Saturday, March 20, 2021

TRUCKS: Handling issues cost Norm Benning speed in Atlanta

PHOTO: Michael Harvey, @mlharvey00

Norm Benning picked up the 17th last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s FR8 Auctions 200 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #6 MDF A Sign Company / Overton’s Chevrolet was flagged off the track for running too slow after 72 of 130 laps.

The finish, which came in Benning’s 234th series start, was his first of the year and first since August 21, 2020 at Dover, 14 races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place history, it was the 3rd for running too low, the 16th for the #6, and the 403rd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 7th for “too slow,” the 64th for the #6, and the 1,767th for Chevrolet.

For the second time in as many races, the underfunded Benning participated in one of the sponsorship promotions put forward by Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis. In Vegas, he redecorated his black Chevrolet in Camping World blue-and-gold, then avoided an early tangle with a spinning Cory Roper to finish 33rd. This came after Benning picked up his first new backer in years – MDF A Sign Company – to start the season in Daytona. He failed to qualify for the season opener, then ran 32nd on the road course with the names of several supporters on his rear decklid.

The Atlanta promotion put forward by Lemonis was with the Overton’s company and also a tie-in with Women’s History Month. While many of the participants re-wrapped their trucks for the effort, Benning’s kept the blue-and-gold Camping World scheme, but with the new sponsor decals on the hood and quarter-panels. Benning drew the 37th starting spot. 

Rolling off 40th and last was Ross Chastain, who ran a “throwback” to Terry Labonte’s 1984 NASCAR Winston Cup Championship paint scheme with Billy Hagan and Piedmont Airlines. Chastain’s #44 Chevrolet would be joined by teammate Brett Moffitt, whose team had to change engines the morning of the race, pushing the #45 Overton’s Chevrolet onto the grid just before the command. Also dropping to the rear was Josh Berry, a last-minute driver change in the #02 Kris Wright Motorsports Chevrolet after Kris Wright had a positive COVID test on Friday.

When the race started, Berry was last across the stripe with Moffitt in 39th and Benning back one spot to 38th. At the end of Lap 1, both Berry and Moffitt had passed Benning, who believed he had a loose wheel. The driver struggled to communicate this due to a radio issue. By Lap 9, the last spot had passed to Chandler Smith, whose #18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota made an unscheduled stop after the driver reported his truck was riding the splitter. He, too, had trouble communicating with his crew, and on Lap 12 shouted “Hitting the splitter everywhere on the race track!” The Kyle Busch Motorsports team would chase the issue the rest of the afternoon, even taking photographs which didn’t indicate visible wear on the splitter. He’d narrowly miss a spot in the Bottom Five by taking 35th.

Smith dropped Benning back to last on Lap 15, when both were two laps down. Benning then lost more ground with a lengthy stop on the 19th circuit, during which the team was unable to squeeze a spring rubber into the spring. On Lap 27, Benning was nearly hit by last-place starter Chastain, who charged his way to 5th and pulled high to pass him off Turn 4. Still struggling with his handling, Benning pitted on Lap 30, electing to take the tail-end penalty for pitting when pit road was closed. Still on pit road on Lap 32, the #6 crew reported the only spring rubber they had was too big to fit, and the crew thought about going behind the wall. The crew managed to fit it in by Lap 36, changed the right side tires, and also took between six and eight turns of adjustment into the left-rear. By then, he was nearly 10 laps down, but still running with the rest of the field.

On Lap 82, Benning was posted by NASCAR for not maintaining minimum speed. Apparently, this wasn’t their first warning, and they were promptly instructed to go to the garage. Benning pitted on Lap 88, which the crew seemed to think was a regular stop for adjustments, but the message was communicated that they had to go behind the wall. Done for the day, Benning reported his truck was “horrible loose” and the tires were wore out. Worse, even if they hadn’t received the penalty, they didn’t have any more tires, so they couldn’t have kept going anyway. The team indicated handling issues were the reason for their DNF, but NASCAR listed it as “too slow.”

The only other DNF on Saturday was Raphael Lessard, whose #24 Richelieu Chevrolet suffered transmission faiure in the final laps. Jennifer Jo Cobb finished 38th when she, too, was making multiple stops to improve her handling on the #10 Fastener Supply Company Chevrolet. With 20 to go, Cobb said she “can’t put any wheel in it at all,” and made a green-flag stop, where she was caught speeding on pit road. Akinori Ogata finished 37th in his first start of the season, six laps ahead of Cobb in his #33 Kyowa Industrial Chevrolet. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Bill Lester, making his return to the Truck Series on the 15th anniversary of his Cup debut at the same track. Lester’s #17 Camping World Ford dropped back early and finished on the same lap as Ogata, seven down to the leaders.

Carson Hocevar tied his second-best Truck Series finish on Saturday by finishing 12th in the #42 Overton’s Chevrolet, which also happened to be his first series start at Atlanta.

*Benning and the #6 haven’t finished last in a Truck Series race at Atlanta since February 28, 2015 when the rear gear failed after 12 laps.
*Benning was also the most recent driver to be classified last due to being “too slow,” which occurred on May 3, 2019 at Dover.
*Other than Johnny Sauter’s disqualification after his 17th-place finish in this race last year, Benning’s 72 laps completed are the most of any Truck Series last-placer at Atlanta.

40) #6-Norm Benning / 72 laps / too slow
39) #24-Raphael Lessard / 115 laps / transmission
38) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 117 laps / running
37) #33-Akinori Ogata / 123 laps / running
36) #17-Bill Lester / 123 laps / running

1st) Niece Motorsports (2)
2nd) GMS Racing, Norm Benning Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)


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