Atlanta II: Round 22 preview

• Benson Brings Home First Martinsville Win • Championship Battle: The Points Turn Yet Again • Atlanta Motor Speedway Is 'Rowdy's House First Win For Benson At Martinsville DAYTONA BEACAH, Fla. (Oct. 20, 08) -- It took 11 attempts but...

• Benson Brings Home First Martinsville Win
• Championship Battle: The Points Turn Yet Again
• Atlanta Motor Speedway Is 'Rowdy's House

First Win For Benson At Martinsville

DAYTONA BEACAH, Fla. (Oct. 20, 08) -- It took 11 attempts but Johnny Benson (No. 23 Toyota) can now mark Martinsville off the winless list after grabbing the checkered flag Saturday. Passing Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) on the 155th of 200 laps, Benson kept his truck in front and beat Martinsville's most recent winner Dennis Setzer (No. 18 Dodge) by .785 seconds.

The victory tops his best previous finish of third back in 1995, the series' inaugural season. It is Benson's fifth of this season, all of his wins falling in the last 11 races.

With the hard fought race behind him, Benson said, "It wasn't easy but it was nice not seeing anything in front of you.

"This track's got such a rich history to it," he added. "Very cool to be in Victory Lane here."

With one more down and four races to go, Benson and team head to Atlanta this week, a track where in seven starts he has yet to visit Victory Lane. He was a forgettable 30th at AMS in March.

With five wins though under their belt for the year, the veteran driver feels they're competitive and will keep his eye on his main goal: winning.

"We're not going to do anything different these last four or five races," he said. "My goal is to go out there and win the race. All I care about is winning."

This Championship Battle Ain't Over Yet

With his win Saturday Johnny Benson took the points lead once again from rival Ron Hornaday, Jr. Hornaday entered the race 39 points over Benson and led 154 laps before the No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet ran out of fuel, relegating the reigning champion to a 29th-place finish.

This scenario is all too familiar to the three-time champion. Hornaday went into Martinsville a year ago with a 14-point lead over Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota). After an eighth-place finish he subsequently lost the points lead to Skinner, who won the race. Skinner headed to Atlanta with an 11-point lead over Hornaday.

This marks the ninth time in 2008 that the lead has swapped hands. Benson took the lead from Hornaday following his win at Kentucky in July. Hornaday was as far back as 119 points before regaining the advantage after Talladega on Oct. 4.

Benson's now 65-point lead over Hornaday is the sixth-largest lead in series history after 21 races. Greg Biffle, who led Jack Sprague by 125 points after the 21st race in 1999, is the only driver with a lead larger than Benson's failing to win the title. Sprague prevailed as the lead changed three times in the last four races.

Looking forward to the remaining four races, Hornaday and Benson have past victories stacked in their favor. Hornaday has wins at Atlanta, Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead-Miami. Benson has a win at Phoenix and is the defending winner at Homestead-Miami.

With the points lead in his grasp, Benson isn't taking any comfort being on top. "Anything can happen," he said.

"Every year in these truck races it comes down to the last lap at Homestead," Benson added. "You've really got to pay attention to what's going on, keep people in sight."

Atlanta Homecoming For Rowdy & Ballew Motorsports

Kyle "Rowdy" Busch may not hail from the state of Georgia but racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend will be a homecoming of sorts for the driver and his Billy Ballew Motorsports team. Atlanta is a place where the young driver knows how to get things done. Busch hopes to take the No. 51 Miccosukee/NOS Energy Drink Toyota to Victory Lane for the third consecutive time, and for the fourth time in his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career.

Busch, who has three wins, seven top fives, 12 top 10s and one Keystone Light pole so far for this season, knows a win Saturday would not only add to his impressive stats, but would be huge for his owner, Atlanta-area native Billy Ballew.

"It's a big race for Billy (Ballew) and it would be big to win it," he said. "I think we've got a good shot at it. Hopefully, things go our way," said Busch.

He also has a good idea who his main competition will be. "(Ron) Hornaday has always been fast there so we know he'll be strong and the guy to beat." The pair finished one-two in March.

His team owner thinks it isn't out of the realm of possibility either. "With the way Kyle Busch runs, it is possible to think that he can win three in a row and four wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway," said Ballew.

And about being home he said, "Being in Atlanta is always nice with all the family and friends coming to the race, and it would be even more special if we could win again."

A win this week would help the No. 51 team in the Owners' Championship battle. The team currently stands third, 209 points behind Gail Davis and the No. 23 Toyota Tundra.

"It would help Billy to win that," said Busch of the championship. "Hornaday had a bad finish at Martinsville so that sort of helped us out a bit. But Johnny (Benson) is still up there and doing really well, too," he added.

Ballew recognizes the chances as well. "Being only 209 points out of the Owner's Championship, it is still achievable with four races left to go," said the owner. "Hopefully, we'll have a good streak of luck and get the Championship. Either way, we've had a great season with Kyle driving for us."

In The Loop:

Once again, the points lead may change hands between Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr.

Benson re-took the points with his win last weekend at Martinsville, the ninth time the top spot has changed this season. How long his reign at the top lasts depends a lot on his run this weekend at Atlanta, a track at which he has struggled recently.

In seven Atlanta starts, Benson has no wins. He has also finished outside the top 25 in three of the last four Atlanta races. A continuation of those numbers combined with a strong run by Hornaday could spell trouble for Benson.

