Wednesday, July 24, 2013

TRUCKS: Jeff Babcock The First Dirt Track Last-Placer Since 1970; Norm Benning Surprises in Last Chance Qualifier

Jeff Babcock picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Wednesday’s Inaugural Mudsummer Classic at the Eldora Speedway when his #84 Toyota fell out with engine problems after he completed 63 of the race’s 153 laps.

The finish was Babcock’s first, joining Kansas last-placer Scott Saunders as the two Truck Series drivers to finish last this year in their first series start.  It is also the second last-place finish of the year for Chris Fontaine’s #84, a team which most recently finished last at Rockingham seven races ago with Mike Harmon aboard.  Babcock’s team, Best Performance Motorsports, purchased the truck earlier this year, and as of this writing, results from the race indicate it was acquired from the Chris Fontaine team, which also campaigns the #84 full-time.

The 33-year-old Babcock made his series debut to build on a dirt racing career that goes back to 1999.  According to his website, he has since scored 149 victories, including 28 in 2009, and the Wayne, Ohio driver was ready to tackle the first Truck Series race at his home track.  He pulled double-duty this week at Eldora, competing in the Late Model event.

Babcock qualified 21st fastest at an average speed of 87.621 mph, ranking him tenth among the fifteen “go-or-go-homers.”  From there, he ended up taking the long way into the main event.  He began his journey in the fifth spot in the second heat race, an eight-lap sprint won by fellow “dirt ringer” Jared Landers in the Eddie Sharp-owned #6.  Babcock again missed a starting spot by coming home 5th, and he wound up on the outside-pole for the Last-Chance Qualifier.  finished 5th, however, forcing him to run the Last Chance Qualifier.  Fortunately for him, both he and race winner Brennan Newberry pulled away from the pack on the last restart.  Babcock finished 2nd, securing him the 27th spot in the main event.

The race’s thirty-truck field was the shortest in the Truck Series since October 8, 1999, when thirty trucks started the Kroger 225 at the Louisville Motor Speedway, the fifth and final series race run at that track.  Carl Long scored his first Truck Series last-place finish that day when his #91 Mansion Motorsports Ford crashed after 11 laps.

Starting last in the Wednesday’s main event was Norm Benning, who had become the feel-good story of the night.  Without a start in the Cup Series since 1993 and the Nationwide Series since 2004, the 61-year-old driver turned his attention to the Truck Series, where he’s competed as an owner-driver since 2008.  In that time, he’s finished no better than his three 15th-place finishes and has five last-place finishes, tied for sixth-most in the series.  Coming into Eldora, his 17th-place finish at Daytona this year has been followed by seven straight finishes of 25th or worse.

However, Benning also came to Eldora with 281 ARCA starts, including several at the one-mile dirt tracks in Springfield and DuQuoin, Illinois.  His best career ARCA finish came on the Springfield track in 2004, a 3rd-place run behind Bill Baird and Frank Kimmel.  In fact, out of Benning’s twelve ARCA finishes of 7th or better, nine of them came on dirt tracks, the most recent of which at Springfield in 2006.

Thus, when Benning found himself locked in a battle with Clay Greenfield for the 5th and final transfer spot during the Last Chance Qualifier, it should have come as no surprise that Benning had an ace up his sleeve.  After starting 7th, his #57 Stone Mountain Guns & Gold Chevrolet slipped through an opening-lap wreck into the 5th spot, then held the position until the caution flew in the closing laps.  Locked in a side-by-side battle with Greenfield, the two drove a spirited race the final two laps, and Greenfield shoved Benning into the outside wall.  Still, the veteran managed to keep his truck straight, and with the broken exhaust pipes hanging out from under his truck, he mashed the gas and raced his way into the main event.  Greenfield was one of five drivers who failed to qualify.

For more information on how to help Benning’s team, be sure to check out the link to his website here.

