Boredom Dominates Infineon, Benson Rules Milwaukee

Charlotte, NC – Maybe it was the jet lag thanks to the long trip home from Milwaukee and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series races there, but Sunday’s Cup race from Infineon Raceway in California proved to be another sleep-inducing event in our household.

This time, the Cup snoozefest wasn’t the product of aero push or tires that don’t grip the track, but rather the somnambulistic qualities of the Sonoma track. With basically just two areas to pass over a 1.999-mile road course, the results were predictable. No passing and long green-flag periods turned the event into a parade, not a race. The only real change in the running order came when cars pitted under green and then were lucky enough to have the caution flag fly shortly afterward.

That put guys who couldn’t get out of their own way – much less anybody else’s – chasing the dominant car of Kyle Busch to no avail.


With Tiger Woods on the shelf, the Cubs game set for later in the evening, and the NFL season more than two months away, you couldn’t even hit the alternate channel to try and find some excitement. Fortunately, some serious channel surfing provided ample comic relief in the form of the movie Caddyshack.

Goonga, galoonga.

Of course, all this NASCAR Infineon boredom came on the heels of the IndyCar race at Iowa where fans/viewers were treated to some awesome open-wheel action on the 7/8-mile oval track. As usual, the ABC/ESPN television package ruled the day as well not missing a second of the race thanks to its ‘side-by-side’ coverage.

With great tracks like Iowa, Kentucky, Nashville and others not on the Cup schedule, you have to wonder why NASCAR hangs on to non-exciting road racing venues like Infineon and Watkins Glen.

After Sunday’s event from Infineon, it’ll be way too soon before we see another race from one of those places. Fortunately, there were plenty of great racing and stories at the NASCAR Nationwide and Truck Series events in Milwaukee to carry the weekend.

Here are just a few of them.

Benson Dominates Milwaukee Again –

While Kyle Busch is getting all the accolades for his winning efforts in Cup this season, another Toyota driver is quietly putting together a solid and potential championship winning season.

On Friday, Johnny Benson steered his No. 23 Bill Davis-owned Toyota Tundra to victory in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at The Milwaukee Mile. The win marked the third-straight year Benson has captured the Truck Series race at the famed Wisconsin State Fairgrounds oval. The triumph was his first of the year and continued a hot streak that has seen him finish no worse than 11th in the seven NCTS events.

Benson’s finishing average of fifth over those seven events has vaulted him to the top of the Truck Series championship standings. If you are looking to place a bet on who might capture the NCTS title this season, look no further than Benson. He’s got the iron, the team, and the experience to do it.

Badger State Fans –

Every racer thinks their hometown fans are the greatest and it is no different with this writer. Fans at Milwaukee this weekend packed the infield for both the Truck and Nationwide race. A walk through the infield revealed some of the best tailgate parties you’d ever want to attend and – after Friday’s Truck event – a number of fans never even went home just pulling their rigs out of the infield only to immediately turn around and park in line to get back in for the Nationwide race Saturday night.

That’s dedication.

The Mile’s New Digs –

We can’t say enough about all the improvements made to The Milwaukee Mile over the past five years of so. A $20 million expansion added a new grandstand in 2003 and the new infield media/care center complex completed a couple of seasons ago is a welcome treat after spending years in tents and trailers.

Now, if they would just spend a couple of bucks to demolish the old, outdated rest room facilities in the garage area and replace them with a new bathroom complex – that would not only serve the garage, but the thousands of fans who populate the infield at Milwaukee Mile events – they’d pretty much have it handled.

Wisconsin Weather –

Spending the better part of a week in Wisconsin in the middle of the summer is something everyone should get to experience. The cool blue, crisp mornings yield to beautiful, sunny mid-70 degree afternoons and clear, star-filled evenings.

That’s the good stuff.

Just as quickly, the weather can turn ugly with lightning raging in the sky and buckets of rain falling that almost instantaneously swell rivers and streams over their banks.

