10 finishes. As Benson continues to spread out the Top 10 in points, his consistency is exactly what he needs to be around in November to try to win his first Truck Series championship. But even with his recent run of good performances, one bad race can completely change the Top 10 in points and tighten the race for the championship up once again.

Truck Series Rookie Report
2008 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Colin Braun (No. 6)
Andy Lally (No. 7)
Donny Lia (No. 71)
Justin Marks (No. 9)
Marc Mitchell (No. 15)
Phillip McGilton (No. 22 — replaced by Scott Speed at Kansas)
Brian Scott (No. 16)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 4

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 1; Colin Braun, finished 6th

Rookie Of The Race: Colin Braun

Worth Noting / Points Shuffle:

Johnny Benson became only the sixth driver to win three consecutive Craftsman Trunk Series races. Benson joins Mike Skinner (twice in 1996 and 2007), Ron Hornaday, Jr. (1997), Greg Biffle (2000), and Todd Bodine. Benson is the only driver on that list that hasn’t won a Truck Series championship.

Johnny Benson remains the points leader for the third week in a row, and his win expanded his points lead from 15 to 45 points over Ron Hornaday, Jr. Matt Crafton remains in third, 91 points back, and Todd Bodine moved up two spots to fourth. Mike Skinner rounds out the Top 5, 235 points behind in the chase for the championship.

Behind Skinner, Erik Darnell moved up one spot to sixth, while Rick Crawford dropped three spots to seventh. Jack Sprague moved up one position to eighth, causing Terry Cook to drop to ninth. David Starr rounds out the Top 10, 374 points out of the lead.

Quotable:

“I didn’t think it was possible [to win] with 10 laps to go, to tell you the truth. I knew [Erik] Darnell was going to be tough. I had a really hard time passing the 30 [Bodine], he was running strong, too. Then, I saw [Bodine] sliding around and I was able to get by him. I worked on Darnell and was able to get to Victory Lane.” Johnny Benson

“We were out of tires at the end. I was doing my best to keep Johnny [Benson] back there and held him off for awhile. As soon as he cleared Bodine, he ran right up there. Once [Benson] got air on the nose, that was it. I held him off for awhile, but he got under me and that was it.” Runner-up Erik Darnell

Up Next:
The Craftsman Truck Series takes a weekend off before racing mid-week at Bristol Motor Speedway on Wednesday, August 20th. Coverage begins at 7:30 pm EST on SPEED; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate starting at 8:00 pm EST.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer

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