Kyle Benjamin was only a few feet away from picking up a victory in his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at Martinsville Speedway earlier this season. After starting fourth and leading 74 laps, Benjamin found himself in a heated battle with John Hunter Nemechek coming to the start-finish line, but was unable to find the momentum he needed and finished second by a margin of .106 seconds.
Six months have passed since that race, and Benjamin is ready to make his return to Martinsville in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, where he will be driving a car prepared by MDM Motorsports. Benjamin was disappointed that he was unable to pick up a victory at Martinsville during his first visit, but he hopes to duplicate the success in the Truck Series over to this weekend when he faces many of the best Late Model drivers on the East Coast.
“It was a lot of fun,” Benjamin said. “I was really looking forward to going to Martinsville, as I had never been there until that race. The track really races good, and it was everything that I thought it was going to be, and I really enjoyed being a part of the DGR-Crosley organization. They gave me a great truck, and I got a second place finish with it, but we definitely could have gotten first.”
Benjamin began his racing career at the age of five when his father introduced him to go-karts, and would eventually graduate into the Bandolero division before finding success in Pro and Super Late Models. At the age of 15, Benjamin established himself as one of the best up and coming NASCAR prospects in the country by capturing several notable victories, including the World Series of Asphalt title at New Smyrna Speedway.
Benjamin’s success on track eventually caught the attention of Venturini Motorsports, who signed him to run eight races during the 2013 ARCA Racing Series season. Benjamin would pick up two victories for Venturini before departing the team at the end of the season, but he was unable to find victory lane in 2014 while splitting time between the Roulo Brothers and his family-owned operation, as he would pick up a season-best finish of second twice.
Following the 2014 season, Benjamin’s father moved the ARCA program over to the K&N Pro Series East, where the team immediately found success by picking up a win at Bristol Motor Speedway and finishing ninth in the final point standings. Benjamin would have his best season to date in 2016 when he joined MDM, as he picked up three victories and nine Top 5’s, but would end up losing the championship by only 22 points to Justin Haley despite winning the season finale at Dover.
Although Benjamin was unable to secure a full-time ride for the 2017 season, he was able to sign a development deal with Joe Gibbs Racing to compete part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series starting with the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway. Benjamin encountered mixed results despite leading a handful of laps in his limited starts, but he nearly picked up his first victory in the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, only to lose to teammate Ryan Preece by .054 seconds.
Benjamin has not seen much time on the track during the 2018 season, as he has only made three Xfinity starts for Gibbs alongside his only Truck Series appearance for DGR-Crosley. Benjamin knows that he is running out of opportunities to compete in the top divisions of NASCAR, but he is hoping that a strong run in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 with MDM will be exactly what he needs to galvanize his career in the right direction.
Benjamin will have to obtain that strong performance with almost no experience behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock, as his racing background comes from driving straight-rail cars. With his only experience at Martinsville coming in a Truck, Benjamin is expecting to drive deeper into the corners and roll the center harder with the engine inside his Late Model, but he added that performing well at Martinsville comes down to being patient and making smart decisions.
“I haven’t been in the car for a while,” Benjamin said. “We definitely could have tested some, but we’ll have the test on Thursday if it doesn’t get rained out. Even if it does rain, I think we’ll still be fine. It all comes down to mentally preparing yourself, but we’ll still be good. The car is going to be fast, and I’m looking forward to getting there.”
Benjamin will have to face an even mixture of talented rookies and veterans in order to add his name to the list of drivers who have won the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, among them begin fellow Gibbs development driver Todd Gilliland, who has made two prior starts at Martinsville in 2014 and 2015. Benjamin knows that track position will be imperative with the large amount of cars entered in the race, but he remains confident that he can establish a solid position up front and be a contender for the win.
“We’re going to do our best to stay up front and try to stay out of trouble,” Benjamin said. “We’re going to have to put ourselves in a position to win the race, which will be around the Top 5, and hopefully be in a good spot in the closing laps. If we can do that, then we’ll have a good shot, but we’ll need to play it smart, use a good strategy and make sure your car is right.”
On-track activities for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 will begin with a test session on Thursday at 4 p.m., which will be followed by a three-hour practice on Friday prior to qualifying at 8 p.m. The green flag will drop after the conclusion of the three heat races and the last chance qualifier, which is expected to be shortly after 8 p.m. on Saturday evening.