The Frontstretch: Johnny Benson Didn't Get The Memo by Tommy Thompson -- Tuesday November 13, 2007

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Johnny Benson Didn't Get The Memo

Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Tuesday November 13, 2007

 

I learned something about Johnny Benson this week. It seems the guy is quickly becoming a dinosaur, obsolete within a sport that is evolving in a direction he is neither able or willing to keep up with.

Thank goodness he’s still here.

Apparently, the veteran Truck Series driver is not up to speed with what can only be titled the "new" NASCAR. That is, a NASCAR that endorses "team racing" as a legitimate and increasingly integral part of its sanctioned racing events. This became evident last Friday night during the running of the Craftsman Truck Series Casino Arizona 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, when Benson passed his Bill Davis Racing teammate Mike Skinner to better his finishing position. The supposed problem with that? Skinner is a championship contender, running neck-and-neck with Ron Hornaday, Jr. for a title in which every point will make a difference. That Benson would have the audacity to pass a competitor in such a race stirred astonishment within the SPEED TV broadcasting booth, as well as obvious displeasure from his teammate.

And that, in turn, stirred displeasure from me.

It is truly a shame that what should be nothing short of an exciting season-ending championship point battle between Skinner and Ron Hornaday, Jr. for the 2007 CTS title is deteriorating into a sham that demonstrates how rapidly NASCAR racing is becoming less and less about "may the best man and machine win." Instead, the sport is quickly spiraling downward to more of a team effort, wherein one team member is not encouraged to advance his position, but instead block for or yield altogether to another. And what’s worse, there seems to be a general buy-in to the concept by people like the veteran Skinner and racing veterans like Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip.

Let’s start analyzing this one through the man most directly affected. Skinner, clearly agitated with Benson's passing him for seventh place – costing him four points – opined after the race about his apparent misfortune.

Mike Skinner was none too pleased that the biggest obstacle in his quest for the title came from none other than his own teammate.

“I’m not the boss. I guess we’re not a team,’‘ Skinner said. “I thought he was taking care of me. I don’t know. I don’t want to comment on it.”

But, of course, he did comment on it – insinuating that Benson did him wrong.

It is hard to be too condescending towards Skinner, as he is in a tough spot. His championship-contending rival did have his team in place, and they worked their "roller derby" strategy to perfection. Kevin Harvick – Ron Hornaday, Jr's. team owner – did his utmost to position his race truck between Skinner and his driver all race long. If nothing else, Harvick was attempting to assure that his own driver would gain some points; for unless Hornaday unexpectedly slowed, it was clear that Harvick would not pass his truck.

As disgusting and contrary as I believe blocking or intentionally not racing any competitor for position is – especially when compared to what I consider auto racing should be – it’s nothing new in the world of NASCAR today. Team racing is apparently no longer a little hush-hush secret that may have been employed occasionally in past times; frankly, it’s become so commonplace nowadays, members of the same organization have no problem mentioning it on-air.

That much was evident during the waning laps of the race. Skinner – in an in-truck interview during a caution period – spoke with the SPEED TV broadcasters and laid out what he believed was a team strategy with his Bill Davis Racing teammate, Benson.

“My ‘guardian angel" back here [Benson] really has took care of me,” he explained. “Kind of like Hornaday's teammate [Harvick] is doing for him."

Though I am struck by the unabashed admission by Skinner, whom I have always categorized as a hard-nosed, "old school" racer, the broadcasters’ acceptance of the team racing scenario that was playing out has convinced me that the sport is changing … and not for the better.

Late in the race, when Benson made a clean and easy-to-accomplish pass on Skinner, Waltrip excitedly exclaimed, "That is controversial there! Very controversial!" Phil Parsons immediately chimed in behind him: "Taking a position away from his teammate, and points away from a championship hunt … Johnny Benson now moves ahead of Skinner."

Parsons and Waltrip continued during the last seven laps of the race to express their amazement that Benson had passed Skinner, along with seemingly equal surprise that Benson would not relinquish the position back to his teammate:

"Is Johnny Benson going to finish ahead of Mike Skinner?"

"Will he let him go back by and get those four points?"

"I cannot imagine Johnny Benson would not let Mike Skinner go back by."

"Unbelievable! Johnny Benson stayed in front of Mike Skinner!"

"I cannot believe that… that's four points…put that down in your notebook!”

"Obviously, no team orders there. Cost him four points. That could loom large when we get to Homestead next week."

However, give credit to Waltrip for at least pointing out that Benson's pass moved him ahead of Rick Crawford and into the Top 5 in driver points. Crawford was hot on Benson's bumper prior to his pass of Skinner, and the aggressive driving of the man behind the No. 23 Truck was what it took to keep himself up in the standings – continuing to give himself his own set of goals to race for.

