Benson Saves Best For Last At Brickyard Drives James Dean Pontiac To 3rd-Place Finish Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson carried a picture of movie star James Dean on the hood of his car all weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But it...
Benson Saves Best For Last At Brickyard
Drives James Dean Pontiac To 3rd-Place Finish
Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson carried a picture of movie star James Dean on the hood of his car all weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But it was his work in the final scene that would have made the legendary Hoosier actor proud as Benson dazzled the 300,000 members of the audience with a scene-stealing performance in the closing laps of one of NASCAR's biggest shows.
After spending much of the day racing midpack, Benson and Crew Chief James Ince tricked the field during the final round of pit stops. While others were taking on four tires for the final 21-lap run, Benson and Ince decided two would be enough for their needs.
They were right.
"I think this will get you the track position you need and you can do the rest," Ince told Benson when he moved the driver from 14th to fourth during the final pit stop with just 21 laps left in the 400-mile race. It was Benson's first time in the top ten all day, but it didn't take him long to take advantage of the new view of the leaders.
>From there Benson wheeled around Ricky Craven for third place then held off a hard charging Rusty Wallace while falling just short of catching Sterling Marlin and eventual winner Jeff Gordon. Several of the faster cars that had traded the lead all day and took four tires on the final stop couldn't catch up before the checkered flag fell.
Finishing third at the Brickyard wasn't as simple as making a good call in the final laps. After starting the race in 26th, Benson reported a variety of troubles to Ince.
"We were changing so many things that it would probably be easier to tell you what we didn't change," joked Benson. "We started off real tight and made some pretty substantial changes and ended up getting it loose."
Benson's first pit stop saw a radio malfunction lead to a tire changer start taking the lug nuts on the left side of the car after the team decided to do a two tire stop. Benson pulled out from the pits a few feet before putting the car in reverse and returning to the pit stall.
"That was actually a blessing," Ince told the team on the radio. Because Benson was going to be at the end of the field when the race restarted, Ince brought the car to pit road again and made some significant chassis changes that improved the handling of the car.
"We made a mistake but overcame it and that's what I wanted to see," Ince said. "It really did turn out to be a blessing in disguise. By taking that extra time to work on the car we got it running pretty good. I'll give that up for track position at that stage of the race any time."
Benson spent the rest of the race working his way through the field and taking every advantage to pit in case the race turned into a fuel mileage run at the end. Last week at Pocono, Ince and Benson stretched fuel mileage so long that Benson ran out of gas in the final corner of the race but managed to finish fifth.
"I wasn't going to do that two weeks in a row," said Ince whose car scored its ninth top-10 finish of the season. "So we decided we could get him in and then live with two tires at the end."
For Benson the dramatic finish was a bit of justice after his 1996 performance on the famed oval when he led 70 laps but saw chances for a top three finish go away on the final pit stop.
"I think this race was means more to me because of what all we had to do here today to get into this position," said Benson who has three top-10 finishes in six Indy starts. "I think we had an opportunity to win in 1996 but to come back here and do what we did today makes me feel pretty good about this race team."
Benson remains 10th in the 2001 driver point standings and returns to action Sunday on the road course in Watkins Glen.