Friday, October 17, 2008
Unsponsored Benson A Story SPEED Must Cover
NASCAR returns to its roots this weekend with a doubleheader at Martinsville Speedway. While the well-known Sprint Cup stars will handle the Sunday duties, it is often the Craftsman Truck Series race on Saturday that has the most action.
Over the years, Johnny Benson has been a fan favorite for his personality and driving ability. This season, he comes into Martinsville locked in a battle for the Craftsman Truck Series championship once again. Unfortunately, reality has come knocking right in the middle of his outstanding season.
Benson's primary sponsor, Toyota Certified Used Vehicles, is suddenly gone. On Saturday Benson will be starting the race in his Bill Davis Racing Toyota painted simply black and red. During SPEED's Friday rain delay coverage, there was a lot of tiptoeing around this topic.
The fact is that for the first time in a very long time, the Saturday race winner at Martinsville may have no sponsor to thank. There will be no hat to wear, no CEO to acknowledge and no "TV time" for Joyce Julius to count. If Benson makes it to victory lane his truck would certainly be a statement about how tough the economic climate is for racing.
How SPEED chooses to handle this overall topic will help to determine just how honest the TV network will be as this series struggles through the remainder of the season. Some fans have been upset at ESPN2 deliberately hiding the "start and park" cars in the Nationwide Series coverage.
This Craftsman Truck Series issue is huge. SPEED is the exclusive TV network of the NCTS. What happens to this series next year and just how many teams can even finish this season has been something not discussed in the mainstream media. The focus this time of the year is on the Sprint Cup Series and The Chase. Saturday, a part of it should be on a 45 year old from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Benson means a whole lot to a big chunk of NASCAR fans. His age and experience relates to the real NASCAR fan base much better than Kyle Busch or Joey Logano. From his Midwestern roots to his long-time TV appearances on Monday nights, Benson being dropped by his primary sponsor as he battles for the series championship is news.
On Saturday at 2:30PM, it will be Krista Voda leading The Set-Up on SPEED. This thirty minute pre-race show usually touches all the bases where series news is concerned. In the Craftsman Truck Series, Benson is definitely one of the bases.
Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip will be along to call the race at 3PM. This trio is very race-oriented, as SPEED does not have any daily or weekly NASCAR show that regularly features the trucks. Perhaps, Waltrip and Parsons might chime-in on what is going-on behind the scenes and just how tough things are for the NCTS teams.
In light of the Benson situation, it seems ironic that 40 trucks are on-hand to try and qualify for this event. From struggling drivers like Sam Hornish and Chad McCumbee to "one timers" like Hermie Sadler and Mike Skinner's son Dustin, the race should prove to be a wonderful mix of personalities and experience.
So, one key element to watch on Saturday will be whether SPEED tackles the Benson issue head-on or chooses to run and hide. It should also be interesting to see how Sunday night's NASCAR TV line-up on SPEED deals with the overall subject.
Sooner or later, even Dave Despain may break from Wind Tunnel's open-wheel devotion and try to figure out just what NASCAR may be putting on the track in 2009.
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