#10 Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson admits he knows next to nothing about Chicagoland Speedway where the NASCAR Winston Cup Series races this weekend. He will rely on Crew Chief James Ince as well as a special day of practice Thursday to familiarize himself with the 1.5-mile superfast trioval in Joliet, Ill.
Ince said Thursday's special practice saves the team from spending one of its seven test dates during the season. He suggested NASCAR use Thursday more often and ban all other testing. NASCAR plans to offer a similar Thursday practice when the teams race at Kansas International Speedway in September.
Both Benson and Ince say racing at a new track levels the playing field for each of the teams and puts a premium on picking the right car, body and engine combination. Testing reports say cars were near 200 mph on some parts of the $130 million Chicagoland track. The Valvoline team returns to action this weekend after finishing 13th Saturday night in Daytona where Benson led 10 laps -- the third most of any driver. Benson in 8th in the 2001 driver standings.
The race teams aren't the only ones excited about racing in Chicago this weekend. James Rocco, the listed team owner for the #10 Pontiac and Senior Vice President at Valvoline, said Chicago represents a significant step for the sponsorship and marketing of the sport.
Johnny Benson on Chicago:
"It's fun to go to new tracks. You try to talk to some people who have tested there or at least try to see the track on television just to see its layout. You also kind of guess as to what the new track is like compared to other tracks where we race. I have never seen Chicago so I'm not much help. Heck, I couldn't even tell you its shape. I'm sure James knows and he will take the setup from a track that is similar to Chicago and we will just have to go from there.
Benson on how long it takes to get comfortable at a new track:
"It depends on how good your car is. If it's comfortable you can get up to speed pretty quick. Just getting acclimated to the track probably takes about 15 to 20 laps then you start trying to figure out the personality of the track. You try to learn what you can get away with and what you can and that takes more time."
Crew Chief James Ince on going to Chicago and going a day early:
"Going to Chicago, the extra day is a big benefit for everybody. It changed our testing strategy because now we don't have to go there and test. It's a brand new racetrack, nobody has any notes, we really don't know what to expect. Some teams might have gone there to test but they haven't tested with 43 other race teams. Going in a day early saves us a test which saves the car owners a lot of money and it gives us time to prepare for other races. You have to applaud NASCAR for doing that.
"I think there is room in the schedule for more of that. We were in Daytona what seemed like a month when it could have been a two-day show. There are a lot of places where we really don't need to test. Who needs to go to Rockingham or Darlington to test. It wouldn't hurt my feelings at all if we did away with testing all together and let us go in a day early to some places.
"When you go to a new racetrack like Chicago nobody knows what to expect. Even if you tested there. You wonder if you are bringing the right car, the right body, the right engine package. The better teams are going to react to that. I know in NASCAR we try to make each team equal within the rules, but the better teams with the better personnel and better equipment are going to overcome all that."
"We expect to have a good weekend. We go there knowing nobody has an advantage on us. I know I don't have to read somebody else's notes or have to battle somebody who has had a lot of success there in the past. Right now we are on an even playing field. Whoever hits it right is going to run well and we are confident in our ability with the shocks and springs on a race car to hit the right setup. We are excited to go there."
Ince: On Chicago being too fast
"There is no such thing as too fast."
James Rocco On Chicago's importance to Valvoline and other sponsors:
"For Valvoline, in particular, it's a very important market because we have our largest direct market in Chicago, where we do not have an independent distributor. Actually, we distribute our products ourselves from our Willow Springs plant. That's going to be a big, big thing for them -- promoting the Valvoline products around the race. We're looking forward to that a lot."
Rocco On NASCAR moving grom dmaller markets to bigger markets:
"I guess, basically -- and I promise this isn't a cop-out -- Valvoline will let NASCAR decide how they want to do that. We're very pleased with the exposure that we get in the markets we go to already. Obviously, any new markets that open up is good for us -- like Chicago, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles. I think wherever we go; we can make this work for us. That's why we're in the sport, because it's that good."
Rocco on onsite promotions versus television promotions?
"You have to balance them. For example, we have a direct market in Orlando, so we'll use the Daytona property for local promotion and we'll use it nationally, also. But as far as the television package is concerned, we bought on FOX and we're probably going to buy on NBC, too -- we have to have commercial on television as well as our in-car cameras. The on-site versus the television is a balancing act."
Rocco on measuring marketing:
"At the end of the year there is a sponsor's report that tells you where you finish. Everybody in the industry uses that as a barometer of exposure and Valvoline has led that for a number of years, so we're very pleased with what we receive for our involvement. We're very happy in NASCAR."