We experienced a little of both this past weekend leading up to the races at Milwaukee. It was extremely disheartening to see the flooding throughout the state after torrential rains hit the area late last week. The same storms that put much of Iowa under water did the same to large parts of Wisconsin.

A quick drive through our old home town of Fort Atkinson revealed blocks and blocks of houses and businesses with flood damage along the Rock River. Other towns, such as Janesville, Jefferson and Watertown all had issues from what they are calling a ‘once in a 500-year event.’

Another storm, this one without the rain, blew through the state briefly stopping the Truck Series race Friday night. In what is the only time this writer has ever seen a race delayed and the grandstand cleared because of lightning, the wild storm blew through the area as quickly as it got there.

It was pretty scary on the press box roof spotter’s stand surrounded by steel and aluminum items as the lightning flashed all around us. Several times, a large lightning bolt would hit nearby and everyone would step back from the fence surrounding the stand.

It was scary as hell and NASCAR and the speedway did the right thing by stopping the event clearing the grandstand, sending the fans to safety in the exhibition buildings behind the track on the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds property.

Just as quickly as the storm rolled in, it was over and we were able to complete the final 50 laps of the race.

Old Home Week –

It seemed like this writer couldn’t walk 10 feet without stopping to talk to an old friend this past weekend at The Milwaukee Mile.

It was so good to see many old friends including Russ Lake, Al Graf, Dave Drews, Doug Hornickle, Mary Champion, Dave Kallman, Jim Tretow and Ed Kluka just to name a few.

Unfortunately, it was sad to hear that longtime Wisconsin team sponsor and event supporter Bob Fish had passed, and that others, like veteran race photographer Al Fortner, were ailing.

Still, it was – and always is – great to be home and racing at The Mile. Thanks to all who still remember the good old days (have we really been gone almost 15 years already?) and taking the time to share them with us this past weekend.

Bummer Result –

As a NASCAR racer, you always want to post the best finish possible, but that’s even more true when you are racing at your home track. This weekend, this writer spotted T.J. Bell in the No. 7 TRG Chevy in the Truck Series race posting a 29th-place finish – definitely not what we were looking for.

After qualifying in the top half of the field, T.J. had trouble getting back to the throttle early coming off the corner and we wound up going a lap down to leader and eventual winner Johnny Benson at Lap 45.

We then short pitted hoping to get the lap back with fresher tires than the field only to have NASCAR force us to come back to pit road for a drive through penalty stating we had missed the commitment box entering the pits.

Frankly, there was no way that happened and we questioned the penalty – which cost us two more laps on the track – with NASCAR officials both on pit road and up on the spotter’s stand. Initially, the penalty stood and we raced about 40 more laps before NASCAR admitted we hadn’t missed the commitment line and gave us one of our laps back during a caution flag.

It was all a moot point as later in the race, however, as a slow start bunched up the field and contact from behind shoved us into the truck in front of us. With no air getting to the radiator, we quickly pegged the water temperature gauge at 260 degrees and had to pit yet again to open up the front and cool the engine.

Back on track for the final 75 laps, it was frustrating to have to move over for all the leaders especially given we were running lap times just a tick off those being posted by Benson.

Oh well, that’s racin,’ but it sure was disappointing to again come up short in front of the home folks.

Best Laugh of the Weekend –

Upon checking in at The Milwaukee Mile on Friday, a young female attendant asked me if I needed directions to the facility. When I told her I had been coming to The Mile since my father first took me there in 1962, she replied, “1962, that’s before my mother was born.”

Talk about funny. Me, and just about everyone else in the credential line, just about wet our pants laughing.

Sure was good to be home.

Next Up –

The glow – and the disappointments – of being home at Milwaukee will quickly fade as we head to Memphis later this week for the Truck Series race there. If you can’t be there, make sure you take it in – 9 p.m. Saturday night on SPEED.

Meanwhile, the Cup and Nationwide Series head to New Hampshire for what should be some solid oval track racing on the ‘Magic Mile.’ Tune it in on TNT and ESPN2, respectively.

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