OXFORD — The top three finishers — Travis Benjamin, Austin Theriault and Richie Dearborn — certainly proved in Sunday’s Oxford 250 that there are many different ways to get to the front of the pack.

Theriault took the most traditional path into contention, winning his first heat and starting sixth, while Dearborn needed to use a provisional just to get into the field and started 40th.

The fact that Benjamin started where he did (27th) and still managed to win his second straight Oxford 250 though, is nothing short of amazing. In the 41-year history of the race, only 2007 champion Roger Brown (30th) and 2005 winner Mike Rowe (37th) had worse starting positions.

“Like I said last year, just everything has got to play out just (right),” Benjamin said. “The whole package has got to work out for you.

“…To win this, it don’t get no better than this. This is a dream come true. My career, I don’t think it can get any better right now.”

For the 35-year-old Benjamin, Sunday was a case where everything worked out perfectly for the champ.

In his qualifying heat Benjamin was victim to a tough draw both in position and field. He started sixth out of 10 with the top four advancing in a heat that also featured Theriault, three-time champ Mike Rowe, Oxford Plains veteran T.J. Bracket and two-time champ Ben Rowe. Theriault, Rowe and Bracket would each go on to finish in the top eight in the main event.

“It wasn’t that we weren’t very good (in the heat race), we just got held back a little bit,” Benjamin said. “Once we cleared some traffic we got the car going pretty good but we just didn’t have enough laps to get in through the heat race.”

Any thoughts of Benjamin missing out on the Oxford 250 were quickly disparaged in his consolation heat though, as he started second and quickly grabbed the lead en route to the win.

“We had to go in the consi, which kind of helped me a little bit,” Benjamin said. “It kind of kept us up with the track a little bit, but you don’t ever want to start 27th if you don’t have to.”

Once in the race though, winning came down to a balance of equal parts skill and good fortune — particularly given how the race played out as cautions were a major factor.

Joey Doiron led the field for the better part of the first 100 laps with Theriault right in the mix, while Benjamin struggled to make up ground. A series of cautions beginning on Lap 115 when Curtis Geary slammed into a spun-out Steve Park would allow Benjamin the opening he needed to put himself into contention.

Nearly the entire field went to the pits between the Lap 115 caution and another just nine laps later involving Glen Luce, Kelly Moore and Scott Mulkern. Theriault, Doiron and Benjamin all elected to stay on the track, however, and after the restart Benjamin had moved into second behind Theriault.

“When we were so far back we were going to pit early, come in and get some tires and then make a run. Then come in again with like 80 to go,” Benjamin said. “Our game-plan changed once we got to second and nobody pitted. Austin didn’t pit. At that point we were like we have to stick with what he’s going to do because we were the two good cars.”

The move ultimately worked out in the defending champ’s favor, but as the laps ticked away without any more cautions Benjamin admits he was starting to get nervous about how long his tires would hold out.

On Lap 184 he and Theriault got their chance to head to pit row though, as a collision between Mike Rowe and Scott McDaniel drew the race’s sixth caution.

“If they didn’t have that caution there we don’t win this race,” Benjamin said. “Cassius (Clarke) was coming and I was fading at that point. That caution was huge.”

Cassius Clarke was the race’s new leader on the restart, but even on heavily worn tires the 2013 Pro All Star Series North champion was threatening to run away with the race — before fortune once gain smiled on Benjamin, at least.

A minor spin out at the back of the pack on Lap 217 drew yet another caution and — more importantly — allowed a nearly-lapped field to catch back up with Clark.

He quickly relinquished the lead to Dearborn — who like Benjamin, benefited from the earlier cautions to get back in the race — but the provisional qualifier could not hold on with his more than 100-lap-old tires.

“(The cautions) hurt us in the end actually because (Benjamin and Theriault) had to come from quite a ways back too with new tires,” Dearborn said. “If it would have kept green I think we would have been better off but that’s racing.”

The fresher tires proved to be the difference and, as it would turn out, pitting when he did might have been the only way he could have possibly won the race — along with some skilled maneuvering of lapped cars in the final 10 laps.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: Evan_Crawley

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