Johnny Benson was 110 races into his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career before he ever earned the title of series points leader.
The way the veteran driver has been running of late, he may well hold on to that distinction over the final 12 races.
Benson, who led the Truck Series points standings for the first time in his career after Michigan on June 14, reclaimed the overall lead Saturday night when he survived a wreck-filled outing to win the Built Ford Tough 225 before a crowd of 31,308 at Kentucky Speedway.
Benson had a 50-point lead coming off his win in Milwaukee last month but fell to fourth in the overall standings after a blown engine at Memphis left him limping home in 33rd place.
That misstep claimed none of Benson's momentum, however, as the Truck Series made its return following a two-week break. After taking over the lead for the first time during a caution on Lap 53, Benson was nearly untouchable the remainder of the race, leading 94 laps en route to a 0.475-second win over teammate Michael Annett.
The victory gives Benson a one-point lead in the standings over Matt Crafton, who finished third for his seventh top-five run of the season.
“Everybody involved with this team is just awesome, awesome,” said Benson, who earned his second win and seventh top-five finish on Saturday. “It may have looked easy, but it was slick out there. I think we've been good all year. If we can see the front, I'm fairly confident that if we work hard we'll get there.”
On a night that featured several top drivers plowing into one another, Benson worked the track to perfection with barely a bobble.
Following the sixth of what would be eight cautions in the race, Benson restarted in third behind Annett and Dennis Setzer on Lap 119 but quickly found himself in a four-wide battle going down the backstretch.
The 45-year-old former Nationwide Series champion smoothly accelerated past Annett on the inside and was just starting to draw off when contact between Cup Series points leader Kyle Busch and Justin Marks triggered the seventh caution of the evening, collecting Erik Darnell.
“We got a tremendous run off Turn 2 and ... I thought I was in pretty good shape,” Benson said of the pass for the lead. “It was going to be a 50/50 shot whether (Setzer) was going to get off the gas or turn left. He turned left, and I followed him.”
Clean air proved to be the name of the game Saturday night and once Benson restarted in front, neither Annett nor anyone else could seriously threaten the 11-time Truck Series winner the remainder of the way.
“Track position was just everything,” Crafton said. “I can honestly say I thought we had the best truck tonight. When we were in dirty air, we could pass (Benson) and get away. I think if we had gotten to the lead we would have won this race.”
For the upstart Annett, his runner-up effort was his second top-10 run in three starts this season.
“I learned more in the 20 laps behind (Benson) than I did in two days of practice here,” Annett said. “I just kept following his line, and the truck took off, and we were able to bring it home in second.”
Setzer ended up fourth, and David Starr was fifth for his fourth top-five of the year.
Early indications suggested Saturday's race would be another showcase of dominance from Busch. The Cup star led 43 of the first 49 laps.
Busch ended up going a lap down when he made a green-flag stop on Lap 50 but got back on the lead lap when Chrissy Wallace spun between Turns 3 and 4 to bring out the caution two laps later. Although he battled back to finish sixth, his truck — like many others — wasn't nearly as powerful weaving through traffic as it was out in front.
Now that Benson has reclaimed his spot atop the points standings, his next mission will be to end the jinx that has seemingly plagued the leaders all year.
The points lead has changed hands nine times between five different drivers through the first 13 races and less than 100 points currently separate the top four.
Ron Hornaday Jr., who entered the race with a 27-point lead over Crafton, went a lap down after pitting on Lap 81 with a loose tire. Hornaday recovered to finish 10th.
Todd Bodine, who was third in the standings coming into the race, finished 27th and fell to sixth in the points after getting caught up in a wreck on Lap 128 with Brendan Gaughan and Colin Braun.
“You know our goal is to try and win the championship, but man, everyone that has gotten up there has definitely had issues,” Benson said. “If you were to back up the last two seasons with the amount of issues that we've all had, there's no way that any of us should win the championship.”