Stewart, Benson put on a show in Festival 100. MARNE, MI -- Afternoon rain didn't stop Berlin Raceway from hosting an exciting special event Tuesday night, as Winston Cup stars Tony Stewart and Johnny Benson, in town for the UPS Grand Haven Race...
Stewart, Benson put on a show in Festival 100.
MARNE, MI -- Afternoon rain didn't stop Berlin Raceway from hosting an exciting special event Tuesday night, as Winston Cup stars Tony Stewart and Johnny Benson, in town for the UPS Grand Haven Race Car Festival, entertained a full house crowd of 8,658 in the Festival 100.
The non-points Coors Light Late Model event was delayed by afternoon rain, but the skies cleared in time for a full slate of racing excitement.
Benson started the evening off in good fashion by qualifying his #61 Port City Racing car at 15.387 seconds (102.476 mph), the fastest time of the night.
Stewart, who had arrived directly from the UPS Grand Haven Race Car Festival at 6:30 p.m. and promptly jumped into the #1 Devrou Chevrolet owned by current points leader Randy Sweet for a few hot laps, turned a quick lap of 15.485 seconds (101.828 mph, finishing as third fastest qualifier behind Benson and #161 Lee Anderson.
Next up was the first of two 50-lap qualifying races. Benson started on the pole by virtue of his qualifying time and led the first half of the race. But on lap 25, his luck turned sour. Benson and the lapped car #17 of Greg Zimmerman touched coming out of turn 4, and Benson spun across the start/finish line and into the inside wall. Anderson took over the lead and never gave it up as racing remained green flag the rest of the way. Benson's car had some front end nose damage and he retired from the race to make repairs for the main event, having earned a provisional starting position by his fastest qualifying time.
In the second 50-lap qualifier, Stewart jumped out to a huge lead early. The race was slowed by three cautions: a lap 8 spin into the wall by #82 Tom Thomas and #47 Fred Campbell, a lap 30 spin by #16 Jack Gritter and another lap 30 incident on the restart involving #37 Terry Senneker, #26 Chris Muyskens and #55 Joe Mazie. Stewart continued to pull away from the field and won the race running away.
The Festival 100, which began shortly after 10 p.m., proved to be an even better show for the fans. After the inversion, Stewart started from the 10th position and Benson from the 25th, meaning Stewart would have to pass traffic for the first time of the night if he were to win the race with his strong car.
Action started early as a pile-up on the backstretch on lap 2 damaged seven cars: Mazie, #8 Troy Marciniak, #7 Alan Fricke, #8 Phil Bozell, #94 Usher, #7 Cort Corwin and Benson. Benson avoided serious damage but pitted to change a right rear tire. He didn't lose a lap as caution laps are not counted at Berlin Raceway. Another incident on the next lap - this one on the frontstretch - involved several cars. #74 Paul Namey spun as Stewart drove under him to put him a lap down, and Thomas, #88 Tim Yonker and Corwin were also involved. None of the cars suffered major damage.
By lap 25, Stewart had powered forward into second place behind #12 Tim DeVos, while Benson had advanced to 11th. A lap 29 caution for a #27 Billy Bussema spin bunched the field up, and on lap 33 Stewart made his move, pulling alongside DeVos. The two raced side-by-side for 10 laps, and just as Stewart moved into the lead, the yellow flag came out on lap 33 for a Yonker/#11 Leroy Magoon incident in turn 2. DeVos retained his lead as scoring reverted back to the last completed lap. At the same time Benson's left front tire went down, forcing him to pit again to change it.
Stewart finally charged into the lead ahead of DeVos on lap 54, and on lap 66 he put Benson a lap down. Benson ran in 14th place, the first car a lap down. A few laps later, Anderson snuck up on Stewart and challenged him for the elad, but a caution on lap 75 slowed things down again. The final caution came out on lap 91 as Namey and #22 Brian Campbell got together in turn 4 and a spinning Namey took Benson with him. Benson retired from the race just two laps later, on lap 93.
Stewart went on to win in convincing style, leading Anderson and DeVos across the finish line. #101 Joe Bush finished fourth, followed by #98 Bob Curry and Gritter in sixth. The race lasted 56 minutes and ended with only 11 cars on the lead lap.
The race was Stewart's second appearance at Berlin Raceway, the first coming in a USAC Sprint Car in 1992.
Benson and Stewart then signed autographs in the pits. Stewart earned praise for signing autographs for every single person in a long line, lasting past 12:30 a.m.
Stewart and Benson now head to MIS for Sunday's Winston Cup race, while Berlin Raceway returns to action Saturday night with all three regular divisions plus the ISMA super modified cars coming to town. Tickets for Saturday's race are $21 in advance or $22 on the day of the race. Children 12 and under are half price, and 3 and under are free. Racing action begins at 7 p.m.