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In a Nutshell: Johnny Benson scored his first career win at Bristol Motor Speedway Wednesday night, taking the checkered flag 0.790 seconds ahead of the newly married Brendan Gaughan. Benson benefited from a two-car crash on lap 180 when Travis Kvapil and Kyle Busch made contact and spun while battling for the lead. As the smoke cleared coming out of turn 4, it was Benson who found his way back out front, and he held off all challengers over the final 21 laps to take the victory.
Behind Gaughan, Mark Martin finished third in the O’Reilly 200, ahead of points leader Mike Skinner. Rick Crawford rounded out the top-five finishers. Behind them, Ron Hornaday Jr. was sixth, finishing ahead of both Mike Bliss and Jack Sprague. In ninth and 10th were Cale Gale and Danny O’Quinn, both scoring the first top-10 finishes of their young Truck Series careers.
Who Should Have Won: Benson. Benson and crew chief Trip Bruce were on a different pit schedule than the majority of the drivers all night. During an early caution, they made the decision to stay out on the track while other frontrunners pitted on lap 42. He then led 62 laps, staying out front on old rubber before pitting for fresh tires out of sequence with the rest of the lead pack. With just 92 laps remaining, Benson restarted 17th; but with fresher tires than anyone else, it turned out the truck had just the handling package to work its way back up the leaderboard. Within eight laps, Benson was able to move the No. 23 Toyota Tundra back up into the top 10, and he was up to third when leaders Kyle Busch and Kvapil got together. Once they wrecked, Benson clearly had the fastest truck and sped away from the rest of the field.
Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race
1. How’s the new track surface?
Bristol Motor Speedway underwent a major construction project earlier this year, giving the track a brand new concrete racing surface along with some sprucing up of the infield. In a testing session several weeks ago, most of the drivers were happy with the track, but testing isn’t always telling about how the track will work under race conditions.
Luckily for the fans, this time testing proved spot on. As rubber built up on the track, the racing became more and more exciting. The drivers were able to run two and sometimes three-wide without a problem, and in a big change for Bristol, the outside line has turned into a pretty strong racing groove. Benson said it best when he said, “It’s unbelievable.” The race winner also said of the new concrete, “It is way, way cool and just a pleasure to race on.”
In a decade full of new asphalt gone bad, this was clearly one of the few track repavings that has turned out well; as time goes on, expect the racing to only get better and better on the new track surface.
2. How bad was Benson sweating after pitting off sequence from the leaders?
With Benson and crew chief Trip Bruce working on a different pit schedule than most drivers out on the track, Benson did not plan to pit until later in the race. That could have been a problem, as other drivers tried to catch his Exide Batteries Toyota with fresh rubber. But apparently, Bruce had come up with the handling package that adjusted for old tires as well as new. On the final two restarts, Benson was able to run away and hide, despite newer tires on the trucks restarting behind him. Fortunately for Benson and the No. 23 team, their truck was the strongest on the track and their pit strategy worked out for them… but after falling as far back as 17th after their final stop on lap 104, they had to be a little worried… for a while.
3. How did Kyle Busch and Kvapil not take anyone else with them?
With Benson working his way through traffic, Kvapil and Kyle Busch were left to race each other for the lead for several laps. Earlier in the race, Busch complained that he just couldn’t get the speed or control he was used to out of the inside lane. With 20 laps remaining, he proved just that when he tried to pass Kvapil for the lead on the bottom and lost control, taking Kvapil with him. Amazingly, the rest of the field managed to avoid the spinning trucks, and everyone got through without excessive damage. However, Kvapil was left to finish 11th while Busch finished 15th in what should have been an easy top-five result for both drivers. A frustrated Kvapil said after the race, “That should have never happened. I saw him down there and I wasn’t worried about it – he just got loose.” Busch, while driving by the No. 6 pit, pointed his finger at himself and admitted he was at fault; but that’s no small consolation to the hit Kvapil took in the Truck Series championship, as he fell over 250 points behind leader Skinner.
Truck Rookie Report
2007 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Willie Allen (No. 13)
Blake Bjorklund (currently without a Truck Series ride)
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: 4
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 0
Rookie of the Race: Allen (No. 13)
Current Rookie Points Leader: Tim Sauter (No. 07) – Finished 28th to cling to a 126-121 point lead over Allen
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
At Bristol, Bill Davis announced that he will be putting former CART and Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve in the final seven Craftsman Truck Series events this season, along with the ARCA race at Talladega. Testing for Villeneuve will begin this Monday at Chicagoland Speedway, with the goal of the open-wheel vet making his debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September. All of this is being done in preparation for a full-time Cup ride in 2008, but Villeneuve has to prove to officials that he’s ready first. Teammate Skinner will accompany Villeneuve to Chicagoland and is expected to play an integral role in the driver’s transition to NASCAR.
Gaughan’s second-place finish was his best since the Homestead season finale of November, 2006. It was just Gaughan’s second top-five finish this year.
Skinner scored his 12th top five and 15th top 10 of the season Wednesday night, finishing fourth, but he broke his streak of 19 consecutive races in which he led at least one lap.
As for the points standings, the top 10 remain unchanged heading into the final nine races of the season. Skinner opened his points lead up just a little more, now 92 ahead of rival Hornaday and the No. 33 team. Kvapil lost 20 points on Skinner and is now 256 back in third, while Todd Bodine and Crawford round out the top five, respectively.
Despite his win, Benson remains in sixth and is 522 points out of the lead; he likely won’t challenge for the title this year. Behind him, Sprague leads Ted Musgrave, the only driver in the top 10 who has not started every race, by 70 points in the battle for seventh. Matt Crafton and Erik Darnell are ninth and 10th in the standings.
“I knew when we started the race we were good enough to win. It’s never easy to pass, but the farther back in the field you get, it’s somewhat easier to get by. Once we got to the front, we had to work a little harder, but that truck was really good. I don’t know how long it would have taken to get past those guys in front at the end, but it turns out we didn’t need to. They got together and made our job a little bit easier.” – Johnny Benson
“What a great week for me and for this South Point Racing team. Tatum and I were married earlier in the week, and we came here and ran terrific. I really like Johnny Benson a lot, but I don’t know what would have happened if I got up to him. If we caught him, I want to win so bad he might have got turned around. But he got away from us there, and then I did all I could to block arguably one of the greatest drivers in the history of this sport in Mark Martin.” – Brendan Gaughan
“That was awesome. It was my second time in a truck, and this No. 50 team is really a bunch of great guys. It’s just a privilege to be driving these Roush Fenway Ford Racing F-150s.” – Danny O’Quinn Jr.
Up Next: The Craftsman Truck Series heads to Gateway International Speedway for the Missouri/Illinois Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200 next weekend. Coverage begins this Saturday night, September 1st, at 5:00 p.m. ET on Speed. and your local MRN affiliate. In 2006, the race was run in April, and Bodine led to the field to the checkered flag.
Tune in to Frontstretch every Saturday for the latest in Truck Series news and information with Beth’s Tracking The Trucks Report. And if you can’t get enough of the CTS, don’t forget about our exclusive Driver Diaries from Rick Crawford and David Starr; Nikki Krone checks in with a new edition of David’s diary this Friday.