If the Daytona 500 were 15 laps shorter and the April race at Bristol only 15 laps longer, Johnny Benson and his ...
If the Daytona 500 were 15 laps shorter and the April race at Bristol only 15 laps longer, Johnny Benson and his #10 Aaron's Pontiac crew could have visited Victory Lane twice in 2000.
Benson hopes momentum from last Sunday's fifth-place finish at Michigan translates to Bristol where he finished second in April. One of the secrets to Benson's success at the half-mile highbanked track is Crew Chief James Ince's strategy of forcing Benson to drive "at only 50 percent" the first three-quarters of the race. In April, Benson stayed on the lead lap then staged a late rally to claim his best career finish. The last five drivers to work with Ince (Kevin Lepage, Ted Musgrave, Rich Bickle, David Green and Benson) have all recorded their best career finishes under the guidance of the 29-year-old who is the youngest crew chief in the NASCAR garage.
Ince On Bristol:
"Two weeks ago at Watkins Glen crew chiefs were worried about building a road course car and all the things that go on with that type of race. At Michigan you were worried about the roof and fenders because everything there is about aerodynamics. At Bristol you are back to just worrying about cars, pits stops and the driver. Technology and money don't mean a thing at Bristol. That kind of fits this race team because we haven't had the resources others have had. How do I compare going to Watkins Glen versus going to Bristol? That's like asking whether I'd rather go to the electric chair or the Bahamas."
"Bristol is Saturday night racing. That's what we all grew up doing. That's my background, that's Johnny's background. Night racing for some reason is a whole lot more fun than daytime racing. Success there is about having a good car and having a great driver. You don't hear complaining about rules, bodies, and all that at Bristol."
Ince On His 50 Percent Strategy:
"I know Johnny is such a nice guy and people think he is like Mr. Rogers but get him in a race car and he gets really aggressive and sometimes goes crazy. In April I was trying to make sure he wasn't too aggressive early in the race and getting us in trouble so I kept beating into his head all week that I want him at 50 percent. Which he did. It's hard to slow racers down. But he did what he had to do and when it was time to go we unleashed him and you saw what he did. He can drive the wheels off a car and that's what we wanted to avoid early."
Johnny Benson On Ince's Strategy:
"James likes to talk about that 50 percent rule. But to be honest I was trying a little bit harder than that. But I'm not going to tell him that. Hey it worked so I'm not going to argue. He got his point though to me. You don't race so hard in the early going that you et in trouble and kill your chances at the end."
Benson On Bristol Excitement:
"We race every weekend, but let me tell you I get goosebumps at the Bristol night race. I don't know if it's the big crowd, the noise they make at driver introductions or the fact that it's a short track race on Saturday night that creates the excitement. It's a tough place. The track is a little bit slicker during the day compared to the night race. But concrete is pretty consistent."
Qualifying at Bristol:
"Qualifying and racing are different there. We started 33rd in April and almost won the race. But it wasn't like we were that far off. We were three-tenths of a second from winning the pole. Success in qualifying is about how fast your car is running after two laps and success in the race is about how your car is running after 60 or 80 laps. You can be off by three or four tenths in qualifying and still have a good race car.
"You have to qualify on the frontstretch. We were fortunate at April to finish as well as we did pitting on the backstretch. If it comes down at the end, you don't want to have to make a stop under caution if you are on the backstretch. I know NASCAR has tried to fix the frontstretch-backstretch disparity, but all they have to do is speed up the pace car more. But, they haven't done that to the point where they have equaled it out. Hopefully we will be on the frontstretch and won't have to worry about all that."
Benson On Second-Time-Around Improvements, Michigan:
"We are getting there. Fifth place last weekend was pretty good. We got lapped there in June and when we came back there Sunday we were a lot better. Same thing happened in Pocono as well where we really improved from the first race to the second race. You have to remember James and I are only in our first season together. As we get to these tracks more we will get a little bit better each time. Look at Rusty (Wallace) who won last weekend. He and (crew chief) Robin (Pemberton) have been together a long time. I think communication is key and being with someone a long = time certainly helps that communication. We gambled there at the end Sunday when we did a four-tire stop and made a big air pressure change to loosen the car up. We were so tight all day that we knew we had to do something different if we were going to win. But, we loosened it up just a little too much. Next time we are in that situation James and I will know what to do. That's the advantage those other guys have over us right now, but that will take care of itself over time."
<pre> THE RACE: goracing.com 500 Winston Cup Race #23 of 34 for the 2000 season a.. Race: Saturday, August 26, 2000 in Bristol, TN
b.. TV: ESPN 7:30pm/et
c.. 1999 Race Winner: Dale Earnhardt
d.. Race Record: Charlie Glotzbach, July 1971, 101.074
e.. Track/Race Length: 0.533 mile concrete oval, 500 laps, 266.5 miles
f.. Pit Road Speed: 35mph
g.. Practice: Friday, Aug 25th 12:45 -3:15pm; Saturday, Aug 26th 11:30am - 1:00pm/et
h.. Happy Hour Practice: Saturday, Aug 26th, 2:15 - 3:15pm/et, TV-??
i.. Qualifying Draw: Friday, August 25th at 11:30am/et
j.. First Round Qualifying: 2 laps for positions 1-25, Friday, Aug 25th at 5:00pm/et, TV-ESPN2; and live via PRN radio/internet
k.. Second-Round Qualifying: 2 laps for positions 26th-36th, Saturday, Aug 25th at 1:00pm/et
l.. Track Qualifying Record: Steve Park, April 2000, 126.370mph
m.. Event/Race Qualifying Record: Rusty Wallace, August 1998, = 125.554mph
n.. Last Year's Pole Sitter: Tony Stewart, 124.589mph
Track Specs: 0.533-mile concrete oval Degree of banking in corners: 36 degrees Degree of banking in straights: 16 degrees Straightaways are 650 feet long. Concrete racing surface is 40 feet wide. Seating capacity: ~155,000