|PHOTO: Tim Viens, G2G Racing|
by Brock Beard
The recent Bristol Dirt Race saw Norm Benning finally qualify for his 245th career Truck Series start. But this story was almost written just three months ago in Daytona, where Benning joined forces with G2G Racing and earned a stunning 10th-place run in opening practice.
But Benning didn’t qualify for the race. People have asked why this happened. Perhaps, to some, no explanation is needed – Benning has struggled to qualify for races while G2G has yet to become competitive. To others, perhaps celebrating the practice run is enough.
But the mystery remains. For a moment at least, a struggling team joining forces with an underdog driver was on the verge of creating a feel-good story rivaling Greg Van Alst’s victory in the ARCA 200. What happened?
G2G Racing is co-owned by Tim Viens of Port Orange, Florida, and Viens’ cousin Bill Shea who lives two hours down the road in Jupiter. Both have racing experience - Viens has competed as a driver in both the XFINITY and Truck Series while Shea has raced late models at the local level. The team fields Toyotas acquired from Kyle Busch Motorsports and ThorSport, serviced by a crew of six including crew chief Tim Silva.
“We have Dan and Rob who are at the track and work with us,” said Viens. “And then Memphis is full-time in the shop. J.D. is full time in the shop. Austin is full-time in the shop. So let me see: Tim. . .Memphis, J.D., Austin. So we have (four) full-time in the shop for one truck. And we use hired pit crews through Pat Cole.” Memphis refers to Memphis Villareal, a short track racer from Texas who will be attempting between three and five Truck Series races with G2G, starting with the recent race at Martinsville.
A reincorporation of what was CMI Motorsports, a team fielded by owner-driver Ray Ciccarelli, G2G endured a frustrating 2022. The original plan was to field two Toyotas – the #46 and #47, driven by Johnny Sauter and Matt Jaskol. Jaskol earned the team its best finish of the season by taking 19th at Atlanta. But just days later, driver and team parted ways, and Jaskol took with him his sponsorship from AutoParts4Less.com. With few exceptions, the G2G effort focused on their #46 entry, and hired Brennan Poole, who was himself enduring a difficult start to 2022 with Mike Harmon Racing’s XFINITY program.
“I really like Brennan,” said Viens. “He’s a 100% wheelman. Guy's got unbelievable amount of talent. And he's kind of hasn't had a break with getting a good sponsor and be able to go run full time. So we try to use him as much as we can, when we don't have a ride sold for a certain weekend or whatnot. Or if I find a sponsor through the team and the organization where it doesn't come through as a driver to drive it, we’ll put Brennan in there.” Viens says he got Poole in touch with Macc Door Systems, which became a sponsor of Poole’s current XFINITY ride with JD Motorsports.
As the search for sponsors and drivers continued, a litany of mechanical issues followed, including four last-place finishes and some controversial moments. At the Bristol Dirt Race, G2G’s #47 – driven by Andrew Gordon – hadn’t been transferred from CMI to G2G, forcing a last-minute number change that cost G2G valuable owner points. At Sonoma, where Travis McCullough was unable to make his debut due to a lab’s delay in processing his negative result of a standard drug test, G2G’s transporter delayed delivering an unprepared #47 that never hit the track. The #46 fared little better with Mason Filippi climbing out and Stefan Parsons turning just nine laps before the oil cooler failed.
“Last year was our first year doing the deal,” said Viens. “And we had ups and downs, obviously, as a first-year program and learning the ropes. But this year, we wanted to focus on a one truck full time program, and just get that one truck really good and competitive. So I think we've accomplished that.”
NORM JOINS THE TEAM
Coming into 2023, G2G planned to field their #46 for Daytona – a KBM chassis with an Ilmor engine – but those plans changed twice by the time teams unloaded.
The first was in January, when the Reaume Brothers Racing shop suffered a devastating shop fire. “After (Josh Reaume) had his fire at his race shop, he reached out to me and asked if we could put together a speedway truck for them,” said Viens. “And so we did that.” This was the #34 Barker Construction Toyota to be driven by Jason White of Canada, the truck decorated in a flame pattern to thank the local fire department. White would run as a teammate to Reaume’s own superspeedway truck – the #33 Brunt Ford of Mason Massey – with the condition that the #34 team’s Owner Points would then transfer to the #46.
The second change was the #46 team’s driver. The preliminary entry list had Johnny Sauter set to rejoin the G2G team for the first time since the 2022 running. But then something unexpected happened. “Johnny (Sauter) originally was talking about doing half a dozen races this year,” said Viens. “He ended up taking a full-time job back home and basically just said, ‘Hey, if you can fill the seat, go ahead.’ So that was what we did.” (NOTE: This interview with Viens was completed before Sauter announced he'd drive for Roper Racing).
