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Westmoreland County man settles for 26th in Truck Series in Kansas

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 7:36 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Norm Benning, of Level Green, is trying to make it as a pro racer on the NASCAR circuit. Photographed in Level Green on March 1, 2004.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Norm Benning began the STP 250 racing for the checkered flag at Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

In the end, he was racing against time in hopes of salvaging his position in the Truck Series.

The No. 57 Chevrolet Silverado spewed oil from a damaged fuel pump on Lap 97 while he was riding in the 27th position. Benning and his crew hurriedly installed another fuel pump in an effort to get back on the racetrack with 70 laps remaining.

The Level Green, Westmoreland County, native was helped as five of the 11 cautions — including a 13-minute red flag stoppage — gave him enough time to repair his truck. He returned to the track on Lap 145 to squeeze out seven laps before NASCAR officials warned another leak was leaving a trail of oil on an already slick racetrack.

Benning, who manufactured a 26th-place finish, passed through pit road three times before turning toward the garage with 10 laps remaining. He now is 30th in owner points, but only the top 25 in owner points have secured a start in the next race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 17.

“They (officials) said go down pit road and check it,” said Benning, who completed 99 of the 167 laps in earning nearly $11,000.

“We figured we couldn't gain anything else, so we decided to park it. We did what we could, so now we'll head to Charlotte to get this monkey off our backs.”

Matt Crafton, who started sixth behind pole-sitter James Buescher, led the final 30 laps to earn his third career series victory.

Joey Coulter was third, followed by Ryan Blaney, Brendan Gaughan, Johnny Sauter and Buescher, who led a race-high 55 laps.

It was an inauspicious start for Benning, mostly because his truck was still damaged from last weekend's collision with Chase Elliott at Rockingham. Benning's crew didn't have enough time to fix an upper control mount that caused handling problems, particularly in the corners.

As a result, Benning struggled to keep pace soon after the green flag dropped to start the race on the 1.5-mile tri-oval.

He was lapped just nine tours around the racetrack by Buescher and Miquel Paludo.

Still, on the Lap 40 restart, Benning was sitting in 19th and 13.1 seconds behind the leaders.

Benning, who qualified 34th earlier in the day, couldn't generate enough speed and drifted three laps back on Lap 65 during the longest stretch of green-flag racing. Then, he fell six laps behind as he turned his 77th lap but regained a lap on the fifth caution on Lap 83 because of debris on the racetrack.

“There was a crash right after we came out with a fuel pump problem, so we just wanted to get back out and finish ahead of those trucks that crashed,” Benning said shortly after climbing out of the cockpit. “I think we were able to gain three positions.

“I think if were able to stay out there we would have an easy top-15 finish. It's just frustrating, and I don't know what to do about it.”

Benning moved up the leaderboard partly because of attrition. In a caution-filled race, only half of the 36 cars in the field were running at the end and only 12 managed to stay on the lead lap.

“We didn't have the best truck out there but felt we could finish all the laps,” said Benning, who finished 15th here last spring. “It rarely happens that we break a fuel pump, and we don't really carry a spare, but we got one off the spare motor to turn those last laps.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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