Teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Johnny Benson (driver of the No. 23 Bill Davis Racing Toyota). Benson is currently second in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points standings -- 137 points behind leader Todd Bodine...
Teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Johnny Benson (driver of the No. 23 Bill Davis Racing Toyota).
Benson is currently second in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points standings -- 137 points behind leader Todd Bodine with just two races remaining in the 2006 season. So far this season, Benson has four wins (Michigan, Milwaukee, Nashville and New Hampshire), 12 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.
Benson and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series return to action Friday, Nov. 10, for the Casino Arizona 150 at Phoenix International Raceway. Benson finished 3rd at Phoenix last season. The Casino Arizona 150 is scheduled to start at 8:15 p.m. ET.
Q: What do you feel your chances are to still win the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship?
BENSON: Probably based off the last two weeks, not very good, at least on our end. Todd (Bodine) has struggled the last couple of races, and we've had some mechanical failures. Anytime we've tried to capitalize on his misfortunes, we ended up with a bigger misfortune.
Q: You have finished third and fifth in the past two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races at Phoenix. Is there something about the track that suits your driving style and that might give you an advantage this weekend?
BENSON: When we look back at the last five, six, eight races, we definitely performance wise have done extremely good. I expect Phoenix to go decent. I expect Homestead to go decent. They are tracks that we have had good finishes at. Phoenix is a flat track. I like flat tracks. Since they've redone Homestead, it's a great place to race. I think we can excel at those tracks and run real competitive with an opportunity to go for a victory there, and that's what our plans are.
Q: The spot you are in in the points, are you in a position that you have to go for the win or is it more trying not make a big mistake?
BENSON: In our position, we're just going to race to win. I feel that our chances for the point championship are pretty much over. Mathematically, it's still possible. I don't see Todd Bodine having four bad races in a row. With that being said, we're just going down there to win and do the best we can. That's all we have really done all year and have been fortunate to have won four races, have a lot of top fives and a lot of good success. But with Atlanta, having a mechanical problem and of course, this past weekend with a mechanical problem -- it has pretty much taken us out of the points.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise with your team in 2006?
BENSON: Probably being able to finish off the last part of the race. We had decent success in 2005 but didn't win a race. We were so close. The first two-thirds of the race always went extremely well, and then we fell off a little bit on the last third of the race. We worked really hard over the winter to try to make sure that didn't happen this year. I think as far as the team, preparation, Rick Ren (crew chief) and everybody involved, they have really made that last third of the race a little more successful for us this year. But to sit there and point to say which helped it and which didn't, is pretty hard to dissect. I think as a whole that's the part we worked on over the winter, and this year has shown that on the race track.
Q: You went from a team last year that didn't win a race to winning four so far this season. Your team became a championship contender because of those finishes. Are all the pieces in place for the No. 23 team to return in tact next year and make a run for the 2007 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship?
BENSON: We're working on that. We're working on trying to make that happen. We're trying to get Rick (Ren) to stay there. I'm trying to stay there. We've all kind of turned our stuff in, but I haven't heard anything back yet. I know the sponsorship deal is done. I've read that I'm going to be there. I think things are looking good for next year, but until they sit down and say we're going to go do it is one thing. I feel confident that that is going to happen and it will probably move forward with the program to try to make another shot at the championship. I thought 2005 we were going to have that opportunity, and we started off good and then kind of fell in the midseason and then came back again at the end. This year going into the season, when we unloaded at Daytona, our goal was to be a championship contender and we've been able to accomplish that goal.
Q: Do you plan to stay in the NASCAR Craftsman Tuck Series or would you like to get back in to NEXTEL Cup?
BENSON: If an opportunity came along within Toyota to go to the Cup Series, I would probably look at it pretty seriously. Right now, I love running the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. It's fun racing. It's competitive. And it just seems to be a lot less trouble, I guess you could say with everybody. It is a great series. I love racing for Bill Davis Racing and everybody involved and being with Toyota. It would be pretty hard to get me to move unless there was a great opportunity.
Q: Can you compare the present challenges in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to the past challenges in your career?
BENSON: No matter where you race at, the challenges are all the same. You're racing to win. You're racing to accumulate points the best that you can. It really is not any different no matter where you run because the challenges in competition really are all about the same. The only differences that you get into is the style and how you race in each series. I think in the Cup series, a lot of the times you kind of hang out until the end of the race -- although I think some of that has changed now. In the Truck Series, you've got to run hard pretty much the whole race. You only get two opportunities with the pit stops to make adjustments, and you can't get too far behind knowing that there's only going to be two stops during the race.
Q: Considering success you had early in the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series are you happy with how your career has gone?
BENSON: Absolutely. I've enjoyed 95 percent of my career in racing. It's been good to me. I don't feel the sport owes me anything or anything like that. You seem to hear a lot of drivers think that racing in one aspect owes them something. But it doesn't owe me a thing. It's given me great pleasure and great competition throughout it. I'm looking for many, many years to continue doing it whether it be in the NASCAR level or otherwise. I'm going to keep racing until my desire to win is gone. One that happens, I will leave the sport and walk away, but it will be a long time before that happens.
Q: How are your approaching Phoenix being 137 points behind the leader?
BENSON: We're really looking at these next couple of races no different than we have the last 10. We've done everything we can to try to be competitive for the championship. We've had some things bite us. We've had races that haven't gone as planned. You get to that point -- we were 180 plus points out at one time and we were able to work all the way up to 70 points or less. In these last couple of weeks had we not had a mechanical problem, we would probably be leading the points. That's just how it works. For some reason, it looks like it's just Todd's (Bodine) year. No matter what happens, he ends up in a good spot even if he runs bad. It's just one of those deals where we are doing everything we can. I think we have performed on the race track and shown that. With some failures, it's just unusual. The drive shaft thing (at Atlanta) is very unusual. I have had three drive shaft failures in my career let alone having one a week ago. Toyota has just done a tremendous job with our engines all year. This was the first failure we've had in a long time. And the first one this year for sure. And it wasn't a devastating -- well, devastating in the points -- but it didn't disintegrate the engine or anything. It's just something that happened that was not real common but does happen from time to time. Had those factors or those problems happened in the beginning of the year, you wouldn't think of it as a big of a deal as it has been happening in the last two races. We're doing everything we can. We've been competitive. I've felt that we have out run a lot of the competition the last 10 to 15 races. It's going to end up where it ends up. We're not going to dwell on either end of it.
-credit: sears craftsman