Rockingham II: Johnny Benson race report

Grace & Dignity prevail with Benson Rockingham victory. For seven years Johnny Benson raced in the Nascar Winston Cup Series with a quiet grace and dignity. He was polite to the media, took time with race fans and sponsors, remained friendly...

Grace & Dignity prevail with Benson Rockingham victory.

For seven years Johnny Benson raced in the Nascar Winston Cup Series with a quiet grace and dignity.

He was polite to the media, took time with race fans and sponsors, remained friendly with race officials and competitors and was rarely controversial.

But he never finished first in 225 starts.

That changed Sunday in Rockingham, North Carolina when he earned the hardest of hard-earned victories.

Just two weeks ago in Martinsville, Va. he could have crashed Kurt Busch and easily won for the first time in over 250 starts. But he chose to race fair-and-square and finish second for the third time in his career.

At the race track and around his North Carolina home, fans and racers teased him about being so close. They kept telling "the best driver to never win a race" that bumping and wrecking the other guy is part of racing.

But Benson never wavered from what he knew was right and what he was taught by his father John Benson growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"I didn't want to win that way," said Benson. "That's just me. It isn't how I want to win."

On Sunday he won it his way.

He won it by cleanly passing Busch with 27 laps to go and then he held off a ferocious effort from Mark Martin in the closing laps edging Martin by .281 seconds in front of 50,000 cheering fans and a nationwide television audience.

The journey that began at age seven working in his father's race shop and included late model, ASA and Busch Championships along the way culminated by the flag stand at Rockingham late Sunday afternoon with 38-year-old Benson taking the checkered flag for his first Winston Cup career victory.

It was a celebration to say the least.

"There's so much I wish I could say and so many people to thank," said Benson who led the final 28 laps then used his Valvoline Pontiac to burn doughnuts in the grass on the front stretch before running out of gas on the backstretch and needing a push to Victory Lane.

"We've waited so long for this. We have come so close so many times. Was it all worth it? Yes, it was. I'm so thankful for James Ince and everyone in this Valvoline Pontiac organization tonight. Valvoline as a corporate owner stood behind us and the folks at MB2 Motorsports gave us a chance when things looked so bleak a few years ago."

Martinsville two weeks ago, Loudon last month, near wins at Indy in 1996 and Daytona in 2000 were the furthest things from Benson's thoughts Sunday night. So were two accidents earlier this season that sidelined him five races with broken ribs.

Sunday night was all about a victory celebration that he always knew would come some day some way.

"I never doubted myself or these guys," Benson said. "We knew we had the ability, we knew by Valvoline owning us we would have their support and we knew with Hendrick engines and Pontiac support we were going to make it happen"

Standing in the corner of Victory Lane with the proud-papa-like smile was 32-year old James Ince -- one of the youngest in the garage and on this night one of the proudest.

Ince, the Springfield, Missouri native who has now won in every series he has ever raced said he never wavered in his belief that the Valvoline Pontiac would visit Victory Lane.

"We put this team together in 2000 and there were a lot of days when because of finances it seemed things weren't going to workout. But we never lost faith in each other and the guys on this team had plenty of opportunities to go elsewhere and they didn't," said Ince. "Over time we added a lot of people and got this organization going in the right direction and what you saw today is the first of what I know will be a pretty regular thing."

For Benson, his thousands of fans in the Upper Midwest and all over the nation the next victory is something to ponder later. For now it's time to bask in the celebration of something that has been long overdue.

But something achieved in the way Benson wanted to achieve it.

"Today we won it the right way," he said.

-valvoline-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kurt Busch , Johnny Benson , Mark Martin