(Sunday Feb 20, 2000 Daytona Beach, Fla.) -- Let me reintroduce you to Johnny Benson. Maybe you have forgotten him in the last two years. If you have it's time to get reacquainted. Based on Sunday's Daytona 500 he's probably going to be up front...
(Sunday Feb 20, 2000 Daytona Beach, Fla.) -- Let me reintroduce you to Johnny Benson.
Maybe you have forgotten him in the last two years. If you have it's time to get reacquainted. Based on Sunday's Daytona 500 he's probably going to be up front a lot in the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season.
He's the same Johnny Benson that won the American Speed Association Rookie of the Year in 1990, the ASA championship in 1993, the NASCAR Busch Series Rookie of the Year in 1994 and the Busch Championship in 1995. He's the driver that won the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year award in 1996.
Sound familiar yet? Remember this guy?
He's the same Johnny Benson that led 70 laps at Indianapolis in the 1996 Brickyard 400, and nearly won Richmond the same year. Yet he's the same driver you saw struggling with a 5-car Roush Racing team in 1998 and 1999 before he decided to leave and join Tyler Jet Motorsports - a combination some didn't even rank in the pre-season top 40 of Winston Cup.
But look what happened Sunday.
That same Johnny Benson and Tim Beverley's unsung Tyler Jet team almost pulled off one of the greatest wins in the history of NASCAR when Benson led 38 laps in a car that had been unsponsored until Saturday night when it signed Lycos.
"It's been quite a weekend to say the least," said Benson as he reflected on the last 24 hours that saw him move from an unsponsored Winston Cup driver to perhaps the best story coming from Sunday's Daytona 500.
"It's almost hard to believe. We came to Daytona as an unsponsored car and we leave with everyone talking about us. A few hours before the race I walked over to our garage just to see what the car looked like."
It took a nudge from Dale Jarrett with three laps to go in the race to knock Benson out of first, out of the draft and back to 12th place keeping the Michigander from winning his first race. Up until that moment Benson's bright white car led the field in the most prestigious stock car race in the world.
Early in the race Benson slowly crept to the front from his 27th starting spot using some heady driving and timely pitstops by the Tyler Jet crew. It took until the two-thirds mark before he climbed into the top 10 and then he saved his best for last.
After crew chief James Ince gambled on a two-tire stop with 43 laps to go Benson moved from ninth place to the lead and spent the rest of the race fighting off a pack of angry Ford drivers. He held off charges by Mark Martin and Bill Elliott and appeared to have Jarrett beat, but a late yellow bunched the field and gave Jarrett and his fellow Ford drivers one last opportunity to draft past Benson
"I knew what was going to happen. We were the only Pontiac at the front and all those Fords behind us were going to gang up and go around. There wasn't much I could do at the end. If I had done anymore I think I would have wrecked the field."
Jarrett slipped by and brought the draft with him dropping Benson to twelfth. Ince was not distraught.
"I'd rather have a race car that we can bring back to the shop and polish than a fast one we wrecked," said Ince, the youngest crew chief in the Winston Cup garage. "I think if we didn't have that last caution we would have been able to fight them off."
Ince said he team's progress increased throughout the offseason and during Speedweeks in Daytona. He said Rockingham is the next step.
"I told Johnny we need to take our 12th place finish and head on to Rockingham. We joked that Daytona was his weakest track because his results haven't been real good there in the past. But if that was his weakest track then we are going to have a lot of fun at Rockingham where he has really done well in the past."
Benson, Ince and the Tyler Jet team leave Daytona with a new sponsor in Lycos, 11th place in the points, and newfound respect from NASCAR fans, media and peers. But Daytona was more than just a good run. It was a validation of a team some had questioned and a driver many had forgotten.
Daytona was sort of a reaquaintance for the racing world with Johnny Benson - a name they will know well in 2000.