DETROIT, March 21, 2001 - Pontiac, which produced more wins per car fielded in 2000 than any other manufacturer in NASCAR Winston Cup, is hungry for its first victory of the 2001 campaign. Prior to the start of the season, Joe Gibbs Racing ...
DETROIT, March 21, 2001 - Pontiac, which produced more wins per car fielded in 2000 than any other manufacturer in NASCAR Winston Cup, is hungry for its first victory of the 2001 campaign.
Prior to the start of the season, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart would've been voted "most likely to win first" out of those drivers that make up the "WideTrack Attack." But as the series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the first of the year's short-track events, another pair of Grand Prix drivers has joined the list of candidates.
Valvoline Grand Prix driver Johnny Benson is off to the best start of his Winston Cup career. He is currently tied for second in the point standings and is riding a wave of four straight top-seven finishes. It was this race at Bristol one year ago that lit a fire under Benson, as he charged from 33rd to second and nearly grabbed his first career victory.
Rookie Ron Hornaday, who took over the driving duties in the No. 14 Conseco Grand Prix this year for team owner A.J. Foyt, has won in everything he has ever raced at Bristol. Hornaday's crew chief, Philippe Lopez, is hoping that the rest of the team's effort this weekend will be strong enough to carry his driver to a breakthrough victory in just his 15th career series start.
Thoughts From Johnny Benson, No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac Grand Prix
ON APPROACHING THE FIRST SHORT-TRACK RACE OF THE YEAR
"It's always great to get back to racing some short-track races. That's where all of us grew up, so it's always kind of cool to go back and do those."
YOU FINISHED SECOND AT BRISTOL LAST SPRING DESPITE QUALIFYING 33RD. HOW CAN
YOU IMPROVE YOUR QUALIFYING EFFORT THERE THIS WEEKEND?
"I'm not sure, yet. Hopefully it rains. Bristol is a place that I don't particularly care for practice, I don't particularly care for qualifying and I don't particularly care for racing there. Once the race gets going, then everything seems to be okay for myself. "I've qualified as far up as the top five there and I've qualified bad there. Hopefully, we've made some improvements on our qualifying efforts and can go up there and qualify good."
YOU'VE BEEN DISAPPOINTED THE PAST TWO WEEKS WITH BACK-TO-BACK SEVENTH-PLACE
FINISHES BECAUSE OF YOUR TEAM'S HIGH STANDARDS. ARE YOU HAPPY OVERALL WITH
WHAT YOU'VE ACCOMPLISHED SO FAR?
"Absolutely. The best thing I ever did was move to this race team. It's been great working with James Ince. I love his philosophy and his 'let's go out and win some races' attitude. If I was going to own a race team, that is something that I'd want. I'd want that kind of person that wants to go out there and do whatever it takes to win races and eventually win a championship. "That's what it's all about. I've been in different situations where that really wasn't the attitude and that makes life miserable. For the guys in our race shop to have the attitude that they have is great. It's something that I hope stays there for quite a long time."
IS THERE ANYTHING DIFFERENT FOR YOUR TEAM THIS YEAR COMPARED TO LAST YEAR?
"A lot of people ask us what is different between this year and last year, and we say, 'Nothing.' We thought we ran okay last year, with the exception of a few deals. Missing Atlanta hurt us. Although we sat there and hid that as best as we could, it definitely put us behind. "This year we feel like our team is the same. We are trying to grow, trying to get better and trying to learn how to be a championship-caliber team, and we're doing that. We're learning. We obviously haven't accomplished everything that we need to, yet, but I believe that we are learning what it takes to get there."
Thoughts From Philippe Lopez, Crew Chief, No. 14 Conseco Pontiac Grand Prix
DOES IT SURPRISE YOU THAT RON THINKS HE CAN WIN A RACE IN HIS ROOKIE SEASON?
"He wouldn't do this if he didn't think he could win. Ron has won in everything he has been in. The thought of going a year without winning - Ron just doesn't think like that, and that's great. You can say, 'Well, you 've got to be realistic.' But if you've got a driver with that kind of attitude, it is realistic."
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO WORK WITH RON HORNADAY SO FAR IN 2001?
"It has been a lot different than I thought it would be. We're finding out what all the weak links are on our car because Ron uses the car - every bit of it. Things that we thought we could get away with in the past, we're having to beef up those areas a little bit. "But just working with him, as far as just one on one, it has been pretty good. I knew him at DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.). We had worked with him a little bit over there, so it's just a continuation of that."
HAS ANYTHING SURPRISED YOU WORKING WITH HIM THIS YEAR?
"I'm surprised we haven't had to put more fenders on [the car]. He has been pretty good on the fenders."
ON HOW A.J. FOYT RACING HAS PROGRESSED SINCE YOU CAME TO THE TEAM LAST
"Right now I would say we're about halfway there. When we came in last year we couldn't just say, 'Timeout.' We had to deal with what we had. What we had we made better, but it wasn't all the way. This winter we were able to take four of the 12 cars and start from scratch with bare metal and make them all the way. So far we've only run two of those cars. One was at Daytona, one was at Las Vegas and those are our best runs. But in the next two or three weeks you're going to see the newer cars for us. They're lighter and the bodies are really good. We had a real good wind-tunnel test the week before Darlington. In fact, I thought the tunnel was broken because I was really, really happy with what we had."
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM RON AT BRISTOL?
"I expect Ron to be 100 percent. I'm scared to death that we're going to let him down because everything he has sat in at Bristol, he has won. And not just won - I mean, when he got in the trucks (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series), he killed them - just dominated. I think the only time he lost the lead was when he pitted. But we're looking real closely at his truck notes. They are nothing really out of the ordinary that we wouldn't have done anyway. We're just going to make sure that we really pay attention to details. "His driving style and philosophy is 'go to the front regardless of what's in front of you.' That suits Bristol, so I'm expecting a very good run there."
-GM Racing Communications