There’s a championship battle heating up, and it’s not in Nextel Cup with its made for TV, NFL-wannabe Chase (although those points are artificially tight). It’s not in the NASCAR Busch Series, either – that title could be wrapped up as soon as Friday night, even though there’s still five races remaining in the season. No, the points race this year finds itself in the Craftsman Truck Series… where things find themselves just getting heated up.
With five races remaining on the schedule, Todd Bodine leads Johnny Benson by a mere 113 points for the Truck Series title. These are not two of the young, hungry drivers that the series has seen in recent years, but two NASCAR veterans who have raced in each of the top-three series before finding a niche in Trucks this year. The two men, while consistently on top when it comes to trophy contenders, couldn’t be more different based on both their time and experience. Bodine has raced everything from modifieds on up; Benson, on the other hand, is an accomplished NASCAR Busch Series champion and former Nextel Cup winner. Bodine’s team is a Truck Series-only powerhouse; Benson’s is by far the most successful venture by owner Bill Davis within any of NASCAR’s top-three series. Bodine has three victories this season, putting him atop the points ladder; Benson, on the other hand, has four.
Despite the differences between drivers, the competition for this championship isn’t flashy, like Nextel Cup; many casual race fans are possibly unaware of the battle royale that is culminating. After all, it isn’t on network television or plastered all over the sports pages; that’s the sad state of the Truck Series itself, possessing some of the best racing in NASCAR to go along with some of the least publicity. It’s too bad, really; the series provides for some great racing, tailor-made for old-school racers to battle it out up at the front of the pack. The ironic thing is that these two men battling tooth and nail for the championship trophy came off as complete opposites in some ways. Bodine is brash and aggressive on-track, but his racing style was often criticized as too rough in the Busch and Cup series, where the more aerodynamic cars don’t need more than a hard nudge to spin into a retaining wall. Surprisingly, though, Bodine has found that the same style works in trucks, simply because these behemoth machines are more amenable to the beating and banging style that Bodine often imparts on his competition.
Benson, on the opposite end of the spectrum, has developed a much more “Mr. Nice Guy” reputation. Ultra-fast and always smooth, Benson can work his way to the front of a pack like quicksilver; once there, he will not concede the point if he can help it, making his rear bumper twice as wide as any measurements would dare to show. He has settled for second place rather than wreck a competitor to win many times; but, at the same time, if he gives anyone named Bodine a clear lane up in the hills of North Carolina, he’ll be sure to take every inch. If Benson and Bodine were NASCAR cowboys, Benson would wear the white hat… that’s for sure.
Of course, this type of back and forth melee is just what the current points system was developed for. Just when one of these men is able to grab the momentum, the other takes it for himself. The lead, forever fragile, could double or evaporate in one race. It’s an old policy, one that always guaranteed the series’ two best teams would be battling it out for bragging rights and the title of champion. That’s disappointing to see such an ideal is no longer the case, and I know what you out there are thinking; still, just know that covering a race simply doesn’t get any better than this. Really.
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