#10 Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson has mixed emotions about Sunday's 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. Benson, like most, finds the competition at Talladega incredible, but at the same time admits Talladega is about the drivers' least favorite race on the NASCAR Winston Cup tour. The three and sometimes four abreast high-speed racing while bunched in tight packs raises the danger level to new heights. Benson and his crew chief James Ince are optimistic about the race, but past history shows qualifying will be tough on all Pontiac teams.
* A Chevrolet has won all three races and Dodge all three poles in restrictor plate races in 2001. At Daytona, the last restrictor plate race, no Pontiac qualified better than 33rd and two of its six teams missed the race. NASCAR allowed Pontiac an eighth inch reduction in roof blade for this weekend's race.
* Benson hung near the back of the pack at Talladega in April until late in the race when he charged to the front running as high as second with just three laps remaining before finishing seventh. Benson led nine laps at the last restrictor plate race at Daytona in July.
* Benson led four laps last weekend at Martinsville upping his lap-leading total in 2001 to 101.
Do Drivers Dread Talladega?
"I don't know it is hard to say. Is it an uncomfortable feeling? Yeah it is. Going three or four wide at a race like that for three hours makes it, at times, extremely uncomfortable. At other times it's OK. If you are two-wide or single file then it is easy just to cruise around there. I don't think drivers get up on the morning of the race and dread racing. I don't think you can have that type of mindset. You have to have the mindset that we are going to get through this race safely and see how it all plays out. I don't think any of us get up in the morning and say 'Man I wish this race were done now.' " But, there is always concern when you run a race like Talladega."
Would You Buy A Ticket?
"Absolutely, the shows NASCAR puts on there are unbelievable. I've seen this race from behind the steering wheel. I can't imagine what it looks like from the stands. I mean we had 49 lead changes last year. And someone told me the other day the victory margin is less than a second in our last 20 races at Talladega. That's incredible."
How Would You Balance The Safety And Excitement?
"Finding that balance puts NASCAR in a tough spot. If you really look at it, they got what they tried to do. And that is to make a great race with great side-by-side racing all day long. But, if you look at the safety side you see that issue isn't totally settled. What would I do? To tell you the truth I just don't know. We have tested a lot of different things. You know it is very hard at Talladega to spread the field out. At Daytona it is a little bit easier. They are in a tough position."
Will Teams Hang At the Back Then Race At the End?
"That will probably happen again. You get points, money and the checkered flag based on where you are the last lap so running up front and getting crashed doesn't help at all. It isn't necessarily getting to the back; it's to not be three and four wide. Unfortunately, most times the back is the only place you can control that. In fact, you would be better off up front if you knew you were just going to run single file or just two-wide. For whatever reason, it is awful hard to make that happen."
Chevys Win Restrictor Plate Races, Dodge Poles, What About Pontiacs?
"The Pontiac is a car that isn't going to qualify well and I don't see it making the race (on speed) under a qualifying situation. At the last restrictor plate race (Daytona in July) Bobby Labonte was the fastest at 33rd quick and Tony Stewart was 36th quick and the other four Pontiacs didn't make the race (on speed). Now we are going to the same deal and knocked back in points, so it 's going to be real interesting to see how that works out. We feel maybe one Pontiac will make the race on time and the rest are going to take provisionals. We just hope we are sitting OK (in points) to participate in that race^Å There were only six Pontiacs at Daytona and we sent two home, so it's going to be very difficult at Talladega. We hope things are going to work out for us and it won't be a problem."
Crew Chief James Ince On Pontiac Roof Blade Reduction:
"They're trimming our roof spoiler by an eighth of an inch, which we just tested in the wind tunnel and showed a change of only three counts of drag. That means this week at Talladega we'll qualify 42nd instead of 43rd."
THE RACE: EA Sports 500 Winston Cup Race #31 of 36 for the 2001 season
Race: Sunday, October 21, 2001 in Talladega, AL
NOTE: Talladega is located in the Central Time Zone, all times listed here are in Eastern Time Zone (1 hour ahead)
TV: NBC - 1:00pm/et, re-aired on TNT Tuesday, Oct 23, 1:00am/et
2000 Race Winner: Dale Earnhardt, 165.681mph, started 20th
Track Race Record: Mark Martin, May 1995, 186.288mph
Track/Race Length: 2.66 mile quad oval, 188 laps, 500.08 miles
Pit Road Speed: 55mph
Practice: Friday, Oct 19th 12:00 -2:00pm/et; Saturday, Oct 20th 11:00 - 11:45am/et
Happy Hour Practice: Saturday, Oct 20th 12:15 - 1:00pm/et, TV-TNT at 1:00pm/et
Qualifying Draw: Friday, Oct 19th, 11:00am/et
First Round Qualifying: 2 laps for positions 1-36, Friday, Oct 19th at 4:05pm/et, TV-CNN/SI live and live via MRN Radio(link below)
NASCAR.com will have live lap-by-lap coverage of Winston Cup qualifying via the web
Track Qualifying Record(no restrictor plate): Bill Elliott, April 1987,
Track Qualifying Record(Restrictor Plate): Bill Elliott, May 1990, 199.388(15/16th inch plate)
Event Qualifying Record: Bill Elliott, July 1986, 209.005mph(unrestricted)
Last Year's Pole Sitter: Joe Nemechek, 190.279mph, finished 3rd
Superspeedway: 2.66-mile trioval 48 feet wide (12-foot apron)
Turns: Banking: 33 degrees Length: 3,750 feet Radius: 1,100 feet
Trioval: Banking: 18 degrees
Frontstretch: Chute length: 2,150 feet (from turn to middle of trioval) Total length: 4,300 feet Banking: Minimal for drainage only
Backstretch: Length: 4,000 feet Banking: Minimal for drainage only (Talladega Website)