Atlanta, Ga. -- Johnny Benson's Monday morning race at Atlanta turned out to be kind of a microcosm of the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season for Benson and MB2 Motorsports team. The first-year combination overcame problems on Monday as well as ...
Atlanta, Ga. -- Johnny Benson's Monday morning race at Atlanta turned out to be kind of a microcosm of the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season for Benson and MB2 Motorsports team. The first-year combination overcame problems on Monday as well as throughout the year that would have defeated weaker teams to turn in the most surprising performance of the season.
Benson logged his seventh top-10 finish of the year at Atlanta and secured 13th place in the 2000 driver and car owner points standings. Not bad for a team that wasn't picked in the top-45 preseason prognostications and endured a myriad of financial and sponsor problems throughout the season.
"That was really a great way to end the season," Benson said after climbing from the #10 Aaron's Pontiac for the final time. "We have had a rough time the last two races so we wanted to run well here not only to stay ahead of Matt Kenseth in the points race, but build some momentum for next year when we are in the Valvoline Pontiac."
Benson began the season finale in 21st position and maintained his spot throughout the race run Monday because of torrential rain in Atlanta on Sunday. Benson appeared headed for a good run early until he was forced to pit on lap 98 of the 325-lap race.
"We started off and thought we were pretty good. Then we fought it a little bit and then I got a huge vibration. I wasn't sure what the deal was. Actually, we found out that the wheel weights had come off the tire. It was to the point where I thought the tire was coming off and I thought, 'Man, we've got to come in,' because it just kept getting worse. We came in and that put us two and a half laps down."
Benson made up a lap on the track with the newer and faster tires and after a caution period he battled with leader and eventual winner Jerry Nadeau to regain his lap which he did on lap 125 when Michael Waltrip wrecked in turn four.
"I made the one up, but I was still one down and just kept kicking. Then, we had a yellow and I was still one down, but kept kicking and got it back. But Jerry was just so fast today and he got us back down. But he really helped us out big-time when the yellow came out and he let us get back on the lead lap, which was great. We need to thank those guys 100 times and obviously congratulate him on his first victory."
From there Benson and crew chief James Ince decided on a "short stopping" strategy that worked to perfection. Benson pitted earlier than most maximizing the benefit of new tires. He fell down a lap to Nadeau later in the race and worked his way up to 11th when the last caution flag fell with less than 10 laps remaining. He moved into 10th in the final laps when Dave Blaney pitted for a damaged left front.
"Man, it was a struggle all day," said Benson whose next appearance on a race track will be as driver of the #10 MBV Valvoline Pontiac in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. "We were so loose getting into the corners that it was kind of scary there most of the day. There were a few times I thought we were going to crash. But, nobody got any practice so I think everyone was fighting handling problems all day."
Benson finished a few car lengths behind Kenseth who trailed him by nine points going into the race and ended up only five points behind at the end of the race. Benson said he is taking more out of the 2000 season than just a 13th place finish.
"Finishing 13th isn't quite where we wanted to finish this season, but it isn't that bad either," said Benson. "We really wanted to finish 10th but when you look at all that we have been through ownership and sponsorship-wise we have to be happy. The guys at MB2 Motorsports came on board this summer and saved us and then Aaron's came on board at Indy and kept us racing the rest of the season. Throw in all the support me and this team get from the fans all around the country and I think you can say we are very fortunate.
"We learned a lot this year. Remember when it looked like we were going to shut down? We had fans mailing us checks at one time just so we could keep racing. We returned all of them, but it was really touching they would send some of their hard earned money to us."
Benson knows its only 12 weeks until the teams leave for Daytona and the 2001 season.
"Now we have Valvoline coming on board and we can concentrate on racing. I've said we want to win races and finish at least sixth next year so maybe this time next year we can look back on the season with as good of feelings as we have about this year. This year was fun overcoming everything but next year might even be more fun starting a new tradition with Valvoline."
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