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In a Nutshell: Johnny Benson took the checkered flag 0.785 seconds ahead of Dennis Setzer to win the Kroger 200 Saturday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway. The driver of the No. 23 Toyota took the lead with 44 laps to go and never gave up the top spot on his way to his first career Martinsville win. Rick Crawford, Kyle Busch and Todd Bodine rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Ron Hornaday Jr. Hornaday led the final practice and backed up that run by winning the pole position in qualifying. The driver of the No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet led the first 155 laps before Benson took the lead from him. With four laps remaining, Hornaday ran out of fuel and ended up with a 29th-place finish.
Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race
1. How did the five drivers who debuted fare in their first Truck Series race?
The Kroger 200 saw five different drivers make their Craftsman Truck Series debuts Saturday afternoon. Two of those drivers, Dustin Skinner and Sean Caisse, made their starts for Germain Racing, and ironically, both drivers found themselves with trouble early.
Caisse brought out the first caution of the day on lap 35 when he spun the No. 9 Toyota in turn 4. The damage proved terminal less than 10 laps later, and Caisse was the first truck out of the race with a 35th-place finishing position.
Skinner, behind the wheel of the No. 03 Toyota, found himself deep in the field before the green flag even fell; he started in the 31st position. On lap 44, Jon Wood drove into the back of Skinner and sent him spinning. Extensive repairs put Skinner behind the wall; he ended up finishing 34th.
In an effort to gain some experience for the Sprint Cup Series race Sunday, Sam Hornish Jr. also made his CTS debut Saturday afternoon. Hornish started in 16th and had a pretty uneventful race behind the wheel of the No. 4 Penske Truck Rental Dodge for Bobby Hamilton Racing-VA on his way to a ninth-place finish.
Ben Stancill and JR Fitzpatrick also made their Truck Series debuts. Stancill likely wants to forget his debut after hitting nearly everything in his path on his way to a 20th-place finish. Fitzpatrick started 19th, had a pretty uneventful day and finished 20th.
Of the five drivers that made their debuts, Sprint Cup Series driver Hornish fared the best. The amount of experience he has in a stock car over the other young drivers likely had something to do with his success; Hornish went on to finish 34th in the Sprint Cup Series race Sunday.
2. Is Martinsville a good place for driver debuts?
Martinsville isn’t exactly the best place for a young driver to make their debut. Since it’s a short track, it seems like it might be the ideal place, but the track can be a tricky one, especially for someone with little or no experience at the half-mile.
Stancill is a perfect example of that. Just short of the halfway point, Stancill, who was a lap down, nearly took out Benson on a restart. He hit the curb in turn 1 and shot up the track at Benson. Luckily Benson was able to hold onto his truck, but it could have spelled disaster for the points leader. By the end of the day, Stancill had been involved in a handful of incidents.
In addition to Stancill, Chrissy Wallace struggled in her Truck Series debut at the same track in March. She also bounced off the curb and inside wall but wasn’t as lucky as Stancill and ended up with extensive damage to her truck. Though she was forced at the inside wall, perhaps a driver with a bit more experience would have been able to control the truck and avoid wrecking it.
While most drivers who have made their CTS debuts at Martinsville have seen some trouble, Hornish did seem to have better luck than them. But Hornish had previous experience at the 0.526-mile track. He ran the Sprint Cup race in June and had the advantage of also practicing in Cup practice earlier that morning.
Martinsville may be a great short track for racing, but it doesn’t make a suitable training ground for someone who has never been behind the wheel of a truck before.
Truck Rookie Report
2008 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Colin Braun (No. 6)
Andy Lally (No. 7 – left the ride in midsummer)
Donny Lia (No. 71 – now No. 81 for rest of the season)
Justin Marks (No. 9 – left the ride in September)
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; Speed, seventh
Rookie of the Race: Speed, finished seventh
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
Prior to the running of the Kroger 200, Benson had never led a single lap at Martinsville Speedway.
Fitzpatrick, who made his CTS debut this weekend, plans to race at Phoenix and Homestead this season in preparation for a 15-race schedule in 2009.
Ryan Newman is expected to run the E-Z-GO 200 for Kevin Harvick Inc. next weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Benson’s win helped him to retake the points lead from Hornaday, who now sits 65 points behind the driver of the No. 23. Matt Crafton remains in third, 227 points out of first, and Bodine sits just five points behind him in fourth. Mike Skinner moved up one spot and rounds out the top five.
Erik Darnell dropped one spot to sixth and sits 301 points behind leader Benson. Crawford remains in seventh, only 31 points behind Darnell. Setzer and Jack Sprague swapped positions and sit in eighth and ninth respectively. Terry Cook rounds out the top 10.
“I learned a lot. I watched the No. 24 (seven-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon), and I watched a bunch of different lines [during Sprint Cup Series practice], sitting around for about three hours waiting for the race to start.” – Johnny Benson
Up Next: The Craftsman Truck Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend for the E-Z-GO 200 Saturday afternoon. In 2007, Busch battled some window net troubles on his way to his first win of the season. Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.
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