DETROIT (February 23, 2000) - Lycos Pontiac Grand Prix driver Johnny Benson knew before the season started that he would be looking forward to racing in Rockingham this week. But, what Benson didn't know is that he and his Tyler Jet Motorsports...
DETROIT (February 23, 2000) - Lycos Pontiac Grand Prix driver Johnny Benson knew before the season started that he would be looking forward to racing in Rockingham this week. But, what Benson didn't know is that he and his Tyler Jet Motorsports teammates would have some extra excitement to build from after a great run in the Daytona 500. Now Benson hopes he and crew chief James Ince can capitalize on the momentum they captured last week after leading 38 laps and posting Benson's best career finish ever at Daytona.
THOUGHTS FROM JOHNNY BENSON, NO. 10 LYCOS PONTIAC GRAND PRIX
...how rejuvenating was Sunday's run at Daytona:
"It was great to go down there, run good, qualify good, run great in 'Happy Hour' and in all the practices, and then to be able to turn around and get on the racetrack and have a good race. You know we were pretty quiet there for most of the race. But we were steadily moving forward, and then of course, our pit call put us in a position to lead the '500.' That was tremendous. And then to go on and think that there was a possibility to win this was pretty huge."
...shifting the team's focus from Daytona to Rockingham:
"The focus on Rockingham is pretty good. We felt like we had a top 10 or top 15 opportunity at Daytona. But we have always felt that we were in better shape to go to Rockingham, as opposed to being at the '500.' I'm was glad we had a good run at the '500' and glad we had an opportunity to win the '500.' But going to Rockingham, I feel that we are just as prepared. The guys are doing the same quality work on every car that we build - not just the car that we raced in the Daytona 500. So I think to run good down at Daytona was a good bonus. We felt like we had an 'OK' race car, but we feel that our short track stuff is probably a tad bit better than our speedway stuff. I've had some OK success on the speedways, but the last couple years have been a little tough for whatever reason. So I didn't feel that going down there we would have that big of an opportunity. I did feel comfortable saying we could finish in the top 15. But I thought, 'Man, I can't wait to get to Rockingham and Las Vegas, and all those other tracks that I like running on. Now remember, this was two weeks ago too that I felt that we would have a lot better shot at a good run at Rockingham than Daytona. But Daytona ended up being a great week for us, and it sure made it tougher going to Rockingham now. Originally we were thinking, 'Daytona is Daytona. We need to get through Daytona and then we'll worry about Rockingham. Now having such a good run down there has made it pretty tough on us this week."
...being successful at Rockingham:
"Your set-up at a place like Rockingham is real critical. At a place like Daytona, it's horsepower, it's body. Don't get me wrong - the car still has to drive good, but it's horsepower and body. Once you get past that, your tire management there is not as critical. Rockingham is a totally different deal. You can run 15 laps, the yellow comes out and you're coming in for tires. The car has to be really good in the long run. You've got to be able to be real easy on the tires and still have some pretty good speed around there. So you have to have the car extremely balanced, and you've got to be really, really good after 20 to 25 laps on the tires."
...how level will the playing field be at Rockingham:
"I don't know. I don't believe anybody knows yet. The Pontiac doesn't have a lot on it that's different than last year. But now that we're running against a different Chevrolet and a different Ford, the car may act a lot different in traffic. Hopefully we'll know what adjustments to make a lot quicker than they will, depending on where they sit on downforce with their cars. We just need to see where we shake out compared to everybody else. I hope that (crew chief) James Ince and (car chief) Gary Putnam put a good race car underneath me, and we'll go down there and do the best that we can."
THOUGHTS FROM JAMES INCE, CREW CHIEF, NO. 10 LYCOS PONTIAC GRAND PRIX
...what he told the team Monday morning:
"I told them the truth. I felt like somebody had kicked me in the ribs. I felt like we had just lost the Daytona 500. But I came in and expressed to these guys how far we've come in the last eight months. And really, you've got to go back about eight months with the things we did last year. I just wanted to make sure everybody stayed focused. I've seen situations where you can go have some success and at that point, you kind of let your guard down a little bit, and I wanted to make sure that wasn't going to happen here. We came back in here Monday motivated to do better. We're for sure not being satisfied with what we did. We're going to move ahead. We have every intention of going to Rockingham this weekend and lapping the field. If that will happen, I don't know. But that is our goal."
...why the team feels better prepared for Rockingham:
"I feel like we made all the right decisions over the winter. My theory going into the year was that I would not spend much time on the Daytona stuff at all. We worked really hard on our downforce cars and worked really hard on cars for five races into the season. Six weeks ago, I had the first five races done past Daytona. The cars were picked. The cars were done, waiting for a paint scheme to go to the racetrack. So we polished on that stuff really well. What changed all that was when we went to the speedway tests with a couple really good cars, but we weren't where we wanted to be, and the racer came out in us. We decided to go to Talladega for another test. I loaded these guys up and went to Ottawa, Canada. It was 15 degrees below zero in the wind tunnel. I actually drove the dually up there myself taking the car up, because I didn't want to get it lost in a wreck along the way. We went through an ice storm to get there. So the racer definitely came out in us after we went to the racetrack. We didn't want to get beat. We knew we were in good shape going into Rockingham, Las Vegas and Atlanta. But we wanted to show what we had at Daytona, too. With Hendrick Motors in these things, we didn't want to let those guys down over there because they work awfully hard at it. I think we did all the right things this winter."
...expectations at Rockingham:
"I feel pretty good about it. Naturally, the tough part for me is that we've raised the bar. We've raised the standard around this race team. Naturally if we don't do as well at Rockingham, there is going to be some disappointment. But now I feel like we're back in an element that is more of a level playing ground. We've got our shocks back and we can do what we want. Not that we did a bad job. I think NASCAR did a great job with the shock rule, and I think some did a better job with that in understanding what the car needed. "I still think Ford has got a great big advantage right now. There is no doubt. I was a Ford guy for seven years. I know what they are doing and what they are up to. There is no doubt they are ahead of us right now. Hopefully, NASCAR will help that. But I do feel like we are back to more of a level playing field. I think we can do more with them. "I believe we can go to Rockingham and we can lead some laps. But this week I've got a little different theory. I only want to lead one lap, and that's the last one."
THOUGHTS FROM TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX
...looking forward to Rockingham:
"I enjoy going to Rockingham because I really feel that's where our season starts. That's a track where you don't really worry about what everybody else's car is doing. You worry about what your car is doing. You're racing the race track. You're not racing everybody else. It's a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things. Once you leave Rockingham, you feel like the season has officially started. It's one of those places that I've run well in both my Busch car and in my Home Depot Pontiac. It's a good place to go racing."
...what it takes to get around Rockingham:
"Making sure the car has a really good balance to where you're not having to use the tires up by leaning on them hard to go fast. If you can get the car driving well enough that you can run a good pace without pushing the car, then normally halfway through a run you're really good and you're really starting to pull away from guys whose cars aren't quite as balanced as yours. They're having to use up their tires a little more than you."
...what if the balance isn't quite what you want:
"You just try to be as easy on the tires as you can -- maybe be smoother on the race track by finding a line that's a little less abrasive by changing the balance of the car. There are some spots on the track that'll make your car freer and some that'll make it tighter. Depending on what your car's balance is doing, you need to move around on the race track to help it out."