Benson interview, Loudon

The NASCAR/ Winston Teleconference Tuesday featured ...

The NASCAR/ Winston Teleconference Tuesday featured #10 Aaron's Pontiac driver Johnny Benson. Here are the highlights of Benson's appearance on the teleconference. Nearly all of the questions pertain to NASCAR's announcement last weekend that all team are required to run a one-inch restrictor plate at New Hampshire. The move is designed to slow the speeds of cars entering the corner of the flat mile oval. Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty were killed at New Hampshire earlier this year in similar accidents. Benson has posted two top-seven finishes in the last three races and qualified in the top-ten twice in those races. He finished seventh Saturday night at Richmond. Benson is 15th in Winston Cup Driver Points despite missing a race at Atlanta in March. If he had qualified for that race and finished no worse than 11th he would be 11th in driver points now.

You finished seventh Saturday night at Richmond, but you would have liked to pick up a few more positions there at the end?

"It was a really good run. The Aaron's Pontiac and all the guys just did a tremendous job and we're real happy with the progress. Obviously, you'd liked to have done a little bit better in almost every race if you haven't won. Maybe we could have been in the top five and sitting here now getting ready for a No-Bull deal, but we missed by a couple of spots. But, we are still real happy with that."

What do you expect this weekend with the new restrictor plate rule?

"Well, we don't know what we're going to expect. It's a totally different scenario for us. We've run the restrictor plate in the past on the superspeedways, and we know what to expect there, but we don't know what to expect at Loudon. This will be interesting. I'm glad that NASCAR did something with some of the things that have been going on, but I'm not sure really how to view it yet. It's almost like we're not going to a new race track. We're going to a race track that we know with a totally different type of race car. Hopefully, when we unload Friday we'll have a good direction in which way we need to go and be able to go through some of the challenges that are going to be laid in front of us."

What is the mood of the drivers going in to this weekend's race?

"Well, I think we're all sad with what has happened in the past up there, but taking that out of your mind, which is very hard to do - we're approaching this race like we do every race. We know that when we unload that you have to get around the track as fast as you can, and see if you can resolve some of the issues that you're going to be up against once you unload the race car. We're looking forward to going up there, like we do every race, but knowing in the back of our mind that we've had some tragedy in the past there."

Do you know about any tests at other tracks this week? Has there been time to do that?

"It's very difficult to line up a test with that short of notice. Yes, there are some teams that are testing. I heard some are going to Milwaukee, which is a very similar racetrack to Loudon. So, maybe they have a little "heads-up" deal, but it's very difficult to prepare for what's coming up. With - one - its short notice and two - there are a lot of people with engine programs that I think are going to be behind. It's going to be difficult for everybody. I think it's going to be an interesting weekend. We'll see how that works."

The speeds with restrictor plates in the corners will be reduced by 10-15 mph. What does that mean to a driver in reaction time and the impact if something does happen?

"I'm not sure. We don't know what the speed difference is. They tried to calculate, and tried to figure it out on computers to see what the differences are going to be. I estimate it to be 9-10 mph more than it's going to be 10-15 mph differences in the entry speed, and that's a positive. We all want to race well and go as fast as we can, but the issue in front of us is that if they change the rules, we're still going to go out there and run as fast as we can. The challenges are still the same. It's just that the speed is going to be just a little bit less as far as entering the corner.

"The interesting part of this is the speed calculations are based on the driver lifting the accelerator at the exact same spot. I have a feeling that with a little less horsepower and less speed at that particular point on the track that we're going to be on the throttle a little bit longer to try to make up time. In reference to that, it's going to make reaction time, if something does happen, roughly about the same. It's still not enough time to actually be able to do anything if something was to happen."

Will the restrictor plate enable you to drive a different line through the corners. If something were to happen would it change the angle of impact?

"Well, we're not going to be taking a different line. I think the race track itself says this is the groove, this is the fastest place around the race track. That part is not going to change. I guess the type of angle that everybody's talking about - If the throttle's stuck and you're doing 140 mph as opposed to 150 mph, you might be able to get around the corner a little bit further, which may change the angle of the impact. But we don't know, that's an unknown. We just hope that the problems are resolved on the issues of the stuck throttle. That's the main thing. If those issues wouldn't have happened, I strongly believe that the drivers that have had those incidents there would still be around. But that's just part of racing and part of risks that happen. It's unfortunate that it has happened twice, and unfortunate that it happened at all, and we just hope that in the future we don't see any more of that."

Does this new rule favor teams that have more resources?

"That's difficult to say. I really believe that in doing the restrictor plate thing, we don't know who it's going to benefit. We don't know in what areas it's going to hurt. The benefit that we're looking for is that we're trying to make it a safer situation for all the drivers. So there's the benefit. That's going to benefit every team. Now the only thing that is going to be interesting is if certain people are going to be able to overcome this in a short period of time. Obviously the teams with the bigger budgets should be able to overcome that a little bit quicker, but the teams with the bigger budgets also have more than one car, so they have to treat this problem 4 to 5 times the magnitude as what some of the other teams are, so it's very tough on your Hendricks and Roushs Yates, because they've got more than one issue. They've got other engines in the field. They've got a lot of people that they have to deal with in a short amount of time.

