Not too long ago, Morrill’s Travis Benjamin despised Oxford Plains Speedway.
But after winning three of his last four races there, including the 40th TD Bank Oxford 250 a year ago, he feels much differently about it.
He will try to defend his 250 win on Sunday beginning with the heat races at 2 p.m.
“[Defending champion] sounds pretty good doesn’t it?,” said Benjamin on Tuesday. “Hearing it never gets old. I hope I can defend it.”
Last year’s triumph was the highlight of his career.
“You don’t realize how big it is until you win it. The phone didn’t stop ringing for two months,” he said. “I was grateful for that. It was overwhelming.”
It was two years ago when his attitude changed toward OPS.
“We had always been fast there but we could never make the car last until we finally hit on something two years ago,” said Benjamin “We figured out something geometrically in the car and it has really worked. The car has been great since then. In racing, it’s the little things that makes you a hero or a zero.”
The 35-year-old Benjamin, who won the Ripley and Fletcher 150 Pro All-Stars Series North Super Late Model race at OPS in April, said he likes his chances on Sunday.
“I don’t want to sound cocky but I’ll be disappointed if I’m not in the top three,” said Benjamin.
He will be driving the same Ford Fusion he drove last year and has the same crew chief, Ryan Leadbetter, and essentially the same crew.
He is currently in fifth place in the points standings in the PASS SLM North tour with his Oxford win and four top-five finishes in eight races.
“We should have seven top-fives,” he said.
He pointed out in two of the three races in which he finished 12th or lower, “it was one of those deals where we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
He figures there are several drivers capable of winning the race including current PASS SLM North points leader Johnny Clark of Hallowell; three-time Oxford 250 winner Mike Rowe of Turner; Berwick’s Joey Doiron, who finished second to Benjamin by 1.167 seconds in last year’s 250; PASS South drivers Preston Peltier and Daniel Hemric; and Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault, who has won an ARCA race this season and has run two Nationwide Series races for JR Motorsports.
Two-time Sprint Cup race winner Steve Park has entered the race. He is one of 23 drivers with wins in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series.
Park finished a career-high 11th in Sprint Cup points in 2000. That was the same year he won the Winston Open.
Benjamin said it is difficult for drivers to figure out OPS on their first try.
“The temperature is constantly changing and the track is so flat. It’s like racing in the parking lot at Reny’s,” said Benjamin who pocketed $33,500 for last year’s victory.
Benjamin will be bidding to become just the fifth driver to win two consecutive 250s.
Former Sprint Cup driver Geoff Bodine won in 1980-81; Unity’s Ralph Nason is the only one to win three straight (98-99-2000), Turner’s Ben Rowe won in 2003-04 and Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Massachusetts triumphed in 2009-10.
There have been eight multiple-winners including Dave Dion (‘75, ‘85, ‘92), Jamie Aube (‘87, ‘89) and Chuck Bown (‘86, ‘90).