Earlier this season, the Camping World Truck Series was shocked to find out that defending series champ Johnny Benson had been released from his No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota due to a lack of funding. Shortly afterward, Kyle Busch announced he and Billy Ballew Motorsports were working with their sponsors to allow Benson to pilot the No. 51 Toyota at the Milwaukee Mile, trying to keep the defending series champ in contention for a top-10 finish in series points. Unfortunately, an injury in a late model race at Berlin Raceway squashed those plans for Benson before they could ever take form.
Then, in late July, Iredell County recorded LB Builders had started to build a race shop for Kyle Busch to the tune of $2.4 million. What’ll be housed there? According to garage talk, it looks like Busch is preparing for a two-car truck operation to debut in the near future. And in a discussion on the Frontstretch forums, the names thrown around at the time the appraisal came to light were Benson and Brian Ickler. We’ll get to Ickler in a second. But the latest rumor, as reported by Ray Dunlap on the SPEED broadcast last weekend, is a little more definitive. It puts Benson in a truck fielded by owner Kyle Busch and sponsored by Con-way Freight, with the team most likely fielding Toyotas. The pair would supposedly debut full-time beginning with the February 250-miler at Daytona in 2010.
The funny thing about this rumor is that it all makes sense. Benson made it clear following his release that he would be looking for another ride, and was open to either a part-time or full-time agreement. Additionally, we’ve known for most of the season that Colin Braun, the current driver sponsored by Con-way Freight, will be moving to the Nationwide Series for the 2010 season. When Braun makes the move, Jack Roush doesn’t plan to continue his Truck Series program, so that leaves the company without a driver. And Con-way Freight couldn’t ask for a better one to pair with than the defending series champ as they look to continue their sponsorship in this division….
But let’s just assume for a moment that Ickler’s name is attached to the most recent rumors, as well. Kyle Busch has served as a mentor for Ickler, and the 24-year-old driver has filled in for Busch in the No. 51 Billy Ballew Motorsports fielded Toyota when Sprint Cup obligations interfere with the Truck Series schedule. Should Ickler make the move to a truck owner by Kyle Busch, he would be able to run a full-time schedule as well in 2010. Busch would then be able to continue racing for Billy Ballew Motorsports, spending some time on track teaching Ickler some of his favorite grooves to race in. Beyond that, Ickler would have Benson to help him out as well. That combination would mirror what Randy Moss Motorsports has done this season with Mike Skinner and Tayler Malsam, an example of a combination of a seasoned veteran and an inexperienced driver which seems to make perfect sense. Combined, Skinner and Malsam have three wins and 22 top-10 finishes in 19 races this season.
Another possibility for the 2010 season is that Danica Patrick plans to run part-time in the Nationwide or Truck series while remaining as a full-time driver in the IndyCar Series. Since it can be tough for a new team to start their organization with just one full-time truck, starting with two could be a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, a second truck could be used for Kyle Busch’s part-time excursions in the series, and/or with Patrick getting some seat time for a few of the races Busch can’t make.
But given the choice of Ickler as a full-time teammate or a part-time schedule with Kyle Busch and Patrick sharing the second truck, I would pick a full-time teammate in a heartbeat – but not for the reason you might think. Sure, the “Danica attitude” we hear so much about could be a challenge for anyone to deal with, but that’s not the reason I would recommend two full-time teams. It’s actually a huge help to have the same teammate every week to bounce ideas off of and possibly even share setups with. I’m not talking about team orders and telling one driver to move out of the way for the other; but what I am talking about is sharing information consistently, data that makes both trucks on the team work the best at each track while building chemistry amongst the two drivers as well.
And as for Busch owning his own team? While I’m not crazy about Kyle Busch and his tactics on the track, even I can embrace this scenario. Busch has been racing for Billy Ballew Motorsports and giving any race winnings back to the team for awhile now, and there were rumors earlier this season that he was trying to buy into the team. Since that didn’t work out, it’s perfectly normal to assume that he may be considering going it alone.
All of this speculation hinges on whether there’s any truth to the rumors floating around the garage, but it has been my experience that reporting with this type of backbone behind it turns out to be true the majority of the time. What really leads me to believe this is more than just speculation and gossip running through the garage area is that no one has come out and denied any part of it. I would think if Con-way Freight or Roush Fenway Racing got wind of this, they would have come out with some sort of a denial announcement at some point this week.
So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what comes of it all as the Camping World Truck Series heads into its final six races of the season. But regardless of the outcome, there are plenty of people, myself included, who will be happy to see Johnny Benson racing again.