But there's another side to the Benson success spectrum. He has three top-three finishes at Atlanta. In other words, it's all or nothing for the current points leader.

Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Benson has a Driver Rating of 96.9, an Average Running Position of 13.0, 56 Fastest Laps Run and has run 68.5% of the laps among the top 15.

On the other hand, Hornaday has been strong at Atlanta recently. He has been the runner-up in the last two Atlanta races, leading a race-high 81 laps in this season's March Atlanta race.

Since 2005 at Atlanta, Hornaday has a Driver Rating of 99.2, an Average Running Position of 10.8, 53 Fastest Laps Run and has run 62% of the laps among the top 15.

Also watch for another strong run from Kyle Busch, who looks to go three-for-three at Atlanta. Busch has won each of his three Atlanta races and has a Driver Rating of 138.0, an Average Running Position of 3.0, 69 Fastest Laps Run and has run 97.2% of the laps in the top 15.

Battle For Most Popular Driver

Who is the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' Most Popular Driver? Its up to you to decide. Better hurry and cast your vote if you haven't already. Voting ends Friday, Oct. 31. This is an opportunity for the first time in series history, that voting for the Series' Most Popular Driver is in the hands of the fans.

Be sure to check out NASCAR.com and vote for your favorite. More than 50,000 votes have been cast since voting began July 5.

Director's Take: Wayne's Words

"This weekend we get to go back to Atlanta where the trucks had a chance to race earlier this year.

"Atlanta keeps it interesting and always seems to produce exciting racing, something this series is known for. You are going to see three and sometimes four-wide racing.

"There are a couple important keys to winning at this track. One of them may seem simple but getting on pit road is a big key.

"Also, tire management. That call on when to put on the last set could be a factor in taking the win. Going with old tires and track position vs. new tires and maybe passing a bunch of trucks with the laps winding down is a difficult decision at Atlanta." -- Wayne Auton, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director

Atlanta Motor Speedway became part of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule in 1997. Like Martinsville last week, it's one of three tracks that appear twice on the 2008 schedule.

Etc. & Quotable

Ryan Newman To Make Debut ... Ryan Newman, the 2008 Daytona 500 winner, will be behind the wheel of the No. 2 American Commercial Lines Chevrolet for team owner and 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick this weekend. This will be Newman's first career start in the series.

"It's the first time I have ever really had the opportunity to run in the Truck Series," said the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. "Everyone has always told me how much fun they have running the trucks, and now I've got the shot to see what it's like."

Newman has seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole awards at Atlanta. He'll look to take that success and hopefully apply it to the truck.

"From what I understand, running in the truck there, you are wide open," he said. "It's a really fast track; trucks stick real good."

"I expect to go there and have fun," he added. "But in saying that, we should run in the top five and have a shot at the win in the end. KHI has two really strong trucks."

Hamlin Return To Series ... Fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin will return to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this weekend behind the wheel of the No. 15 Hyprene Ergon Toyota for Billy Ballew Motorsports.

This will be Hamlin's first series start at Atlanta. In eight previous series starts, he has two top-10 finishes. Hamlin's last truck race was at Martinsville in March.

"I've watched the trucks at Atlanta and it's a wild race," said Hamlin. "I've actually watched it from Billy's suite at the track and it just looks like fun, so when he asked if I was interested, I jumped at the chance."

"Getting in a truck there was an easy decision," he added. "Atlanta will be different, but it's a challenge I'm looking forward to."

"The Ergon Racing team builds great trucks, so I expect to go out there and run competitive."

Wallace Added To Field ... Chrissy Wallace (No. 9 Toyota) will make her fifth start of the year at AMS. She has three top-20 finishes. Manufacturers' Battle

With the help of Johnny Benson, Toyota celebrated its 50th win in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway. The manufacturer solidifies its place in the championship standings, putting Chevrolet 18 points behind.

Toyota will clinch its third consecutive championship by finishing ahead of Chevrolet at Atlanta or in any of the remaining races.

Rookie Standings

Rookies only have four more races before the yellow stripe comes off the rear bumper cover. Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-way Freight Ford) continues to lead fellow Rookie of the Year contender Donny Lia (No. 81 Nationrides.com Chevrolet).

Since switching to Toyota, Brian Scott (No. 16 Albertson's Toyota) has seen his season rebound. Scott sits in third in the rookie title battle, only four points behind Lia.

These young drivers get a second stab at Atlanta this weekend to improve on their performances from earlier in the season. Scott finished 17th; Lia is behind him in 20th, and Braun brought his truck home 28th.

Up Next:

After the action at Atlanta, the series will head out west to the Lone Star state where Ron Hornaday Jr. bids to make it back-to-back wins at the 1.5-mile track. The Chevy Silverado 350 takes place Oct. 31.

Along with June winner Hornaday, five other former race winners are expected to compete. Ted Musgrave won last year's Silverado 350.

Fast Facts

The Race: E-Z-GO 200
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway

The Date: Oct. 25, 2008
The Time: 1 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 200 miles / 130 laps
Track Layout: 1.54-Mile oval

TV: SPEED, 12:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, Sirius. Listen locally on WEKS-FM 92.5

2007 Winner: Kyle Busch
2007 Pole: Ron Hornaday, Jr.

Schedule:
Friday: Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1:30-2:50 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 9:10 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Mike Skinner , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Ryan Newman , Johnny Benson , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ted Musgrave , Colin Braun , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Brian Scott , Donny Lia , Chrissy Wallace , Kyle Busch