By Shawn A. Akers FORT WORTH, Texas (April 1, 1998) Talk about resilient. That's one adjective that could definitely be used to describe Johnny Benson and the No. 26 Cheerios Ford team. After a horrendous start to the 1998 ...
By Shawn A. Akers FORT WORTH, Texas (April 1, 1998) Talk about resilient. That's one adjective that could definitely be used to describe Johnny Benson and the No. 26 Cheerios Ford team.
After a horrendous start to the 1998 season, Benson and the team have rebounded with a vengeance. Heading into this weekend's Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the Cheerios squad has recorded four consecutive top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and has put itself within striking distance of the top-10 point leaders.
That after a disastrous Daytona -- in which Benson didn't even make the race because of an accident in his 125-mile qualifying race -- and a 30th-place finish at Rockingham that left him with a tremendous amount of ground to make up.
"Daytona kind of started us off in a bad position," said Benson, in his first year with Roush Racing. "It was a heartbreaking deal knowing that if we were in an accident we might not make the race with no points as a new team. And that's what happened.
"After that, we went to Rockingham and were strong all day and I was extremely pleased with how everything went. But there again we had a valve problem. We broke a valve and ended up finishing 30th in the race and it was just a tough hole to dig ourselves out of to start with. But (crew chief) Steve Hmiel and all the guys have kept working extremely hard and put excellent race cars underneath me. We've managed to be in the top 10 in every race since then, so it's been going pretty good for us."
Since Rockingham, Benson has finished fourth at Las Vegas, ninth at Atlanta, eighth at Darlington and, most recently, fifth at Bristol in last Sunday's Food City 500. The Cheerios team has moved up all the way to 13th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings.
Not bad for a team in its first season together. But then Benson and the Cheerios team haven't had to go at it all alone. They're only one of five teams that Roush Racing fields in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The others are for Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Ted Musgrave and Chad Little.
"I think being in a multi-car team has its advantages and disadvantages, but it's worked real well," said Benson, the 1996 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year who spent his first two seasons with Bahari' Racing.
"Steve Hmiel is the crew chief for my deal, but he's also the general manager for Roush Racing, and that definitely helps. It's just a matter of me getting used to what they've been used to and them getting used to me. Right now, the communication is going well, and it's been working out real well for us."
Indeed. And Benson's racing life has certainly taken a turn for the better, having hooked up with one of the premier organizations in all of NASCAR.
"I think it's still a big learning part of my career," Benson said. "This is only my third year in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and I'm still learning every day and probably will until I retire. I've got a lot to learn yet and now that it's my first year with a big premier team, there's a lot of learning that goes on there. I'm excited about it. We've got a great sponsor and a great team, and I'm just extremely happy that Roush picked me to drive one of their cars." This weekend, Benson returns to Texas Motor Speedway, a track that wasn't too kind to him in the inaugural race there last April. Benson's was one of many cars who were involved in accidents. He completed only 256 of the scheduled 334 laps and wound up finishing 28th in the No. 30 Pennzoil Pontiac.
None of the Roush teams tested at the 1.5-mile superspeedway, which could make things even more difficult for Benson and his crew. Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford, is the defending champion for the Texas 500.
"Here's one area where you have five teams and I don't believe any of us went down there, so it's not going to be a big help as far as sharing information," Benson said. "We'll just have to go down there Thursday and when we unload, I'm sure everybody is set up relatively close from the previous year and they'll start sorting it out from there. The crew chiefs will all talk and I'm sure the drivers, if there's a problem area for somebody, they'll go over it and try to help sort it out." Source: NASCAR Online