NASCAR Media Conference
November 17, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, we are extremely pleased to welcome our 2008 Craftsman Truck Series Champion Johnny Benson to the call. For Johnny and his team it's been 7 points the difference between he and 2007 Champion, Ron Hornaday, Jr. Which works out to the third closest championship finish in a NASCAR National Series since we went to the current point system in 1975.
Now, Johnny was kind of a, I would say a bit of a stressful end of the season as you led by 6 points, 3 points and finally won by 7 points in your final three races. But you've had a couple of days now to sink in, as you're rehearsing for tonight's championship banquet here at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
Tell us about your feelings and how they have kind of gone forward since Friday night when you won the Championship?
JOHNNY BENSON: Yeah, it's been a crazy week, I guess you could say. The last couple of races we knew it was going to come down to a great battle at Homestead. I said this the last couple of years, you're not going to know the champion until the checkered flag is thrown and everybody gets across the line.
That was no different this year with us having a comfortable point lead, probably four or five races back. Having some mechanical problems in that Ron and their group doing such a great job of running well.
You know, they were closing in on us, and it was making it a great points battle for, one, for the two of our teams, but also for the race fans and for NASCAR. So I'm going into the last race. You know, we knew that the end goal was that we had to beat the 33 to win this championship for the 23.
So that being said, the race started off, and probably wasn't to our liking at the time, but we could always see Ron there always ahead of us throughout the majority of the race.
Late in the race, we made a two-tire stop, which put us out in front of him. And we stayed there as long as we could which wasn't long enough.
Then our strategy came into play later in the race with 10, 12 laps to go, the caution came out, and the leaders decided to come down pit road to get tired. We chose to stay out. And at that point in time, the goal of that task was to stay ahead of them and we were able to accomplish that.
Q. Something about going down the last turn of the final lap of the 2008 season as Ron tried to close on you, I guess he was about 100 yards back coming out of turn four. I guess it literally worked out that way?
JOHNNY BENSON: It did. I mean, I really thought I lost it when the 09 got by us through three and four coming for that checkered. We knew we had to finish ahead of them. But he had led some laps and we were able to get some laps on the two-tire stop.
But, you know, you're just never sure. And I knew that was the case because even after the checkered myself and Ron had drove all the way around the track, parked in turn four, and the word hadn't come to us who won it.
So I was at question whether we won it. I'm sure Ron was at question of who won it or not. And then it came over the radio and told us we were the champions it was something that was very, very good to hear, for sure.
Q. Well, that's great. Little more housekeeping here. You are the tenth different champion of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and of course the final Craftsman champion as they leave our entitlement sponsorship after 14 great seasons and we turn the series over to Camping World beginning in 2009. Also we've not had a repeat champion in the series since Greg Biffle won the title all the way back in 2000. So with that said, if we could go to the phones and take some questions.
Q. You've won championships at several different levels. I was wondering if you could please put just one in perspective. It comes 13 years after the last one you won when you won the Busch Championship. Does it mean anything definitely now because you are older and further along in your career?
JOHNNY BENSON: All of our championships are way cool and rewarding in their own different ways. I think when you win your first championship which is what I did on the late model racing deal when I first started out is, you know, is very cool. It's your first one. It's the first time you've done it. Those are very, very neat.
But you don't get a whole lot of the press aspect. You know, you get yourself gratification of doing it. Of course your families and friends and people out there at that particular racetrack, and some local press over that. So that is way cool.
The second one is when we won the ASA Championship, and of course with that, with the TV it was a bigger deal for myself. Again, very cool to have the opportunity to win that. And that happened only four years after my Late Model Championship.
And then going into the NASCAR end of it, going into the Busch Series at the time, winning rookie of the year, and winning the Championship the following year. It was only two years after my ASA Championship.
Very cool. Things felt like they were going, you know, move ago long, moving great. Going good. Extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish.
