By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas — It’s difficult for a NASCAR driver having opportunities to run in high-quality equipment. More so, when they have a select number of races to do so as it’s been the case for Kyle Benjamin.
Over the past two seasons, the 21-year-old has driven for DGR-Crosley and Joe Gibbs Racing in both the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and Xfinity Series respectively.
Despite having tremendous success in both national touring series, scoring four top-fives (two from each series), two poles (both in Xfinity) and five top-10s (three in Xfinity) in just 10 combined starts (eight in Xfinity), he’s not had the consistency of having a long-term ride to validate his early success.
Now going into Friday’s SpeedyCash.com 400 at Texas Motor Speedway, Benjamin will have his first crack at a NASCAR race this season, driving the No. 45 Spray-on.com Chevrolet Silverado for Niece Motorsports.
The No. 45 truck has been one of the top stories of the Truck Series season with Ross Chastain, who will be driving the No. 38 Chevrolet at Texas, scoring a triumphant victory at Kansas last month and brought the truck home inside the top-10 in each of the first eight races.
The South Carolina native said it’s been quite journey already in his young career and hopes he can make the most out of his opportunity at Niece, proving that they’re no fluke.
“It feels good to be back in the seat,” said Benjamin. “It’s been kind of off-and-on the past few years where I’ve been out of the seat for a while but being with this team gives me a lot of confidence. They’re a good group of guys and had a good truck here last time. I think we’ll have a pretty good chance this weekend. We just got to play it smart and keep making gains in practice, and I think we’ll have a good truck in the race.”
Despite being teammates, Benjamin commented that he hasn’t had many chances speaking with Chastain, who declared Tuesday that he’ll be running for the Truck Series championship but intends of doing so later today. Despite this, he’s confident about the team’s expectations this weekend at “The Lone Star State.”
“I haven’t spoken a lot to him,” said Benjamin. “I have talk to him some and did have a few words before practice. I’ll probably talk to him later and just get more advice, but I think we’ve gotten ourselves in pretty good shape.”
After the opening practice session, Benjamin was 17th fastest out of the 28 trucks that participated. He ran 26 laps during the 50-minute session, with a time of 30.403 seconds (177.614 mph), 0.516 seconds slower than top practice charter Ben Rhodes, being his personal best.
“It feels really good. I’m still working on myself a little bit on just getting up to speed,” Benjamin after opening practice. “There are certain things that I can do to go faster and then we’ll have to get the truck better too on top of that. Combining those two things, I think we’ll have a pretty fast truck tonight – considering the speeds we’re running right now.”
Moments after practice, the team will face a roadblock as NASCAR announced they’ll be parked for 30 minutes due to unapproved parts being removed from the splitter.
The effect will take place during final practice, but it’s far from the first setback Benjamin has faced in his career.
Last season, Benjamin made his Truck Series debut last spring at Martinsville Speedway, where not only he qualified fourth, but led 74 of 250 laps on a Monday morning and was in contention for the race victory.
While Benjamin came up 0.106 seconds of beating John Hunter Nemechek, he wouldn’t make his next Truck start until the same venue months later, where he started and finished in fifth.
Benjamin said the waiting game of making his next NASCAR start has been tough but remains grateful of getting the tremendous chances of running a great equipment and the results have shown.
“Luckily, the opportunities that I’ve gotten have turned out pretty good,” said Benjamin. “We’ve had pretty good runs and I learned a lot in those races – especially Martinsville when I was battling for the win. It was a good race to build on and then sit for a few months to get back in a truck. The main thing is that I’m pretty grateful for the fact that the ones I have gotten have been really good with good races and good equipment.”
Texas also marks the first leg of a three-race stretch called The Triple Truck Challenge, where the winner will be awarded a $50,000 bonus. Win two of them, they’ll win $150,000. Victorious in all three races (Texas, Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway), they’ll earn a cool half a million dollars. A feat, Benjamin hopes he can pull off.
“Our mindset is to win all three of them,” said Benjamin. “The Triple Truck Challenge is pretty cool. They’re all good tracks of mine and I know we’ll have a truck that’s going to be capable of competing for the win tomorrow, but also in Iowa and Gateway. We’re looking forward to those races.”