No doubt, there is something "fishy" going on here in the world of NASCAR teams! In an interview I conducted with NASCAR's Managing Director of Communications, Ramsey Poston, last month, I pointedly asked him what NASCAR's position on "team orders" was. Poston said, ""We really would like to think that no driver would pull over. But this is a team sport, to a degree, as well.” And then, the organization’s spokesman went on to explain that policing "team orders" would be difficult.

But how can NASCAR not, at this point, step in and abolish this practice? Or at least let the fans know to what "degree" this is a "team sport." As I wrote in this column in an article entitled "Move Over Jimmie … Let's Let Jeff Get One For The Thumb" there will be consequences if the practice of team orders, which amounts to nothing more than race "fixing," is not brought under control.

Acceptance of the practice of teammates blocking for one another, giving up positions, or intentionally not racing each other cannot possibly bode well for the sport. But it certainly appears that there is a tacit approval of the practice by the governing organization, as not only Skinner’s comments during the race indicate, but that of the broadcast crew, as well.

And if the practice is not curbed now, where will it go from here?

Will it soon be acceptable for drivers from one group of manufacturer to work in unison with one another to get one of their manufacturer-supported teams into the twelve driver Championship Chase?

If running interference for a teammate becomes any more acceptable than it appears to have been last Friday night, will a blocker eventually be a "bad teammate" if he isn't able to prevent a competitor from getting by the favored car?

Such issues raise questions about the basic principle of motorsports. The truth is, there is only one way for drivers to race; and that is to the best of their ability, passing for every possible position they can. That is, in its simplest form, what American automobile racing has always been about.

It is important to note that there has been virtually no backlash against what transpired during the CTS race last week, and there has been very little criticism of the SPEED TV broadcasters for playing into the team racing concept by either race fans or the auto racing media. In fact, no one seems inclined to talk much about it. Bill Davis Racing, Kevin Harvick, Ron Hornaday, Jr., and for that matter, even Johnny Benson have stayed mum on the subject.

But all the tight lips in the world won’t keep the team order issue from going away. And I am certain that at some point soon, something dramatic enough will occur involving the manipulation of race results by team owners that fans will demand that NASCAR, like Formula 1, step in and put a stop to it.

In the meantime, I am going to go out on a limb, as somewhat of a dinosaur of racing myself, and say that Johnny Benson has nothing to be ashamed of or to apologize for in racing Mike Skinner for a better finishing position. Teammate or not, he did the right thing.

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Douglas
11/14/2007 05:29 AM
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Gee, REAL RACING for position in $ASCAR??

What in the world is happening?

Kudos to Benson!

Johnboy60
11/14/2007 07:42 AM
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Well, well…Johnny you sure gained some respect from me! eam racing has NO business in this sport! Just another reason NASCRAP is going down the tube. 51 years I have followed this sport, and the last 5 or so years it has become a joke!

Pauline
11/14/2007 08:01 AM
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I love Johnny Benson and this just raised him another notch in my esteem.

M.B. Voelker
11/14/2007 08:24 AM
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Amen.

I think that the solution will come from the sponsors. If they start demanding some of their money back when their car is ordered to hang back and give up spots the practice will cease in a hurry.

Bob Roskamp
11/14/2007 10:00 AM
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Did anyone listen to Rusty Wallace& Andy Petetree they told like it is!! Why hasn’t anyone asked Bill Davis about it? J.B. is a “Racer” who races everone with respect!!

chris
11/14/2007 11:02 AM
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New policy huh….reminds me of Dale Sr. right before he smashed the wall, blocking is bad passing is good……I guess Scrub should have allowed JG to pass him on Sunday. 5 or 4 points might help

Shawn
11/14/2007 11:23 AM
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Great Article! If Skinner wants this championship, he has to race for it. He can’t expect other trucks, teammate or not, to move over because he’s not as fast as them.

Gerry B. Blachley Captain, U
11/14/2007 11:33 AM
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when they stopped racing and started putting a show on the gucci gulch bunch, started buying into the teams, it’s the MONEY. I know Kevin Harvick, and Ron Hornaday, Jr. and have raced them and Ron Dad they will play the game and do it well, the teams have NO choice NASCAR is leading the charge for money, go JB

Margo L
11/14/2007 12:51 PM
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I don’t think it’s hard to figure out why a team mate would help a driver win a championship . All you have to do is total up the millions of dollars involved ( sponsor bonus , championship payout , manufacturer bonus , potential new endorsements , potential new sponsors ) , and besides , your team and the owner will love you forever .

