OXFORD – Location, location, location.

Be thankful, area stock car racing fans, that Michael Benjamin Rowe was the youngest of three children born to a prominent racing family in rural Maine. Not North Carolina, Alabama or Wisconsin.

That’s probably the primary reason Rowe, later dubbed Benji, eventually streamlined to Ben, isn’t off competing against drivers like Matt Kenseth every week.

By outlasting the reigning NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Sunday evening, Rowe joined another of racing’s giants by winning the Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway for the second straight summer.

Geoffrey Bodine accomplished the feat in 1980-81. Maine’s own Ralph Nason chalked up three consecutive wins from 1998 to 2000.

Kenseth charged from his provisional starting spot in the 41-car starting field to finish third. But it was Rowe, the 29-year-old from Turner, who took advantage of leader Alan Wilson’s off-track excursion with 11 laps remaining to nab the lead, the historic win and a $29,600 winner’s share before a partisan crowd of about 15,000.

“I said all week that we were more relaxed now that we’d won it,” said Rowe. “Everybody wanted to talk about Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth, so I didn’t have to worry about a thing. You guys (the media) took the pressure off me.”

Kenseth drew the last starting position for his heat race, spun in the consolation round and charged only as high as fifth in the 50-lap last-chance race.

He took advantage of a provisional place on the grid, one that was part of his original agreement to come here and race on a weekend off from his full-time job.

“I always knew this race was one of the top three or four late model races in the country,” said Kenseth, who was driving a car prepared by OPS drivers Bill and Jeremie Whorff. “I’d tried the Snowball Derby and All-American 400. This was one I always wanted to try.”

Kenseth competed along with his Roush Racing teammate Busch, who overcame a mid-race spin to finish 13th in a car built by Race Basics of Andover.

Local talent supplied those cars, and in the end, a budding regional star beat them.

Rowe joined his father, Mike, as one of seven multiple winners of Maine’s midsummer short track classic, now in its 31st year. Mike finished fourth in this one.

Defending OPS Pro Stock champion Ricky Rolfe of Albany Township finished second. Following Kenseth and Rowe across the stripe were Wilson, who hails from Hebron, Prince Edward Island driver Dave Gorveatt and Wiscasset’s Scott Chubbuck.

They were the only seven drivers to finish on the lead lap in a race that was hard on equipment but relatively clean. There were only seven caution flags, and none over the final 83 laps.

During that stretch, Ben Rowe whittled Wilson’s four-second lead in half. Then at lap 233, Wilson’s pace slowed slightly, and he radioed a terse, ominous message to his pit crew: “Something’s wrong here.”

Five circuits later, Wilson lost traction coming out of the second turn, drifted high on the track and brushed the backstretch retaining wall with the right rear of his car.

Wilson maintained his momentum but lost the win of a lifetime. Rowe, who suffered similar misfortune with less disastrous results earlier in the race, sympathized.

“I thought he was having tire trouble. Cars were sliding off the track in (turns) two and three all night, and that’s usually a flat right front,” Rowe said.

Rowe’s right front rubber lost pressure in more timely fashion, just prior to a crash involving Mike Maietta Sr. and Tim Brackett on lap 95.

His team changed a full set of tires on that stop and again on the final caution at lap 167. That time, it was against his better judgment.

“Our plan was to stop twice,” said Rowe. “I just sat in the back of the hauler before the race, listened to the plan and did what they said. I didn’t want to come in the second time. I thought we would be able to catch Alan, but I didn’t know if we’d get by him.”

Rolfe’s pit strategy?

“We didn’t have one,” he said. “Our strategy was on the fly.”

Throughout the first half of the race, the only one flying was Johnny Clark of Hallowell. Clark, winner of last month’s D.N.K. Select 250 at Unity Raceway, threatened to make it a sweep of Maine’s rich open competition races by leading the first 119 laps from the pole at the clip of $100 per lap.

Clark pitted for fuel and tires on lap 131, but he only made it back to sixth place before sliding nose-first into Paul Bosse’s disabled car as the final caution appeared.

Rowe’s team brought him down pit road for his second stop at that juncture. They might have done it again if the race hadn’t gone green to its conclusion.

“We had another set ready,” Rowe said. “I was going half-throttle trying to save my tires, but when I saw there were only 30 laps to go, I said we’d better get after it.”

Scott Mulkern, Dale Shaw and Chubbuck also briefly led the race. Shaw, Patrick Laperle and Bub Bilodeau completed the top 10.

Rowe’s victory represented the ninth consecutive year that a Maine driver won the 250. Typically, as the sport has evolved in recent years, the entry list has been dominated by Mainers and drivers from the Canadian Maritimes.

Two of racing’s best invaded OPS turf in a throwback to the old days, and they didn’t disappoint. But neither did the hometown heroes.

“I thought it was neat when I caught Kurt Busch to put him a lap down,” Rowe said. “But then Matt Kenseth and I started to mix it up pretty good for second and I thought, wow.”

Quite possibly, Kenseth muttered the same thing.

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