One day after Martin Truex Jr. thoroughly dominated the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kyle Benjamin was looking to do the exact same just a few hours away. The 18-year-old racer won the pole and led 137 of the 150 scheduled laps in the first trip for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East to the new Dominion Raceway in Virginia. For much of the race he enjoyed a lead of at least 1.5 seconds.
But instead of pulling into victory lane, Benjamin pulled into his pit stall on lap 140 with catastrophic front end damage to his No. 40 machine. Instead of being crowned the winner, he finished dead last.
Let’s rewind a bit and explain how Benjamin went from being 13 laps away from victory to watching the final 13 laps from pit road.
On lap 132 Dominique Van Wieringen spun and crashed in turn two, setting up a restart with 13 laps to go.
On every restart, Benjamin and his Ranier Racing with MDM teammate Spencer Davis shared the front row. Benjamin as the leader would choose the outside and Davis would line up to his inside. Benjamin would get the jump at the green and Davis would allow him to move down into the inside lane to ensure that the Ranier Racing duo would remain in first and second.
Benjamin and Davis tried the same thing on the lap 138 restart, but this time it didn’t go as planned.
Just about every driver in the top six came into the restart box shoving the car in front of them. Benjamin received a shove from Dillon Bassett who also was getting shoved by his brother, Ronnie. Davis on the inside lane was getting shoved by Collin Cabre who was getting pushed by the car behind him.
Bassett, in the older NASCAR Gen4-style body, had his nose underneath the rear bumper of Benjamin’s NASCAR Gen6-style car as they came to the green flag. Benjamin got sideways and initially was able to save his car from spinning, but eventually his No. 40 went around in front of the field and then crashed hard in turn one.
Dillon Bassett, who raced his way to fourth from his 21st starting spot, also received heavy damage, as did his brother, Ronnie.
Benjamin believed Dillon Bassett was at fault and made sure to let him know as the field circulated under caution. For a whole lap Bassett and Benjamin chased and slammed each other around the race track before eventually being parked by NASCAR. Benjamin then began walking down pit road towards Bassett’s pit area before he was intercepted and redirected by NASCAR officials.
“We got jacked up before we even started going,” said Benjamin. “I felt it before we even got to the box. I tried going and my back wheels weren’t even on the ground at all. Then he carried us. The thing is he didn’t get off me. He could have gotten off me. I don’t know what you can say more about him jacking us up, then me saving it and him hitting me again, which means he intentionally wrecked us the second time. So you know it wasn’t an accident.”
Bassett’s interpretation is naturally a little bit different from Benjamin’s.
“The 40 never went. NASCAR told me I had his tires off the ground before we ever got going, which I don’t see how,” Dillon Bassett said. “I was never in the gas. I was getting pushed. But they told me I did and if I did then it’s my fault. But I was in third gear coming out of two. We restart out of turn four. I never went. When you go you have to shift and I never shifted down the frontstretch and all through turns one and two. I never went. They’re going to say I wrecked him, but it is what it is.”
For Bassett it was a disappointing end to one of the toughest weeks of his life. One week ago the Bassett Racing shop burned down, destroying much of the equipment and cars that he and Ronnie used for racing. In a car that was offered to him by Precision Motorsports, Dillon Bassett drove his way through the field from 21st to fourth and gave himself a chance to win.
“It’s unfortunate for my guys,” Bassett said. “They gave me an unbelievable race car. To drive from 21st to fourth was unreal. It’s extremely disappointing. They gave me an awesome race car and we don’t have the results to show for it. But it’s done and over with now.”
Bassett and Benjamin met with NASCAR officials in the K&N East trailer after the race to discuss the incident. When the meeting ended Bassett and Benjamin went their separate ways, clearly still frustrated with each other.
“(The meeting) went pretty good on our part, but I can’t say the same for him,” Benjamin said.
The next race for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway on June 17. As a result of this incident Benjamin said the way he races with Bassett moving forward will be very different.
“I don’t know what it is with him, but someone’s going to have to teach him a lesson at some point,” said Benjamin. “I definitely won’t race him clean anymore. He doesn’t deserve it at this point. Whatever happens to him now, it’s his own fault. I’m not saying I’m going to wreck him, but I’m not going to race him clean.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com