A friend recommended Norm Benning, and Viens made the call. “I've known Norm from years of myself driving sporadically in the truck series,” said Viens. “And I've just reached out - I guess he reached out to us when we started making a few phone calls for drivers. He got wind that we had an opening and that's how the conversation started.” With that, Benning’s name was added to the roof rails of the green #46 Toyota. Believing the Owner Points had already been transferred to the #46, Benning brought sponsorship from Middle Department Inspection Agency (MDIA). But when he learned the transfer hadn’t yet happened, he now found himself having to qualify for the race on time.
When Benning went out to practice on Friday, the truck proved to be a handful. “They sent me out there in practice with the wrong air pressure in the tires,” he said. “Really, I was kind of lucky - I was hitting the racetrack really hard.” So hard, in fact, that when he came back to the garage, more than half of the splitter had been ground away, and there was a dent in the driver’s door. But the truck was fast – very fast.
“I don't think anybody believed in me other than people that know me that I would go out here and be able to do what I did,” said Benning. “That was the first time I was on that track in two years and I went out there and ran wide open for 10 laps. . .I was seventh quick and I was never in an organized draft ever. Like yeah, you'd get some drafts because there are so many trucks out there, I get one or two. But I was never in line in an organized draft.” Benning only lost a couple spots by the end of the session, securing the 10th-best speed.
Back in the garage, Benning called for an air pressure change so he could go out for another run. “But Tim Veins said, ‘No, you're done. We've gotta work on the 34 truck,’” said Benning. “And I should have went out anyway.” Viens saw it differently. “[He] didn't express that concern until after he was already out of the truck. . .He came back in, we were ninth quickest, and I was like, ‘Okay, we're good to go. Anything else? We can make some small adjustments before qualifying.’ After the fact, Norm said, ‘I wanted to go back out.’ Well, he should have said on the radio when you were in the truck prior to getting out of the truck that you wanted to go back out. So that's pretty much how that went down.”
After practice, Benning said he wanted to use his own spotter instead of G2G’s. “I told Bill (Shea), ‘I'm not gonna let him spot for me. He's supposed to report traffic, he's not supposed to tell me how to drive the (truck).’ He wanted me to drag the brake and get behind people. And I passed a pack of six of them by myself on the back chute. He wanted me to slow down and get behind them. I keep asking him where the draft was. And he told me there is no draft, there is no pack. And Bill agreed with me, the owner.” Viens said he was fine with the change. “I guess Tony (G2G’s spotter) is used to coaching and helping drivers,” said Viens. “Whereas Norm felt like he didn't need that. He wanted to do his own thing and ‘just tell me when I'm clear’ kind of thing. And that was that. Norm asked us after practice if he could use his own spotter for the race, and we said we have no problem with that.”
In the meantime, the 10th-place practice speed attracted a lot of media attention. With six minutes to go in practice, FOX interviewed Benning – back in his street clothes – in the garage area. The driver was excited but was still concerned with qualifying. Surprised to learn the #34 team’s Owner Points hadn’t yet transferred to the #46 for the race, Benning discussed air pressure adjustments, and said he needed to make sure the front grille was taped up. With that, Benning was brought over to the media center, which included a photo shoot for NASCAR’s 75th anniversary.
“That was such a huge media thing,” said Benning. “(Someone from NASCAR) said ‘you have to go to the media center.’ And I was over there for I don't know how long, an hour or hour-and-a-half, talking to some of the reporters and all. They had a story all put together for Friday, ‘Who cares about these young kids? Norm Benning's in the Top Ten.’ And that was really, really cool to see. Because nobody ever thought it wouldn't qualify - including me, in fact. I thought that I would be easily in the Top Ten if not the Top Five. I fly airplanes and I understand the air and make it work for me. And I've proven that over and over at those places.”
By the time Benning was done with his media obligations, it was time to qualify, where his #46 earned an early draw, just the fifth truck on track.
“And what they did - and I don't know if Tim Silva was told to do it - but they never taped the nose off solid. They left it open. And I asked Tim Viens - I was strapped in the truck - Tim Viens was standing there and I said, ‘Tim, is the nose taped off solid?’ He walked to the front of the truck and came back and said, ‘Yes.’ He lied right to my face.” Heading down the backstretch on his timed lap, Benning noticed his water temperature. “It's running 180 degrees (instead of 240), there's no way in the world there's any tape on the front of this truck.” A picture provided by Tim Viens – and confirmed by the FOX broadcast – shows the nose did have some tape on it but was not completely covered.
