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Benson avoids trouble, wins Ford Tough 225

July 23, 2008
Johnny Benson avoided two late multi-truck accidents late in the Built Ford Tough 225 Craftsman Truck Series race at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night to win by just under a half-second over Michael Annett.

The win gave Benson a single-point lead over Annett, with Ron Hornaday Jr. back in third just five points behind, in the series. It was a big bounce back for Benson after finishing 33rd at Memphis last week.

"I made a mistake at Memphis and over-revved the engine," Benson said after his win. "We were running second and had a great, great run going. I felt we would have continued to have a good race."

The race, for a large part, looked like it was going to be a show between pole sitter Mike Skinner and Kyle Busch, who was on the outside of the front row. Busch used the outside groove to take the lead on the first lap. With a slippery track at 120 degrees, however, it didn't take long for yellow to be flying as Shelby Howard spun around in turn three on the third lap.

When racing resumed on lap eight, Busch continued to lead, but the race was slowed again just four laps later when Timothy Peters and Ryan Lawler got together coming out of turn two. That cautioned lasted four laps, also. It was a beginning where a lot of drivers were struggling behind the wheel.

"I was screaming, 'Tight, tight, tight,' all night long in the radio, and the crew chief (Doug Walcott) said, 'All right, tight, we'll loosen it up,' " Annett said. "Then, you get some different kind of air and you're too loose."

On lap 21 a third caution came out when billowing smoke came from the back end of J.C. Stout's truck. Except for leaders Busch and Skinner, the entire field went to the pits for service.

Busch and Skinner began a game of leap frog as the lead exchanged hands for several laps. Busch finally gave up the lead for good on lap 50 when he made a green flag pit stop. He wished, however, he could have waited just two laps, as Chrissy Wallace slammed into the wall between turns three and four.

"I was battling with Jack Sprague and driving pretty aggressive into turn three," Wallace said of incident. "He took the air off and I got loose and backed it into the wall."

The leaders pitted and Benson's crew got the Grand Rapids, Mich., driver out first for the lead. A red flag was brought out after the crash to repair the SAFER barrier, causing a 10-minute delay.

The race restarted on lap 60 with Erik Darnell in second place behind Benson, and Skinner third. Justin Marks had his Toyota in fourth and Todd Bodine was fifth. The pit stop had pushed Busch back to 26th, but the No. 51 truck quickly moved up, taking away the 18th position four laps later. With 70 laps in the book, Busch was back at 15th.

Tires became an issue as Busch, Hornaday and T.J. Bell were all forced to pit because of tire problems. An extended green flag situation saw Benson and Skinner to begin to pull away from the field, forcing Benson into lapped traffic with 52 laps remaining in the race. By this time, three grooves had formed on the track with trucks running three and four wide through both the turns and the straight-aways.

"For me, you had to use all three," Benson said. "You had to start the corner high and go all the way to the bottom. Then, you used the track up coming off. Obviously, you can do that if you're by yourself.

"I think we may have been one of very few that were able to hug the line on the very bottom. That was key to us being able to win this race. You either had to be within an inch of the apron or you had to be 10 feet away from the apron. There's no real small spot in there. If you get two or three feet off the apron there in the middle, it was very, very slippery. You had to be really careful to get your tires in there. I found that out early in the race that you had to be very disciplined when you entered the corner and crossed over and got your tires in the right position and the right spot on the track. If you did that lap after lap, you could be in pretty good shape. If you missed it every once in a while and the guy behind you hits it good, he's going to gain two or three or four truck lengths on you. We saw (Annett) do that."

Debris on the track forced another yellow on lap 114, with the leaders again pitting. Erik Darnell, who was third, and Skinner, who was second, saw their positions escape them because of problems with their pit stops. Darnell dropped seven positions to 10th and Skinner fell three spots to second.

At this point things got even more interesting. On lap 118, the green flew once again, but it lasted only one lap as Busch and Justin Marks bumped, sending Marks into the third turn wall. Chad McDumbee and Darnell also found themselves in the middle of the melee, Darnell having to take his truck behind the wall for repair.

After a 10-lap delay, Benson was out in front again, being chased by Annett, Setzer and Matt Crafton. Behind him, trucks tried to go four-wide out of turn two. That led to another crash, this time involving Brendan Gaughan, Colin Braun and Todd Bodine.

The battle then became a royal rumble between Benson, Annett, Crafton and Dennis Setzer. Benson sat back in third behind Annett, Setzer and Crafton coming down the backstretch on lap 133. Through turns three and four, Benson dove to the bottom of the track and went out front. From there, Benson went on to cruise away from rest of the field, going on to win by almost a half-second over Annett.

"It was pretty cool on my end," Benson said of the pass. "We got such a great run off turn two. We started fourth and there was some lapped cars in there and they got tied up just a little bit. I had a tremendous run off two, and I go alongside (Setzer) and I thought, 'Well, we're in pretty good shape.' "

"We had three different trucks tonight," Annett said. "We were pretty tight early, and then after our first pit stop, we were pretty loose. The truck was pretty different back in traffic. The crew chief made a great call there with two tires and got us great track position out front. Johnny got by us, and after that, it was just follow the veteran. We probably had an equal truck as fast as him but not any faster."

Crafton, who finished third, said the whole race was just one wild night.

"It all depended on where you were on the race track," he said. "If you were 15th, you were just horrible tight, and if you take that same truck with the same set of tires and put yourself in the top five, you might be loose with it. You never know. What it is is track position wise. This place changes so much at night. A lot of people, I'm sure, made a lot of changes during the day, and the sun went down during the last 40 laps of this race, and I know that changed it as well."

With the season just over half over, the race for the championship will belong to the once who makes the least mistakes.

"Our goal is try to win a championship," Benson said. "Everybody that's got up there if you would have looked at the last two seasons, with the amount of issues we've all had, there's no way any of us should win a championship. It's been amazing on that aspect. It's great for Craftsman to have a points battle that is unbelievable. It's just a lot of fun to be a part of that."

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