It likely won't be decisive, but the duel in the desert between Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr. in Friday's Lucas Oil 150 will deliver plenty of high drama as their shootout for the Craftsman Truck Series championship shifts to Phoenix International Raceway.
Benson has a six-point advantage over Hornaday, the slimmest lead with two races remaining in the 14-year history of the series.
Benson and Hornaday have been strong on all types of tracks this season, and they figure to run up front at PIR. They are both former race winners at PIR, and each has a victory this season on the other two flat, one-mile tracks on the schedule. Benson won at Milwaukee, with Hornaday seventh, and Hornaday won at New Hampshire, with Benson second.
Two years ago, Benson started on the pole at Phoenix, spun on the first lap, and then drove through the field to victory. He has been seventh or better in his past five starts at Phoenix. Hornaday has wins in 1998 and 1999 and was second to Kyle Busch at Phoenix last year.
"It's going to be a heck of a race," Hornaday said. "I'm pretty good at Phoenix, and Johnny is good there, too. We are going to race him hard. That's going to be cool. I remember when he got spun out by (Mike) Skinner and came back to win the race."
Hornaday won at Texas last week for his sixth victory of the season. Benson, who has five wins in 2008, hung onto the points lead by finishing third.
"This is unbelievable," Hornaday said. "I just can't shake him. This is fun. This is what racing is all about."
Benson and the rest of the Toyota drivers have been upset with NASCAR over an engine rule change before the 17th race at Gateway that they say took away 15 to 20 horsepower only from the Toyotas. NASCAR said it made the change to "maintain a level playing field among our competitors." Hornaday drives a Chevrolet.
"That engine rule hurt us pretty bad," Benson said.
But Benson doesn't think it will be as big a factor at Phoenix and in the season finale at Homestead-Miami as it was last week at the high-banked, 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway.
"I think the next two weeks we'll be a little bit more even," he said, "or at least Phoenix will be."
by Tim Tuttle/Sporting News