You know, of course, I went into Cup racing, won rookie of the year deal and I never got the opportunity to run for a championship. But we were close. Only won one race, but I was really close to the Top 10 in points on four different occasions. I think we ran 11th and 1th twice and 13th. Always there knocking on the door, but never had gotten a Top 10.
Of course after I left the Cup series and started running the truck series with Bill Davis Racing, that gave me an opportunity to one, go race and race for wins, and two, race for a championship.
So even though it's been a fair amount of years since my last championship, this one does mean a tremendous amount to me. One, obviously on the selfish side for yourself, but two, for Bill Davis Racing. That's our first championship.
They have won many races there throughout their organization. They've been close on the championship before now to make that happen for them is something that our whole team is extremely proud of and myself to be able to get that done and get that for Bill and Gail is something that that does mean a tremendous amount to me.
Q. If you do run the full truck season next year, what do you think your chances are of repeating? Do you think there is anybody who could challenge you, Hornaday, Skinner, Bodine for the title?
JOHNNY BENSON: I'm hoping if things get set and we run a full season things of this nature, depending on what's going on, it's going to be tough. I think it's tough to run for a back-to-back championship no matter what team you're with, no matter what you're doing.
Even if I was here with Bill Davis Racing, we saw that with Ron Hornaday, how difficult it is to accomplish that. So I always feel that we'll be a threat for wins, and if we ever get to that point where we're going to run for a championship, I feel we'll be a threat for that.
Now whether that's next year or not, I don't know. But there's a lot of great drivers out there. Lot of great championship teams, and a lot of people that can win races. It would be very difficult for anybody to say that they could go out there and defend a championship and go win it the following year, unless you're talking to Jimmie Johnson. Apparently that seems a little bit easier (laughing).
But for anybody in the truck series, it's very competitive. I think the history shows that it's very difficult to be a repeat win error a back-to-back winner.
Q. Obviously, if you do it you'd be with a new team. What would be the extra challenges of trying to repeat at least under a different banner?
JOHNNY BENSON: I think the challenges would all be the same. You have to be consistent week in and week out. You have to win races. You have to not have problems, and if you do have problems, you've got to battle and rebound from the problems.
I think the 23 Team has done a tremendous job of that. And in that kind of where it lies. It's what's all around you. I felt that the four years that I've been there, as far as the driving part, you know, I feel I can be a championship contender, provided everything around you is something that you communicate good with. People that you communicate good with, and how well they handle your good times and your bad times and what you can and tend to do, or what can you do to overcome when you have the bad times to come back and be a strong contender for races.
Q. Is there anybody out there you feel is knocking on the door as far as joining the top guys who have kind of been vying for the title the last few years?
JOHNNY BENSON: It's difficult to say. I really think if you would go back two, three years ago, I don't think they would have counted the 23 Team as a championship contender team. To sit there and look down through the list to find out who that next team is going to be is very difficult to do.
We saw Erik Darnell up front the majority of the year. I know they fell a little bit at the end. Same with Matt Crafton, I think they'll be the new guys that are going to be up there. Of course, you still have Ron Hornaday, you've got Todd Bodine. You've got Jack Sprague, depending on what he's going to do. You've got Mike Skinner. You know, Ron Hornaday, I mean, the list goes on and on of who could put a bid in for this.
It really depends on communication, and all of the things that we just talked about if they're going to be a championship contender team. You know, the Roush trucks, they'll be tough. There's a bunch of them.
This year was an odd year for everybody. Me and Ron were just talking about this yesterday. If you look at the last three seasons with the problems that myself and Ron had, any of those other three seasons, we'd be running for fifth and sixth in points, not for the Championship lead. So anything can happen throughout the season to put somebody in that situation to be a contender.
Q. First question is the easy one. Are the trucks where you want to be in 2009? And the second question, being from the area, being from Michigan, should the government come to the aide of the big three? If they don't, how do you see it affecting NASCAR in the coming years?
