Johnny Benson won't be defending his Camping World Truck Series title.
Red Horse Racing announced on Monday that it would shut down the No. 1 team, effective immediately, because of a lack of sponsorship. That leaves Benson, a 14-time winner in the series, without a ride.
"It hasn't been for a lack of effort," owner Tom DeLoach said on Monday. "We had several people working on finding a sponsor for the No. 1 and Johnny Benson. I've been working on it myself. We gave it our best shot, and we tried as long as we could, but nothing materialized.
"I am saddened that we were unsuccessful in accomplishing our goal, but this is a tough economic climate and the cost of fielding a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team with essentially no support other than our manufacturer is too much for Red Horse Racing to bear alone."
The economic downturn and its effects on NASCAR are well known, but for a defending series champion to lose his ride because of a lack of fund is indeed a sad state of affairs. Benson finished fourth in this past Friday night's race at Texas Motor Speedway and say seventh in points, 155 behind leader Matt Crafton.
The economy already hurt Benson once in the offseason, when he left Bill Davis Racing -- the team with which he won the championship -- because of the team's uncertain economic future. BDR sold all its assets in January and has not entered a race this season.
This is just the latest blow.
"The decision to close the team is a bit surprising, because they told me they wanted to build a championship-claiber race team," Benson said. "They hired a champion driver and a champion crew, and then decide to close the team instead of building the organization around it. So I am a little confused."
Red Horse Racing will continue to field the No. 11 truck driven by T.J. Bell. That team has some support, but not full. Bell only has one top-5 finish in eight starts this season, and sits 20th in the standings.
So, with all due respect to Bell, why not shut the No. 11 down and transfer whatever funding the team has to Benson? Were sponsors really that set on Bell? Who wouldn't want to associate themselves with a defending series champion? I don't blame Benson for being confused, and I'm willing to guess he's also a bit angry.
Chances are, Benson will miss this weekend's race at Michigan, meaning that even if he does line up another ride this season, he'll have virtually no shot at the championship. The series schedule only consists of 25 races, so missing one effectively kills your chances; before the Texas race, Kyle Busch was fourth in points. He didn't run that race, and now sits 12th in the standings.
Benson will be okay; he also serves as an analyst for ESPN, seen mostly on ESPN2's NASCAR Now. He'll also likely find himself in a truck again before the season's out, but there is definitely something wrong when the most recent series champion can't find the funding to go out to the track and try to defend his crown.
Especially when he gets the axe instead of his underperforming teammate.