Race Weekend Central

Tearing Apart the Trucks: Johnny Benson Ousted at Red Horse Racing

After a less than thrilling race at Texas Motor Speedway, the Camping World Truck Series made up for it to the tune of some big news. Monday afternoon, I got home from work and read in disbelief that Johnny Benson‘s No. 1 Red Horse Racing team has shut down due to a lack of operating dollars, but his teammate TJ Bell and the No. 11 team would continue to run the remainder of the season as long as there are funds to do so. Johnny Benson was as surprised as I was when he got the news.

“The decision to close the team is a bit surprising because they told me they wanted to build a championship-caliber race team,” Benson said. “They hired a champion driver and a champion crew, and then decide to close the team instead of building the organization around it. So I’m a little confused.”

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Just a couple days after that announcement, Red Horse Racing announced they had signed Timothy Peters and sponsor Strutmasters.com. Peters will keep his No. 17 on the truck, but the team will use the equipment left vacant by Benson. The deal puts a larger array of equipment and resources at the disposal of an excited Peters.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to come over to Red Horse Racing. I really appreciate my opportunity at Premier Racing and all the support Strutmasters.com has given me,” said a grateful Peters. “Obviously all our hard work paid off because we were able to get Tom DeLoach’s (RHR team owner) attention. I am thankful that he is taking a chance on me, and I look forward to the future with RHR and Strutmasters.com.”

My first thought when I read about Benson’s release was ‘why can’t they just put him in the No. 11 and let Bell go?’ It seemed like a no-brainer to me. You’re looking at the defending series champion who in his nine-year career has scored 14 wins and 85 top-10 finishes versus a driver who has just nine top-10 finishes in 55 starts.

But in the hour I had to really think about it after I read it, I realized that just may not be a possibility. Sure it’s easy to see that Benson is clearly the better driver of the two, but when you consider the impact that sponsorship dollars can have on anyone running in NASCAR, it’s clear to see the No. 1 team had to have started running out of money.

Benson has had just one sponsor in eight races this season. The No. 1 Toyota carried a K&N Filters paint scheme in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, but Benson got caught up in a wreck midway through the race and was unable to finish. Since then the driver of the No. 1 has had three top-five finishes, including a best finish of second at Kansas in April.

But that performance just wasn’t enough to woo a sponsor to fork out the money it takes to keep a CWTS team afloat. Bell, on the other hand, has had Home4TheHolidays.org (also with Bell in 2008) and VisitPIT.com on his truck in four of the eight races he has run this season.

Sure that’s only three races more than Benson has had sponsors for, but in a sport as expensive as this one, that money makes a huge difference. Besides, it’s possible – and probably highly likely – that Tom DeLoach and RHR presented the idea of putting Benson in the No. 11 and the sponsors squashed that idea. After all, money talks, especially when it can cost more than $60,000 each week to race.

Aside from not having sponsorship dollars to help run the team, it just plain wouldn’t be fair to Bell to just dump him. I know, life isn’t fair and drivers get dumped all the time for a driver who is better, but the CWTS has usually been a place for young drivers to develop their skills in hopes of scoring a Sprint Cup Series ride in their future. And I honestly doubt RHR just jumped at the opportunity to leave the defending series champion with no ride. In fact, I’m willing to bet that it was a well thought out, hesitant decision.

The argument was brought up in Mirror Driving about Bell’s performance, but you have to consider what Bell has been driving all this time. He spent 16 races in 2007 piloting the No. 50 for Roush Racing, but it was a development truck that didn’t perform that well. Last season, Bell piloted the No. 7 Chevrolet for TRG Motorsports for just 17 races. In those 17 races, Bell scored seven top-10 finishes for the brand new team. That’s not bad at all for a brand new team making its start in the series.

You can debate the business sense of a sponsor who is willing to back a driver with mediocre results all you want, but simply put the decision is theirs to make. The harder part to imagine is that in eight races, no one has been willing to step up and back the defending series champion who scored five wins and 18 top-10 finishes in 25 races last season.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t think it’s fair that the defending champion had his ride closed. I’m still having a hard time grasping the fact that RHR can say Monday that the tough economy has forced them to close and then just two days later announce they’re adding another team. But you can’t blame Peters for this at all.

I can understand the fact that there’s no money to run the No. 1 team, but it’s really disappointing to see the defending series champion dumped like yesterday’s garbage. That being said, the harsh truth is that it takes quite a bit of money to run a Truck Series team, and the driver who brings the sponsorship dollars is the driver who gets to keep his ride.

Did You Know?

  • The 2008 Cool City Customs 200 at Michigan International Speedway featured the closest ever Truck Series finish? Erik Darnell edged hometown favorite Benson by just 0.005 seconds to score his second career win.
  • There has been only one repeat winner in the nine races run at Michigan? Greg Biffle won in both 1999 and 2000.
  • Todd Bodine and the No. 30 team may be in danger of not finishing the season? Germain Racing has Copart for three more races this season – Michigan, Memphis and Kentucky – but currently the truck’s hood will be blank at Milwaukee next weekend.
  • Johnny Sauter now leads the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings? After starting on the pole, leading 42 laps and finishing sixth, Sauter now leads Tayler Malsam by four points.
  • JR Fitzpatrick will be back on the track this weekend at Michigan? Fitzpatrick will pilot the No. 4 Auto-Owners Insurance Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick Incorporated.
  • Ron Hornaday Jr. will have a new sponsor on the No. 33 Chevrolet this weekend? Turtle Wax has signed on as primary sponsor for this weekend’s race at Michigan and the Chicagoland 200 at Chicagoland Speedway in August.

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