JOHNNY BENSON: Well, for one, I thoroughly enjoyed running with the truck series. Got to really thank Craftsman for promoting the series and helping it be where it's at today. That's a difficult task. And I think NASCAR and craftsman did a tremendous job with that. I would like that to be the home for a couple more years anyways, whether it be part-time or full-time.
So I enjoy doing it. It's a lot of fun. It's like Saturday night racing. The races are obviously shorter. We get a little bumping and banging. When it's all said and done we're all in the garage area having fun, and talking about the race that just happened.
As far as the other question, I really don't know the answer on what they need to do to help the big three companies. There are probably a lot of things that need to happen. There are a lot of things, I'm sure, that are happening.
We do know it's going to have an effect on racing. We understand the advertising aspect of it. And understand they need to continue advertising, and we understand NASCAR's probably the best place to advertise. So hopefully that doesn't go away, you know, being selfish in the racing business.
But it still feels like, you know, if you win on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, that it helps you sell vehicles on Monday. I still believe that happens. Some people may argue it, some people may say it doesn't help as much as it used to. And it may not help as much as it used to, but I still think it's a huge plus with the advertising they do.
So hopefully they won't cut back too much on that, and hope that they find ways to help their companies.
I don't believe in the bailout. I don't -- a company needs to run on its own. It needs to fix its problems whether good, bad or indifferent throughout their deal and take actions where it needs to happen.
Like we watch on the news about the bonuses. I don't understand why anybody should get a $25 million bonus no matter what they do. So those are areas that I know they'll look at and they'll fix.
Maybe it's because I've never gotten a $25 million bonus, I don't know (laughing). But I don't think it would be something that anybody deserves no matter how much you work.
That's part of it. You've got to have pride in your work, and a bonus is great. But some of them are a little out of hand. Hopefully they'll fix some of those things in the future. All companies, not just the big three.
Hopefully the big three will be around for a long time, and the Toyota being along. And whoever else comes with the sport. I just hope they continue to sponsor. They continue to support it, and continue to help the economy.
Q. Coming off a championship and being motivated by the challenges that you've mentioned and by how much fun you've had in this series, do you think you could really go to a part-time schedule and be fulfilled with that? Or are there just other things that you're thinking about?
JOHNNY BENSON: Well, there's all kinds of things to think about when this, you know, a few months back when I decided not to come back to Bill Davis's was the fact that I was considering doing either retiring or doing a part-time schedule and going and playing with my late model, and going and playing with my super modified. Messing around, running a limited truck schedule. Maybe catch a couple of Nationwide races, maybe a couple of Sprint Cup races. I didn't have a plan.
It was just a deal where the schedules and the travels and everything is getting to the point where I'm 45 years old. I really got to think about what I'm going to do in the future. I can't race forever. It's very hard to feel and think about when that time will be. But when I told Bill that, it ended up that I didn't want to put him in the situation when I come at the end of the season, and we get to the banquet and go, oh, by the way, I don't want to run full-time.
So I wanted to make sure he could move forward and do the things he needed to do to make sure that the 23 will be strong again next year. When that had come around and I decided that's what I was doing, it's kind of hard to step back and say hold on, I don't want that now. Or, hey, I still want my ride back or whatever.
I stuck with the fact that that's what I told him I was going to do, and we've had opportunities come along. I've turned down at least four opportunities and then there's been a couple presented in front of me that looked fairly enticing to possibly come back and run a full season.
So it's in the works. Hopefully in the future it all gets done and we can move forward and make announcements. But at this point in time everything is not done, and, you know, we're just going to see what happens. There are some things that still have to happen, so...
If it's part-time, I'll be happy. We'll go have fun, and I'll race my other thing and spend time with my family, because that's one thing that I was appraising in this part.
