Kyle Benjamin endured both peaks and valleys last season en route to a ninth-place finish in the NASCAR K&N East championship standings.
But it was a far cry from what he and his family team imagined when they reunited top-tier ARCA crew chief Kevin Reed with a driver he took to Victory Lane twice on that tour with Venturini Motorsports back in 2013.
It started well enough with Benjamin winning the third race of the season at Bristol, and holding on to second-place in the rankings through the mid-point of the campaign at Columbus — but that’s when everything started to fall apart.
Benjamin says keeping up with the high-funded HScott Motorsport cars took both a financial and emotional toll on the team, and they simply couldn’t keep up as the season progressed. After posting four top-10s in the first seven races of the season, they could only post one more in the final seven.
It dropped them from second to ninth in the final results and left them largely dissatisfied.
“A lot of things happened,” Benjamin said of the second half of the season. “We just got caught up in trying to chase down the HScott cars more than anything else. We experimented with a lot of things in the second half, trial and error, and just couldn’t come back from it.
“We probably just tuned on it a little too much.”
Despite the second-half, Benjamin says he’s proud of what he and his team were able to do in the first half, especially his victory at Bristol. Growing up on short tracks in the Southeast, Benjamin always dreamed of competing at Thunder Valley and called his victory there a major career milestone.
“That meant a lot,” Benjamin said. “It’s arguably the biggest race on the K&N schedule with Dover so it was a big deal to even race there, much less win it. But in hindsight, that win means even more to me now, because if we hadn’t won early, we wouldn’t have won all season.”
Benjamin also made his big track debut in 2015, with an ARCA start at Pocono for VMS. While the 18-year-old hasn’t announced his 2016 plans yet, he says they are focused on running as many speedways as possible to prepare him for a potential NASCAR career.
“If we’re lucky enough to be able to make it to NASCAR, those guys are racing on big tracks so that’s our focus, more so than running for a championship somewhere,” Benjamin said. “Short track racing has been fun and it’s taught me a lot of things and I’m hoping we can apply that to the big track stuff.
“Running Pocono was like learning to drive all over again. You have to teach yourself how to drive in the dirty air and a lot of work goes into it — a lot of watching videos too. Differing stuff goes into being successful there.”
Formerly associated with Roush Fenway Racing as a development driver, Benjamin said he has no such affiliations this year. He said he learned a lot from spending time in that system and hopes it pays dividends in his future endeavors.
“A lot of it was wanting things you can’t have yet,” Benjamin said of the promises of national touring. “I was able to drive their pit car and get practice doing that too. You can win and lose a lot of races on pit road and they really helped me out there.
“But the most important thing was just seeing how a big team like that is run. I learned a lot of things on the business side. I don’t think people understand just how massive these teams are.”
Ultimately, despite the set-backs, Benjamin said he’s anxious for 2016 to start. Still considered a top prospect, he knows he has much to prove, and he’s prepared to meet the challenge.
“I thought we were going to take off there (after Bristol,) but it just didn’t happen. But I’m excited for what comes next.”
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