Valvoline Teamâ€™s Busy Off Season Testing Should Pay Dividends Early In 2001 Record at Vegas, New Car In 500, New Rock Tires, Thoughts on 2000 Daytona Dale Jarrett won the 2000 Daytona 500 but few benefited by a strong performance more than ...
Valvoline Team’s Busy Off Season Testing Should Pay Dividends Early In 2001
Record at Vegas, New Car In 500, New Rock Tires, Thoughts on 2000 Daytona
Dale Jarrett won the 2000 Daytona 500 but few benefited by a strong performance more than Johnny Benson whose white car led 38 laps until he was passed by the Ford draft with three laps before the checkered flag. Benson and his crew chief James Ince parlayed that near victory into a fine season that saw the team finish 13th in the driver standings despite missing a race. As the team prepares for the 2001 Speedweeks they will return to Daytona with Valvoline backing not only as a sponsor but also as a co-owner along with MB2 Motorsports. The Valvoline race team has already tested at Daytona, Lakeland, Fla., Rockingham and Las Vegas where it posted an unofficial track record. The team will race a new car in the Daytona 500 while the car that nearly won twice there last year will remain on the truck as the backup throughout Speedweeks.
Johnny Benson On Off Season Testing:
“Well, we learned that we are pretty good at Vegas, OK at Rockingham, hurting a little bit at Daytona speed wise and ran a lot of trouble free laps at Lakeland. It was busy but overall I think we are real pleased. We wanted to make sure we get out to a quick start this year and hopefully this off season testing program will give the Valvoline Pontiac a bit of and edge at the beginning of the season.”
Johnny Benson On 2001 Daytona:
“I’m expecting a nice calm Daytona. Not many people can say that. Last year we went without a sponsor and pretty low in the points so we were sweating making the race the whole time we were down there. We struggled in the qualifying race and I remember telling James that if we didn’t get the car fixed we were going to miss the race. We hung on and made it, and then we did pretty good in the 500. This year we are not worried about sponsors anymore because we have Valvoline, and we aren’t worried about provisionals because we are 13th in points. Nor are we worried about qualifying because I don’t think we are fast enough for that. That allows us to spend every day there thinking about how we can make our car draft better and if we do that we are going to be fine on race day.”
Benson On Repeat Performance In The Daytona 500:
“I don’t know if we are going to go down there and lead 38 laps. I’d like to. Heck, I’d rather lead the last three laps this time than just leading all but the last three laps like we did last year. Our last two runs at Daytona have been pretty good. So, I expect we are going to be competitive. Hendrick gives us a good motor program and James and the guys have spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel and at the track getting the Valvoline car to draft like it needs to. With the new rule changes we just don’t know what to expect.”
Benson On Last Year’s Daytona 500:
“I do a little just because that’s where we developed the momentum for this team and a lot of teams and sponsors started knowing us. I don’t dwell on those last three laps. One driver told me if he had been in my car they would still be fishing all the Fords out of the lake. But we were a sitting duck and we just had to run them fair and square. I have no regrets. But, I love to get the opportunity again.”
Benson On Unofficial Track Record At Las Vegas of 31.14 seconds?
"I'm not surprised that we were quick, but I'm surprised that we were that quick. That time came in the morning session and the weather was perfect. I'm not sure we could run that at 2 or 3 in the afternoon when we'll be qualifying. Obviously, we're pretty happy with that time. I hope this can hold for when we qualify. I don’t know if you are going to see a speed much faster than that but you never know."
Benson On Ince:
"James’ approach to racing is one that I like. Some people think he may be hard to work for. Others may think ... well, he’s very vocal at times. But I admire that, and I think the guys admire that. I don’t think they just want a guy who will say, ‘Oh, that’s close enough.’ James wants it perfect. If there’s going to be a change, he’s not going to wait ’til tomorrow to do it. He’s going to do it today. I think that’s one of the advantages of being a young crew chief. He’s a racer, and I like his attitude. He comes from racers who lived it 24 hours a day. That’s how I am."
Crew Chief James Ince On Keeping Last Year’s Car
“We are doing exactly what we did last year and that’s taking our best race car to Daytona. Let me say that we have the best car that we could build without investing 100 percent of our time and getting behind on our other cars for other races. We are taking a new car even though we have an awful good race car that almost won last year’s Daytona 500 and was leading there toward then end of the July race. Yeah, I know everyone is going to say we almost won there twice but we think we have a better car so we are going to race the better car. Both cars were comparable at the test, but you don’t want to take a year-old race car if there is another year’s technology out there. The old car almost won Daytona; this new car is the one we hope wins Daytona. With the data we have from the wind tunnel testing etc we think this is the right car to race. But you really never know until the race starts.”
Ince On How Hard Is It To Win The Daytona 500:
“Daytona is always hard and winning there now is as hard as it has ever been. But the benefit of going to Daytona is that you have a week and a half to get it right. If you come off the truck slow you can work on your car to fix the problem. Obviously, we want to win but we tell everyone we want to finish in the top 15 because we will be ok points wise. The new aero package and speedway rules have made the speedway races so much harder than they used to be. There are so few areas to work with where you can go get speed. We think we learned some lessons on how to get speed out of these Pontiacs and we have incorporated them into our new cars.”
Ince On How Has The Notoriety Changed The Team:
“It hasn’t made my house any bigger so I don’t really care. I mean it’s great for Valvoline, it’s great they get the exposure and the team gets the recognition it deserves, but for the core group of this race team none of the publicity matters. We don’t do this for the media or anyone. We race for ourselves. As for our competition I think they know they have to race us now so it’s kind of hard to sneak up on them. We might have gotten away with it last year but not this year.”
Ince On How Important Is Qualifying At Daytona:
“Well the one thing the test did do for us is show us we aren’t going to go there and sit on the pole. So we can focus on the racing side of the deal. Remember at this place with the new rules you can probably go from last to first in about five laps if you are good.”
Ince On New Rockingham Tires:
“We went to Rockingham on the new tire. So far I have been impressed with what Goodyear has done. I think it puts the driver back into the seat a little bit. Last year at Rockingham we could do 30 laps on each run but with the new tires we can do 50 and 60 lap runs. That has changed the setup and we have to back up a little bit. We should be in good shape there.”
Ince On Biggest Stories In 2001 From A Crew Chief’s Perspective?
“I think it’s too early to tell. I think the Dodge thing is either going to be mediocre or they are going to have such an advantage we wont be able to keep up. I hope it is a very boring year on that front. I hope NASCAR makes all of us awfully equal so we don’t have to go to the wind tunnel every other week and making rule changes. If I could have a wish it is that we would be in Atlanta in the fall with the same rules we started the season with.”
Ince On Two-Tire Stop At The End Of This Daytona 500?
“You never know how that goes. We are going to do our best to put ourselves in a position to win no matter what race. Maybe we taught some people a few things last year by putting on only two tires there at the end. I saw in the July race that a lot of people did the same thing we did. Where I come from you can’t pass a train on the same track and that’s true with pit strategy in racing. Who knows it might be four tires on the final stop that wins Daytona this year.”