By one position on the racetrack in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Johnny Benson won the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship, 13 years after claiming his only title in the Nationwide Series.
Benson and Greg Biffle are the only drivers to have won championships in both the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series, but not until Ron Hornaday Jr. came up four truck-lengths short in his desperate attempt to catch Benson in the closing laps at Homestead was the issue decided.
Benson also is the last Craftsman Truck Series champion, with title sponsorship moving to Camping World starting in 2009. Beginning with the series' debut in 1995, Craftsman sponsored the trucks for 14 consecutive years.
That the title wasn't decided until the final race of the season was a fitting end for a campaign during which two evenly matched teams gradually separated themselves from the rest of the field and staged a battle that was the closest in series history entering the last event. A week earlier, at Phoenix, Benson and Hornaday had performed a comedy of errors - Hornaday spun and wrecked on the first lap and Benson struggled to keep his #23 Toyota between the walls at the 1-mile track.
Quick work in the garage, with some unexpected help from the Ford team of Roush Fenway Racing, got Hornaday's Chevrolet back on the track in time to finish 25th, one position better than Benson. That halved Benson's advantage in the championship standings to three points entering the Ford 200 at Homestead.
Hornaday had the better truck at Homestead, but pit strategy worked in Benson's favour - and to his rival's detriment - in deciding the championship. Crew chief Trip Bruce kept Benson on the track while Hornaday came to the pits for fresh tyres on lap 126, and that proved decisive. Hornaday restarted 13th, moved up to ninth before a subsequent caution but could make up only one position during a green-white-checkered-flag restart that took the race to Lap 137, three laps beyond its scheduled distance.
With Hornaday in pursuit and gaining ground, Benson crossed the finish line seventh and secured the championship by seven points.
As exciting as those final laps were, however, Benson said it was his entire body of work that was responsible for his first truck title and the first championship for Bill Davis Racing.
“Well, I can give you in 25 races the reason why we won the championship, because that's what it took,” Benson said. “It took 25 races. It started at Daytona when we unloaded, ended when we loaded up (at Homestead), and it's every race. And we've had some good races, we've had some great races, we've had some mediocre races and we've had a lot of heartbreak with one engine blown. We had a couple tyres blown and wrecked. Every one of those is a decision or a result of us being here winning a championship.