Todd Bodine may have won Friday night's Ford 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but a pair of calls in the pits earned the wily Johnny Benson a seventh-place finish – exactly what he needed to secure the championship.
After pitting for four tyres under caution on lap 126, Ron Hornaday Jr. chased Benson to the stripe during a green-white chequered flag finish that took the race three laps beyond its scheduled 134-lap distance. Hornaday came home eighth, one position behind Benson and one position short of his fourth title.
Benson's team changed plans at the last second and kept the No. 23 Toyota on the track during that caution, and that decision proved to be the winning move.
Benson won the championship by seven points over his Chevy-driving rival, and is the only driver other than Greg Biffle to clinch titles in both the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series. Benson re-started sixth and Hornaday 13th on lap 130, and Hornaday gained four spots to ninth before Tayler Malsam and Jack Sprague collided on the back stretch to set up the two-lap sprint to the finish.
Bodine beat rookie Brian Scott to the finish line by 0.232 seconds – his third triumph of the season and 15th of his career, and one that secured third place in the final standings – with Kevin Harvick finishing third, Kyle Busch fourth and Dennis Setzer fifth.
“It was only fun at the end – not at the beginning or the middle,” admitted a delighted Benson, who fought handling problems early in the race and who has announced he will not remain with Bill Davis Racing in 2009. “If those guys hadn't come in, I might have come in, but when they came in I knew what he (crew chief Trip Bruce) wanted to do, so I stayed out.
“All these guys behind me that worked on this thing are great friends. We've worked very hard to make this happen. Tonight was about Trip Bruce making the right calls.”
Hornaday had radio problems late in the race and couldn't communicate to crew chief Rick Ren that he preferred not to pit under the caution on lap 126.
“It was an awesome day for us until that last call,” he said. “We didn't know all those guys (trucks that came out of the pits ahead of Hornaday) were going to take two tyres and get out in front of us, but Johnny Benson and those guys had a great year, and we came up one position short.”
Benson's two-tyre call under caution on his final pit-stop gave him the lead with 43 laps left and transformed the race from ho-hum to humdinger. Benson held the lead for the re-start on lap 95 with Hornaday in tow. Less than one lap later, Busch stormed into the mix from sixth position and kept Hornaday occupied until he took the lead for himself.
On old left-side tyres, Benson began to fade and had dropped to seventh by lap 117. Hornaday surrendered second spot to Scott but appeared headed for the championship, before pole-sitter Mike Skinner's blown right front tyre bought out the fourth caution of the race on lap 124.
Reid Spencer/Sporting News