Bill
11/14/2007 01:13 PM
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Johnny Benson did as any racer should. The goal in ANY race is to finish as high as possible, normally in an attempt to WIN the race. Johnny was putting himself in better position to win the race by passing Mike Skinner. That is the reason he is driving race cars (trucks). If he isn’t in it for that reason, he and the team should just hang it up.

The last part of this season has made me pretty frustrated with the media and some of the teams participating in our sport. The concept of ‘Team Racing’ has taken on a new definition by many of these people. If it continues in this direction, the sport is going to be doomed.

I give high accolades to Johnny Benson for doing what he should be doing.

Christine
11/14/2007 01:18 PM
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It’s about beating the guy(s) in front of you. Period. Sounds like Skinner thought he was going to be able to coast with Benson’s help. Wrongo! Go, Johnny!!

Lynn
11/14/2007 01:41 PM
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Turn the situation around, what would Skinner of done??????? Go Johnny!!!!!!!

JBJB
11/14/2007 02:49 PM
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JB has always been my favourite driver and it hurt when Mike and the Speedtv guys said those things about him. Nascars goin down hill and ’07 has been the worst. The Daytona race was great and everything that happened in that race was good for our sport, but after that the whole Hendrick Hendrick Hendrick Hendrick, team orders etc. started and JB…THANK YOU FOR DOING WHAT WAS RIGHT FOR OUR SPORT. Along with Jeff Burton, Mark Martin and Mike Bliss, you are the only “real racers” left in NASCAR

Brian France Sucks
11/14/2007 02:54 PM
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first off, 99% of the stuff coming out of Ramsey Poston’s mouth is garbage Brian France approves; a classic YES man if there ever was one. Congrats to Benson for racing and not pulling that F1 Harvick crap. Race for the win, race hard, and race clean. Benson did all of these and deserves respect for not pulling over and letting Whiner, er Skinner pass him. Skinner should be worried about how he’s gonna beat Hornady and not about team orders.

dc
11/14/2007 03:01 PM
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I have been rootin’ for both Skinner and Benson. I was wondering when Skinner was going to make his move, bringing Benson with him.

I guess Skinner didn’t have any more and Benson leisurely passed and gained a position and got into the top five.

I think Mike Skinner was venting his frustration at his own lackluster performance.

Still, this is the best NASCAR Racing we can get!

SL
11/15/2007 05:19 AM
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“Teammate or not, he did the right thing.”
It would have helped if JB had not let Mike continue to believe he had his back (the way Harvick had Hornaday’s). An easy thing to ask his spotter to tell Mike’s spotter that with say 10 laps to go, Mike would be on his own. A matter of communication. Too much to ask?

J Furjanic
11/15/2007 09:54 AM
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JB definately did the right thing. If you have the truck to move up and better your position, Go For It!

Look at what blocking for his teammates got Earnhardt Sr. (yes, I said it, and will stand by it!).

With everything that Prince Brian ‘the idiot’ has brought to this once great sport, it was nice to see a classic race move from a classy guy rather than a corporate NA$CAR move.

All we need now is to drop the reserved start positions in the trucks, and we’ll have a series better than the sprint cup!

LJW
11/15/2007 11:27 AM
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I am a BDR fan. Hated to see the end of the season come to this. I want to see SKINNER win the championship on his own. WITHOUT the help of team mate or without the antics of KHI. I can’t blame JB for last week passing Skinner. If ya have a faster truck, you should pass, especially since he was in his OWN points battle. Enough said.

JOHN WYCKOFF
11/16/2007 09:41 AM
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Mike Skinner is no team player himself. He did Dale Sr wrong quite a few times back when he was racing for Childress. It stood to reason why could not find a ride in cup after his stint with RCR was done. When it comes down to Skinner is all about Mike Skinner and Skinner alone. Johnny Benson is a class act and all he did was what he is hired to do.

Dale
11/16/2007 10:47 AM
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Skinner has a short memory. At last year’s Phoenix race, JB was on the pole, Skinner raced him so hard on the outside that JB spun out on the first lap. Skinner’s defense? “We’re racing for points too..we’re in a tight battle for 10th place”. TENTH place? JB was racing for the championship last year. This year, JB is racing for somewhere between 3rd & 6th. Mike, how good of a team mate are YOU? Go cry on somebody else’s shoulder.

johnnybfan1
11/16/2007 07:31 PM
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Mikey Waltrip has to learn to shut his mouth. He spouts off on way too much. JB is supposed to be his friend?? JB is racing for as high as 3rd place in the points. It seems to me that there is more trash talk in the trucks to go along with the better racing.

Dale
11/17/2007 03:49 PM
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I agree johnnybfan1, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting on either of the Waltrip brothers to control their lips. They were still harping on this during the Homestead race, until the 5 fell out. I’m shocked that they didn’t try to blame the 5’s wheel falling off on JB too.

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