Q. Your thoughts about the testing, and how that will affect competition in this series?
JOHNNY BENSON: You know, it's not going to help the competition in this series by eliminating testing. But it will save them money. It will save the smaller teams money for sure. It will give an opportunity for the bigger teams to save a little bit of money, although they'll find out ways to get around and spend more money on the engineering aspect of the program.
But from the competition aspect of it, we'll probably separate the big teams from the smaller teams even more. They have to do something on the cost aspect, because if that guy can't afford to come to the racetrack, all the testing in the world isn't going to do him any good anyways.
Q. How much is Toyota playing into your decision to return full-time to the tracks and knowing how big they are in the series? I'd have to think they'd want the champions back in the Toyota full-time.
JOHNNY BENSON: Toyota's been a part of that. I can guarantee you, they were definitely afraid I was going to go to another manufacturer and run part-time or full-time, so, yeah.
Their influence there has been great. Well appreciated. On my behalf, I appreciate everything that they've done. I appreciate everything that Bill Davis has done. So, yeah, they've had some influence for sure.
Like you say, time will tell what the full plans will be, whether it be part-time or full or whatever. But, yeah. They're, you know, pushing hard to have me continue on for sure.
Q. The question more in a general sense about the truck series, what do you see the niche of the series going forward? For the last few years it's been so heavily dominated by older drivers in the 40 and up crowd. But in this off-season you look at Sprague, Ted Musgrave, Setzer, Cooke, some of these guys who are without rides. Where a lot of young drivers are bringing in their own sponsorship, maybe they're untested as drivers, they seem to be locked up for next year. What direction do you see the series going forward?
JOHNNY BENSON: The direction I would see all racing going, not just truck series going. If somebody's got money, they will have a ride. I think that's bad for the sport, but what is the owner to do when the economy is the way it's at today? They have to make that decision to either put somebody in that has the driving talent, the ability to assemble good people around them. The ability to grab workers that want to work with a talented driver.
Those things for an owner are easy to work with. But to find the money is a tough challenge. If a guy comes knocking on the door and he says I want to drive your car, here's our sponsor. Well, the hardest challenge has just presented itself with the money aspect, because right now that is the bigger challenge.
Then, you know, they have to figure in to fact that the rookie may have some struggles not have any experience, means that you're possibly going to wreck some vehicles. Some experienced drivers can do the same thing, but maybe on a lesser fashion.
So there are positives and negatives in both places. But with the way the economy is, they're going to choose money over the other aspects.
It puts us in a tough situation. Like you say, with Jack Sprague, and Ted Musgrave, and Dennis Setzer who are all great racers. But with them not getting the money, it makes it very difficult for them to establish a ride.
I feel for them, and I feel for me. This is going to happen to me, too. It's sometimes very difficult to just accept the fact that they're going to choose money over some of the talent that's there.
I think what they're hoping for is the kid's got talent.
Q. First of all you mentioned this before about Bill Davis and what it means to them. What do you think personally it means to him with everything that's been going on with him and his cup team and everything that's going on in the economy and all of that?
JOHNNY BENSON: Well, it's a very difficult time for him, I'm sure. I'm sure he didn't want me to leave, and it's visible. I can tell that he's not real happy over the situation. But I just hope he appreciates the hard work, and I'm sure he does, of everything that we were able to establish the four years I've been there. Winning 14 races and a championship for him.
It's very well deserved for Bill Davis and Gail Davis, and Bill Davis Racing to win a championship. And I hope he grasps on to that and I hope he enjoys it. I know next year's going to be very different for him.
They'll move forward as a race team. This is not the first time they've been in this situation before, so I'm sure they'll carry on next year and everything will be smooth and fine for them.
I know he's in the process of looking for sponsorships for the 22 team and things of this nature on the Cup side. The truck side seems to be very strong for him. So I don't see any problems on the truck side at all. On the cup side, I don't know. That's on the other side of the street.
Q. Knowing all that, how weird is it to celebrate with him and the rest of the team tonight knowing all that's going on?
JOHNNY BENSON: Say that again?
