When a championship-winning driver joins forces with a championship-winning team, no one expects the pairing to struggle right out of the gate.

Travis Benjamin certainly didn’t.

Benjamin, a two-time Oxford 250 winner and the 2012 Pro All Stars Series champion, leapt at the opportunity this offseason to join Petit Motorsports — the same team that dominated with Mike Rowe behind the wheel to claim the PASS North Series title in 2015.

But the team was beset by misfortune from the beginning, wrecking in qualifying for the season opener at Thompson (Connecticut) Speedway Motorsports Park, and finishing 22nd in the second race at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Then the team went to Beech Ridge and blew an engine in practice.

“I was very afraid. It’s definitely not how you want to start out,” said Benjamin, of Morrill. “I’ve never driven for anybody else. It was always my own stuff, and to start the first three races with a new team tearing up race cars — I remember how nervous I was that (team owner Peter Petit) wanted to get rid of me. Then we’re talking one day and he comes up to me and says, ‘Don’t give up on me. We’re going to make this happen.’ It felt good to hear that from him.”

There have been signs of life from Benjamin and Petit over the last month. The No. 7 finished third at Thunder Road on Memorial Day weekend and followed that up by finishing second at Lee USA Speedway two weeks later.

Then, back at Beech Ridge, came the breakthrough performance with a win in the Southern Maine Chrysler Dodge Jeep 150 on July 12.

The victory was the first for Benjamin since the 2014 Oxford 250, the first for Petit Motorsports in 14 months, and the first ever at Beech Ridge for Petit, who fielded cars in weekly competitions at the track before making the jump to full-time PASS racing with Rowe.

“All the stars lined up. That was a really big win for us, no question,” said Benjamin, who had never won before at Beech Ridge.

As a veteran of racing in the northeast, Benjamin, 37, admitted he knew that joining a new team — even one that was coming off a championship a year earlier — could be difficult. He said that getting his own crew integrated into Petit’s crew, finding comfort in new roles and opening up lines of communication, was one of the biggest factors in getting the No. 7’s performance turned around.

He declined to blame simple bad luck for the early-season struggles.

“I’m a firm believer that you create your own luck,” he said. “I really am.”

Benjamin sits a distant eighth in the overall PASS standings, but that doesn’t mean the season is lost. While the championship is virtually lost, there are still some major events remaining on the season schedule — not the least of which is the Oxford 250 next month and the PASS 300 at Beech Ridge in September.

After a disappointing run in the Oxford 250 last summer, Benjamin is eager to put himself back in contention this summer and join a very short list of three-time 250 winners, including Ralph Nason and Rowe.

“This is definitely the time to hit our stride, no question,” Benjamin said. “We’re not even looking at the points. Our goal is to win races. Beech Ridge was a big, big win. There’s a lot of big races left that would mean a lot to get some really big wins in.”

TWO FOR ONE: Track management’s pain is the race fan’s gain, at least at Wiscasset Speedway this weekend.

Rain threw a wrench into the plans to run a complete program at the track July 9, forcing the Late Model division to reschedule its impending 35-lap feature. That race will be made up Saturday night as the first of two features for the division.

The makeup feature will take the green flag at 5 p.m., one hour earlier than the normal green flag for racing at Wiscasset. Qualifying for that race was completed on July 9.

The card will also include a 75-lap Outlaw Mini Stock feature and the regularly scheduled Late Model main event.

LEFT TURNS: Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault finished fifth in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East United Services 70 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Saturday. Theriault remains in the fifth spot in the overall series standings with six top 10s in nine races. … PASS and ACT teams share the bill on Saturday at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, New Hampshire. Each tour will compete in a 150-lap event. … DJ Shaw, of Center Conway, New Hampshire, has taken over the PASS point lead, while three-time Thunder Road Speedbowl champion Nick Sweet of Barre, Vermont, is the current ACT point leader. … After a weekend off, Oxford Plains Speedway returns to Saturday night racing this week with their Oxford Championship Series.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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