Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson admitted he had a strange feeling after Sundayâ€™s NASCAR Winston Cup race in Atlanta. He was a bit frustrated, but also happy. â€œIt feels a little weird to be half-mad about finishing seventh,â€ ...
Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson admitted he had a strange feeling after Sunday’s NASCAR Winston Cup race in Atlanta.
He was a bit frustrated, but also happy.
“It feels a little weird to be half-mad about finishing seventh,” Benson said moments after climbing from the Valvoline Pontiac. “But I guess looking at the bigger picture we have to be pretty happy with the way we ran today. We are getting the consistency we want and I hope if we keep running this well we are going to get a chance for a win here before too long.”
Sunday’s seventh-place finish follows a sixth at Rockingham and a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas. The three top finishes mark his best run of top-10 finishes since 1998 when he notched five consecutive top-10 finishes early in that season.
He also moved to third in the 2001 point standing – the best of six-year career.
“That’s all well and good but right now at this point in the season we are concentrating on victories,” he said. “If we can win one of these races we know the points will take care of itself.”
Benson started Sunday’s race on the 1.5-mile trioval in 19th place and held his position in the early going moving up to 17th in the first 20 laps. By lap 56 he had climbed to 12th then drove the Valvoline Pontiac up to seventh by lap 98. Attrition was high Sunday on the high-speed track and while Goodyear’s new tire kept the competition close drivers all complained of sliding around on the highbanks.
“We were kind of biding our time at the beginning of the race,” Benson said. “Racing 500 miles here gives you a long time to get to the front at this place."
An unexplained vibration dropped Benson back to 11th as the Valvoline crew turned in pitstops between 15 and 17 seconds in the first half of the race. As the race proceeded through the middle stages, Benson moved up and down the scoring pylon sometimes running as high as fifth but never lower than 12th.
“We were pretty consistent throughout every run today,” Benson said. “In November we finished tenth here and were a bit faster but fell off as the laps increased. Today we might not have been as fast but we were steady.”
A 15-second pit stop with less than 50 laps to go vaulted Benson to seventh and he moved to fifth on lap 278. In the closing stages Benson raced hard with several drivers and appeared to be closing in on a sixth or fifth place finish in the final laps.
Then the unexpected occurred.
"When I got down to the corner I was on the outside of somebody and there was the full outside edge of a tire laying in the middle of the racetrack. It just killed the front of the car with three to go. We lost one position was all, but it didn't help us on trying to gain any either."
Benson came across the finish line in seventh not too far behind Kevin Harvick who earned the victory driving the late Dale Earnhardt’s car.
"I can't be any happier for Kevin, obviously, but also for the team. They have been through so much. To be able to still concentrate and get the job done, you've got to really commend those guys. You've got to really be proud of them just for coming to the racetrack, let alone for going out there and competing for a win."
Not a bad performance from Benson’s team either considering it watched this first Atlanta race on television last season. Benson missed the race when rain washed out second round qualifying and the team didn’t have enough provisional points to gain a starting spot.
“Remembering where we were a year ago, we have come a long way,” he said. “I’m pretty proud of these guys and I think our effort is paying off.”
When the Valvoline team hauler pulls into Darlington next Friday it will line up third of all the trucks.
“Darlington is going to be pretty fun,” he said. “If we can win it then we will get to move up even more.”
- Drew Brown