Benson Claims First NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Title
Fittingly, the second-closest NASCAR championship in 33 years came down to the last lap of the Ford 200, the final race of the 2008 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season.
Johnny Benson, gambling on worn tires on the No. 23 Exide Toyota, held on to seventh place in a green-white-checker finish. He finished one position and 0.4 seconds ahead of Ron Hornaday in the No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet, capturing his first championship in the division by seven points. It was the second-closest championship margin in series history.
Todd Bodine took the checkered flag in the No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota to become the first two-time winner in 13 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He took the lead for the first time on lap 130 of a scheduled 134, passing rookie Brian Scott's No. 16 Albertsons Toyota. He held on to win the 137-lap race by .232 seconds.
Kevin Harvick finished third, followed by Kyle Busch, Dennis Setzer and Travis Kvapil. But it was the battle for seventh that decided the title. Benson stayed out on a caution with eight laps remaining despite running on used tires. Busch, who was leading, and third-place Hornaday were among the drivers electing to pit for four tires. On the lap 129 restart, Benson was sixth and Hornaday 13th.
Hornaday closed to within three trucks of Benson when a spin on the backstretch brought out the green-white-checker. Benson got the gap he needed when Hornaday lost ground while passing Scott Speed, and he held on to claim the title.
"Tonight was tough," Benson said. "Tonight was about [crew chief] Trip Bruce and the calls he made. We went out and did what we had to do. We weren't the fastest, but Trip said the smartest one would win it."
It was the first NASCAR championship for Bill Davis Racing, while Benson's only NASCAR title came in the 1996 Nationwide Series.
"This is what it's all about," Davis said. "It's a great relief and a source of pride to finally win it. Winning the championship is what it's all about. We've been the bridesmaid for many years, and for a long time tonight it looked like we'd be it again."
Compounding the situation was that Hornaday couldn't talk with crew chief Rick Ren on the radio late in the race.
"My truck was good enough to stay out, but I'm not going to second guess," Hornaday said. "If we came back to win, it would have been the call of the century. Every other track you go to Busch puts on four tires, runs to the top and beats everybody. It wasn't the case tonight. A lot of them guys put on two tires and put us that far behind Johnny. We got to him. We needed one more lap. It was pretty cool coming down to the end where we were both getting frustrated, we wanted to run into each other but we didn't. That just shows what two champions are right there."
On the eve of the race, Hornaday was hoping to have a side-by-side battle with Benson to decide the championship. That's just what happened in the latter stages of the race. Benson gambled under caution by taking on two tires, moving into the lead for the first time on lap 92. For several laps, the pair ran side by side – with Busch making it three wide on occasions – before Hornaday pulled away and seemingly was in good shape for the championship. Hornaday gambled on the next caution by pitting. This time, Benson came out the winner.
Hornaday led in the early stages of the race. Eventually, Busch flexed his muscle and seemed to have the truck to beat before his pit stop with 10 laps remaining. Bodine, who ran much of the race hovering around 15th, showed his hand in the final 10 laps.
"We had a terrible truck, we really did," Bodine said. "The guys' awesome pit stops got us a lot of positions. [Crew Chief Mike Hillman] Junior made the right calls. On the first stop, we made a big swing at it. The second stop, a little swing. The third stop, we didn't touch anything – and it worked. I really feel bad for Ron, because he had the truck to beat every week, but it's great for Toyota, Johnny and Trip, they've been close a lot of times. It's about time they got one."
Ford Championship Weekend continues Saturday with the crowning of the NASCAR Nationwide Series champion following the 4:30 p.m. Ford 300. The Sprint Cup Series crown will be on the line in Sunday's Ford 400, set to start at 3:45 p.m.