Reminiscent of the aftermath of Richard Petty’s wreck in the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta, several crewmembers from other teams helped patch Benning’s truck back together so he could roll off 30th in the 150-lap feature.  He managed to grab a couple spots early, shuffling the #63 of Justin Jennings to the rear.  Falling behind Jennings was the #51 Kyle Busch Motorsports entry driven by National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame honoree Scott Bloomquist.  Bloomquist, who was fighting a severe handling problem because his truck ran without a front sway bar, was the first to lose a lap.  Though he fought Benning to gain a spot, his #51 remained in the back at the end of the opening sixty-lap segment.

At the start of the next forty-lap segment, Bloomquist tried to pick his way through the field.  Just three laps into the segment, Jeff Babcock’s #84, running near the back of the field, suddenly erupted in smoke, then pulled behind the wall.  An engine problem was to blame, and his night was over.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Johnny Sauter, involved in a multi-truck accident on the backstretch on Lap 116, Ron Hornaday, Jr., who went behind the wall after he caught a big piece of the outside wall late in the event, Brennan Newberry, the winner of the Last Chance Qualifier, and Norm Benning.  Babcock and Sauter were the only drivers who did not finish.

Wednesday’s race was the first NASCAR event on a dirt track since September 30, 1970, when Richard Petty beat runner-up Neil “Soapy” Castles by two laps to win the Home State 200 at the half-mile North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina.  For Petty, it was the 117th of his record 200 wins.  For Castles, the runner-up finish was the fourth and final of his career.  Castles remained winless in 498 career starts from 1957 through 1976 and amassed sixteen last-place finishes, which currently ties him for 13th in the all-time LASTCAR rankings.

Finishing last that day in Raleigh was John Sears in his #4 1969 Dodge, the fifth last-place finish of his Cup career.  Sears won the pole for the race and led the opening ten laps before his engine let go, ending his race after 16 laps.  He was the 22nd polesitter to finish last in a Cup Series race.  The laps Sears led, the pole he won, and the last-place finish that resulted were all the final ones Sears scored in his NASCAR career.

From 1964 trough 1973, Sears competed in 318 races, scoring 48 Top Fives and 127 Top Tens with a best finish of 2nd on three occasions.  He ran for many years as an owner-driver, but prior to that competed for the same L.G. DeWitt team that, in 1973, took Benny Parsons to his lone Winston Cup Championship.  The day Parsons clinched his championship at Rockingham on October 21, 1973 was also the day Sears started his final race.  Engine trouble left Sears and his #4 J. Marvin Mills Heating & Air 1971 Dodge 33rd in a field of 43.  He passed away on November 1, 1999.

Sears’ last-place run at Raleigh in 1970 marked the only time that year that both a polesitter finished last and that a last-place finisher led any laps in the same race.  Both didn’t happen again until July 4, 1980, when polesitter Cale Yarborough led five laps of the Firecracker 400 at Daytona, then lost the engine while leading.

*This was the first time the #84 finished last in a NASCAR race on a dirt track since April 22, 1956, when Kenneth Wagner’s 1956 Lawson & Netti Ford overheated after 16 laps of the 150-lap race at the one-mile Langhorne Speedway.  It was Wagner’s ninth and final Cup start and his only last-place finish.  He was the first NASCAR polesitter at North Wilkesboro in 1949, which at the time was the season finale.  He also finished 70th in the 75-car field for the inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington.

30) #84-Jeff Babcock / 63 laps / engine
29) #98-Johnny Sauter / 120 laps / crash
28) #9-Ron Hornaday, Jr. / 137 laps / running
27) #24-Brennan Newberry / 145 laps / running
26) #57-Norm Benning / 149 laps / running

1st) Johnny Chapman, Chris Lafferty (2)
2nd) Jeff Babcock, Mike Harmon, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chris Jones, Scott Riggs, Scott Saunders (1)

1st) #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb (3)
2nd) #38-RSS Racing, #84-Chris Fontaine (2)
3rd) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb, #92-Ricky Benton, #93-RSS Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (5)
2nd) Ford (3)
3rd) RAM (2)

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