This wasn’t the only issue Benning had with the truck. “He was low in practice,” said Viens. “And it didn’t hit the frame or anything, it hit the side skirting on the front driver's side, bouncing in, I think, (Turns) 3 and 4. So, we put a spring rubber in to keep it from bottoming out. He didn't hit in qualifying.” Benning said the crew put two full rubbers in the front springs, which created a different problem. “I don’t know how much you know about that stuff, but it will not allow the truck to travel,” said Benning. “So, the splitter was two to three inches off the racetrack. All that air was going under that truck when I was qualifying, causing a huge amount of drag.” While Tim Viens contests this, Benning also says the tire pressures were unchanged from inspection and left at “tech pressures” of 30 and 45 - the tires weren’t even touched because the air bottle was empty. “And the guy that was supposed to be doing them, I said, ‘Are the air pressures ready?’ He said, ‘It's all handled, don't worry about it.’ And then Tim Silva said the same thing. I said, ‘Well, what are they?’ ‘Don't worry about it.’ They wouldn't tell me. I should have done it myself. But I was strapped in the truck.”
According to Benning, these three issues combined – the tape, the spring rubbers, and the unchanged air pressures, led to a slow qualifying lap. “When I qualified, (Turns) 1 and 2, I went through there absolutely perfect. In (Turns) 3 and 4, there was a gust of wind and everybody saw the flag - they were straight out - and they hit that nose. And with that splitter two to three inches off the ground, and that radiator opening open, that gust of wind just moved that nose, right up the racetrack. It wasn't but two or three feet, and it meant hundredths of a second. If you watched all of qualifying, some guys were up there with a full lap. The guy that won the pole (in Cup, Alex Bowman) was five feet off your line and got the pole by two tenths of a second. So it had nothing to do with my lap, but people were saying, ‘Oh, you got off the yellow line.’ Well, I don't want to hear it. I didn’t turn the wheel. If I turned the wheel back down, I'd have killed a bunch of speed. But I just kept the wheel straight so the front wheels would track with the rear wheels.”
Benning’s lap of just 174.476mph (51.583 seconds) was already just the 10th-fastest of 11 drivers when FOX interviewed him again on pit road. “Right now, I’m just a little down,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. We should’ve been faster than we were. But we’ll see how it works out.” Ultimately, the lap wasn’t fast enough to get him into the show. Jason White, who ran even slower, secured the final provisional in the team’s #34. The roles would have been reversed if the points transfer had happened earlier, or according to Benning, if his changes had been put into action.
“He didn't want me driving to begin with,” said Benning of Viens. “He wanted Brennan Poole to drive it. They never ever expected me to go as fast as I did in practice. That blew his mind. And then when Amanda from FOX interviewed me, (Viens) came over to me he says, ‘Norm, make sure you mention my name.’ I couldn't believe he said that. . .He wants to be a superstar. (But) look at the big picture. I’d have made him a superstar. All he had to do is what I told him to do with that truck. And I would have had a tremendous qualifying time. In the race, I may have wrecked. But I guarantee you I would’ve been running up front when it happened. . .I knew in my heart I could win that race if I didn't make any mistakes. . . That was one of the biggest days in my racing career and they took it away.”
“He was very discouraged to not make the race and that’s understandable,” said Viens. “All drivers are competitive, and they want to compete, and they want to go out there and make the show. . .Yes, the nose was taped up, I can send a picture to you of the nose for practice during qualifying, you see it clearly on TV. He expressed some concerns about the air pressures not being up prior to qualifying, which my guys did, and we verified that. So, I just think it's frustration (at) not making the race. I have nothing negative to say about Norm. I feel it’s just complete frustration after being so fast in practice.”
Bristol marked Benning’s first Truck Series attempt since Daytona. Since NASCAR’s rules for dirt tracks still allowed him to run the old nose on his Chevrolet, he brought his own #6 – practically untouched since he last ran it at Knoxville last summer. The race also marked the first time G2G Racing fielded two trucks since their deal with Reaume in Daytona and followed their second DNF of the year after Armani Williams slid into Dean Thompson’s wreck at Texas. This time, the G2G team was able to run their #47 on Andrew Gordon’s truck, which was entered alongside newcomer Jerry Bohlman in the #46.
In the heat races, Bohlman’s truck wouldn’t start, the victim of a faulty pressure plate in the clutch. Gordon nearly made the show but faded late in the final heat race – just as Benning was closing. Coming to the checkered flag, Benning passed both Gordon and Tyler Carpenter. It was just enough to put Benning into the race and send both G2G entries home.
THATS CRAZY i hate g2g racing
Those pictures are not from the same time period. Where is the aluminum extension on the air dam?
Those pictures are not from the same time period. Where is the aluminum extension on the air dam?
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