Q. How weird is it to celebrate with Bill and Gail and knowing all of that was going on?
JOHNNY BENSON: It's not weird. It should be enjoyable. I'm going to enjoy myself tonight no matter what. I mean, this isn't new news. This is something we've known for a long time that I wasn't going to be there. So the newness aspect of that news is gone for us. It's just not for the media aspect.
It was fairly quiet for a long time about it. If run fifth in the points it would be a non-issue. Because winning the points it seems to be a little bigger of an issue. But I can tell you I am going to enjoy my night because I am proud of what the 23 Team's done. I'm proud of what Bill and Gail has done, and it's pure pleasure to be able to get this done for that organization.
Q. Have you had time to work on the speech at all, or are you going to just wing it tonight?
JOHNNY BENSON: I'm going to wing it. Because half of my information didn't come in until this morning that I needed. I'm going to laugh about it. I have no time between 11:00 and the banquet today. It's been nonstop since 11 this morning and we're having fun. I'm going to put down my points of interest. So it's either going to be really bad or it's going to be really good.
To me it's going to be what it's going to be, and that is kind of my theory on the whole championship season this year.
I said, looking guys, let's have some fun. Let's go race, win races, but let's have fun. Let's enjoy what we've got going on here. They knew it was a good race team coming in.
Two years ago we ran second in the points, a year ago third in the points. So I said let's enjoy this, especially with what's going on.
Especially after my announcement a couple of months back about leaving there, you know. It was really important to tell those guys that we need to continue having fun. They did throughout the whole deal, except for the last two races were a little stressful, but that's understandable.
Q. A couple years ago you and I talked in the garage at Michigan International Speedway, and at that time you said things were really going hectic with your schedule. Well, now that you're a champion, wow, the increased demands on you. How much more do you think this is really going to explode your entire schedule?
JOHNNY BENSON: I don't think it will change the schedule that much one bit whatsoever. I think we'll probably gain a couple of appearances here and there and things of this nature. You know, you're going to get more interviews, I think when you know the first part of the year being the defending champion. You're going to get a little bit of that.
And, of course, when you're hitting your home stretches in your hometowns, it's going to be a little bit more hectic. But I don't see a change in it a tremendous amount.
Q. When I saw the tears in your eyes after you found out you had won, I would have liked to share some crazy jokes that you and I shared at Michigan International Speedway, and I thought, gee, I wish I was there right now standing next to him. I've got a couple for him. Congratulations.
JOHNNY BENSON: Thank you.
Q. Do you think that you have common traits that you share with other NASCAR champions? And what do you admire most about other champions?
JOHNNY BENSON: Well, I admire all race car drivers no matter where they're at. Whether it be a local level. IndyCars, drag racing, motorcycles, it doesn't matter.
I think when it gets down to the champions, you all share a common goal as far as being, one, obviously having some talent. But two, having the ability to work with people, to surround yourself with good people, and enjoy the fruits of having a tremendous season.
So I've got a lot of respect for every champion, no matter what it is or what they do or even what sport it's in. You know, you train hard, you work hard, the people around you work extremely hard.
And it's something that when the end of the day comes, you can look back and go, you know what? That's a pretty proud moment for everything that happened. I think that's no different for every champion. I think they can look and say this is a proud moment for whether you do it on your own, as far as some sports or if you do it with a group of people like we do it here.
So I think the common trait would be being proud of the people that took you along that journey.
Q. On your last lap of such an exciting race did you shit your pants?
JOHNNY BENSON: The last couple of laps were pretty intense. But I knew what the task was I knew what I needed to do. And we were able to stay up front and finish where we did, so, yeah. It made for tense moments, but my spotter got on the radio and said that you're looking good, get through three and four, get to the line, you're in good shape. So I didn't worry about it from that point in time.
I think we've got some not so serious journalists out there. But I appreciate all the good ones.
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