NASCAR Winston Cup racing is basking in millions and millions of dollars as it embarks on the 21st Century. Drivers live in $300,000 motorhomes, teams fly in private jets and sell souvenirs from gift shops, fans watch races from luxury ...
NASCAR Winston Cup racing is basking in millions and millions of dollars as it embarks on the 21st Century.
Drivers live in $300,000 motorhomes, teams fly in private jets and sell souvenirs from gift shops, fans watch races from luxury suites, television pays millions of dollars to televise and advertisers can't wait to spend their money and put their names in front of large audiences. Just this weekend Winston Cup teams announced sponsorship deals in excess of $15 million.
The old saying money buys speed has never been truer in racing with multi-car teams winning every race in 2000.
So it's nice every now and then when somebody in this sport does something that money didn't buy or money didn't make easier. Johnny Benson and his single-car unsponsored Tyler Jet Motorsports team did just that Saturday night as they raced their plain white #10 Pontiac past the more heavily sponsored teams and to the front of the field in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway
Saturday's race was reminiscent of February's Daytona 500 when Benson led 38 laps and almost pulled off an upset victory. The team had signed a sponsor the night before.
That sponsor's decals came off the car on Friday, but that didn't stop Benson from leading about 10 laps and setting himself up for a last lap showdown that went away when Steve Park's lapped car ran him high in turn one on a restart shuffling Benson to the back of the field.
When the checkered flag fell Benson had a 13th place to show for his 400-miles of hard work.
"I'm pretty frustrated right now," said Benson after climbing for the car. "We were in the lead and a lapped car (Park) driving a Chevrolet ran me high and helped all the Fords go underneath. Since when did a Chevrolet start helping Fords?"
Benson and teammates were visibly angry but in the hours after the race the anger gave way to a sense of accomplishment. This no-buck team kicked the ass of teams sponsored by corporate giants.
"We did have a good run," Benson said. "Whenever you can lead a race like this you have to be pleased. We are a small team just trying to get a sponsor and keep on racing. I don't know how long we can go but as long as we can we are going to race all these other teams pretty hard."
Saturday night's race was the most attended nighttime sporting event in the world and it kept everyone standing for most of the race. This restrictor plate race saw all the normal two, three and sometimes four abreast racing as well its complement of scary accidents that fortunately injured nobody.
Benson began Saturday's race in 20th and steadily climbed through the field with the aid of some quick pitstops and spotter Vic Maguire who served as Benson's "extra set of eyes" to help him navigate inches from his competitors at almost 200 mph on the highbanks of Daytona.
Benson climbed into the top six and was the final car in the lead pack with 60 laps to go when Terry Labonte crashed in the trioval bringing out the caution. Crew chief James Ince called for a two-tire stop that allowed Benson to come out in second trailing only eventual race winner Jeff Burton.
When the race restarted, Benson and Jeff Gordon drafted past Burton propelling Benson to the lead where he remained for about ten laps until a crash involving Bill Elliott on the backstretch brought out the next yellow.
Benson stayed on the track. Park lined up on the inside leading the lap cars and when the race resumed Park drove Benson high into turn one allowing Burton and others underneath. Benson fell back to about 15th and struggled to get back to 13th in the final laps.
"We were pretty loose there at the end on two tires," said Benson who is 18th in the point standings. "We did the best we could do but out there you can be a victim of someone else's mistake. We are leaving with a decent finish, a great car, and the knowledge that when we come back here for the Daytona 500 in February we will be even better."
Especially if the team returns to Daytona in February with financial backing like its competitors. Maybe for once instead of money buying speed, money will follow speed.
Pontiac Post Race Quotes
JOHNNY BENSON, NO. 10 TYLER JET MOTORSPORTS PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
"It's just a bad deal. I've never seen a Chevy help a Ford field like that before. He (Steve Park) just flat ran us up the track and let everybody on the bottom. We needed a good run. We need a sponsor to run the rest of the year. It's not looking like we can run the whole season. And then to have something like that happen to us is just unbelievable. We may not have been good enough to win, but to get shuffled like that back to 15th in two laps is just something I've never seen before. Pontiac has done just a super job, and I figured the GM camp was supposed to help the GM camp. But apparently one guy doesn't think so."
"When a lapped car (No. 1) runs you to the outside of the track and all the leaders go down to the bottom, including second place...I'm not sure what he is thinking. I've never seen a Chevrolet help Fords like that. That was pretty blatant. "I think the car was pretty decent. It was almost as good as the '500.' I just didn't expect a lapped car to screw us on that deal."
(WAS IT DIFFICULT TO PASS) "The restrictor plate made it real hard to pass. We couldn't run the top. We could run the bottom pretty good. But it was tough. We had a good car. We're just not real happy about the way that one restart went."
(ON THE LACK OF SPONSORSHIP) "It's just a matter of seeing what happens in the long run. We need the money. We need the sponsorship bad to run the rest of the year. We could run a couple of races. We've got some things working and hopefully something comes about, and we're able to finish the season. If not, we're still excited about 2001, but right now we're just trying to get down the road."