Benson Wins Back-To-Back Toyota Tundra races
West Allis, Wis.— Johnny Benson must enjoy coming to The Milwaukee Mile, as for the second year in a row, the popular Grand Rapids, Mich. driver captured the checkered flag in the Toyota Tundra Milwaukee 200.
As Benson looked dominant at times, he held on to best series veteran Ron Hornaday, Jr. in a four-lap shootout that also included defending series champion Todd Bodine.
Benson, who led twice for a total of 96 laps, took command of the race just past the halfway mark and maintained a steady lead with the laps winding down. Hornaday worked his way back into contention after an early spin.
The final stage was set when a fierce, aggressive battle over seventh position between Mike Bliss and Jack Sprague sent Sprague looping around on lap 194, setting up the final sprint to the finish between Benson and Hornaday, one of two drivers to have won at The Mile in both NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Busch Series competition.
Benson was up to the challenge and used a near perfect restart to fend off Hornaday, pulling away for good when the Californian’s truck washed up in the corner with two laps to go.
“I did not want to see that last caution because anytime you have Ron Hornaday behind you on a restart, you should be worried,” Benson alluded following his first series victory of the season. “I really didn’t look in the mirror on the restart as I just wanted to make sure he (Hornaday) wasn’t inside of me going into turn one. Once I realized he couldn’t get there, I felt I was fine.”
“Milwaukee’s a track I like, “Benson continued. “If you have a decent truck and you have the set-up down, you can pick some places to run where other people can’t. To win here for the second year in a row is pretty exciting.”
Benson knows, as he raced at The Milwaukee Mile in his formative stock car career, winning an ASA race in the mid-1990’s before heading south to a career in NASCAR, which includes the 1995 NASCAR Busch Series championship.
Hornaday dug a hole early by spinning on lap three, bringing out the event’s first caution.
“I couldn’t have done anything different,” Hornaday stated. “I locked the front brakes up with two laps to go as I just had to drive it too hard to catch those guys. Who knows? Maybe in five more laps I could have caught him (Benson) or maybe I would have crashed. I’m happy with second tonight.”
It was an all-Toyota Tundra front row to lead the field to the green flag, as Bodine qualified second, sharing the front row with new qualifying lap record holder Mike Skinner.
Bodine raced among the top five trucks all night, challenging for the lead at times before winding up with a solid third place result at the finish.
It’s about time I get a good finish here,” Bodine quipped after posting a best finish of 20th in two Truck Series starts. “We tightened up a little bit there in the middle of the race and just missed it a bit. The crew made some great calls and the truck was the best it was all night at the end when it counted. Johnny (Benson) and Ron (Hornaday) had good trucks and we couldn’t quite get to them at the end, but we’ll take a third place finish.”
Throughout the first half of the race, Skinner looked like the man to beat as he handily led the first 103 laps before fading to fourth place at the conclusion.
“We’re happy and disappointed as we struggled here but brought the truck home in one piece and got a top five finish,” Skinner said after leaving Milwaukee maintaining a 108 point advantage over Hornaday in the season long championship standings. “I think we just got a tight set of tires there at the end of the race. I thought we could drive back up to the front and make a show of it, but Johnny (Benson) is awfully good here.”
Rick Crawford rebounded late in the going to move up to fifth place at the checkered flag, just ahead of Erik Darnell, whose solid night concluded with a sixth place result. Mike Bliss and Travis Kvapil followed in seventh and eighth place respectively while Matt Crafton and David Starr rounded out the top ten finishers.
The Toyota Tundra Milwaukee 200 played out before an estimated crowd of 28,319 and was completed in just over two hours at an average speed of 95.503 mph. The race was slowed a total of six times under the caution flag, the most notable occurring on lap 76 an incident between Kelly Bires and Ted Musgrave eliminated both Wisconsin drivers from the event. Musgrave was credited with a 34th place finish and Bires finished 35th after both trucks hit the wall between turns one and two and then came in contact once again while exiting the corner.