"The part that I know me and James have talked about, the part that's going to be interesting is who is going to be the dark horse that's going to come in, and maybe get a good lap, and some of these other teams that don't - who it's going to send home is going to be the issue that is going to be at hand here. It's not going to be the luck of the draw. I don't believe that that's the case, but you've got some guys that come there that maybe in some way this might benefit where they haven't been able to come up with the 780-800 horsepower qualifying engines. All of a sudden now it's put them in a closer window, and it may be fortunate for them to get in the race, and it might send somebody else home. I think it's a good problem to have that we have enough cars to do that and I'd hate to see somebody 14th or 15th, in our case especially, if something like that happens, or all the front guys have problems - which I don't believe that will be the case - but it's going to be very interesting how this all plays out."

How does having your own engine program vs. lease program make a difference this week?

"We're in that program - we're on the lease program at Hendrick Motorsports and I think that will be a positive for us because Hendrick is the best that there is as far as the engine program. But in the same token they have seven engines to prepare for this particular weekend, so there's your downside. With the organization that they have there I'm real confident that that will be okay. It's a tough deal because if they were just doing there own in-house cars that's a chore to start with, but now with them also having to do all their customers at the same time and trying to get the same quality and work throughout all their teams is a difficult task. But I think that they're able to make that happen."

Will the setups stay the same with the new plate?

"No, it's going to be different. Actually, you have to change your thinking a little bit, as every team's going to - you're going to have to address the issues at hand when you get to the track. You know it's about getting the cars freed up, getting up off the corner when you've got 300 horsepower less is dramatically going to change the race car. We're always searching for speed somewhere. It's just now going to be placed maybe in a different part of the race track. Those are the challenges that we have to face there, and everybody else, so with coming off the corner slower, going down the straightaway slower at these speeds.

"I think the track record is going to be safe this week, but our challenges are still in the corner. That is where we are going to have to make our differences up compared to the field so I think it is going to be very tough this weekend to come up with that speed. Especially for qualifying. In the race its going to be very tough to pass and qualifying is going to be a huge key. Loudon has always been a track known for being a tough place for the teams to find grip for qualifying. You always see a lot of guys slipping and sliding. Qualifying is going to be the interesting part of this weekend."

How big a burden have the recent deaths been on some of the families involved in NASCAR?

"I'm sure it is an added burden. I've never been in the position of losing someone in my family in a racing accident. It's difficult for everyone. Obviously it's difficult for the Pettys and the Irwins. They are in a totally different situation and scenario than what we are in. But for us it is still difficult to lose someone within our small community. We all have our differences from time to time but when you loose someone it's difficult to deal with.

"It's going to be hard going there, but we have already been there. We have already had to do this. We went up there after Adam's death and had to perform that weekend and we had to perform after Kenny died. I don't care where it is at it's going to be difficult. Sometimes it's hard to pull into a track where something like that has happened. But it is on the schedule and we are going to have to go there. I think a great percentage of the places we go that element is always hanging over you. All of this could have happened anywhere we go on the schedule. This isn't a track issue. It's an issue for everyone involved. I think NASCAR putting the restrictor plate on there is a step that needed to be taken. Whether it's going to be right or wrong we don't know. But a step had to be taken somewhere and with the short amount of time this is the best scenario."

Will all Hendrick engines be the same?

"That is up to Hendrick. I feel confident we will have an engine that is decent along with all the guys that use Hendrick engines. They follow a formula that works very well for everyone involved. All their engines fall within percentages that are acceptable to all the teams. Would I be mad if they paid extra attention to Jeff Gordon? No. You know that they are going to do that and they should get the better treatment. But what I like about Hendrick Motorsports is that they all fall within a percentage of those engines also. I'm confident they will give us a good engine just like they have all year. There are times where we have run and competed with their in-house cars so there is no doubt in my mind that we will get a good engine this weekend."

Is there a possibility the plates could be ordered off before the end of the weekend?

"Everything is an unknown. Do I think they are going to let us run and then on Saturday morning decide we should go back to the old way? No, I don't see that happening. Once NASCAR makes its mind up it is a rule you are going to have to deal with all weekend. It should be that way. You have to be prepared for changes that come along. This is not a cheap deal anytime you make this kind of change. It is very expensive so I don't believe they are going to change their mind half way through the weekend. It's going to slow the cars down and that's the goal. There are issues we are going to have to deal with when we unload Friday. It's not going to change during the weekend."

At the last New Hampshire race, what did it take for you to get through that weekend?

"That is a tough question. I was on the race track when Kenny wrecked. As I was going down the backstretch I saw the end result. I knew it was going to be a situation that was going to be a rough deal. We stopped on the track to let the safety workers get to Kenny. Obviously the outcome wasn't what we wanted to see and it was difficult to get through the rest of that day and it still is to this day. I can't tell you it's any different today than it was the day it happened. It's a tragic thing to happen to our sport. It's tragic for everyone not just Adam and Kenny but everyone who has lost their lives in our sport. In time you might not think about it in the way you do now. But it is still very difficult. What is the answer? I don't know what the answer is. You can't just load up. You can't just leave. You are going to have to race next weekend anyway. Is it right we continued that weekend? Maybe we should have taken the rest of that day off. But everyone has their own way of dealing with it. You have to deal with what is presented to you at that time. That is what is different about this sport. Everyday something is thrown at you and you have to react. It's nothing you can sit there and prepare for."

How difficult is it to remain patient knowing you are building for next year?

"Our goals haven't changed this year. Some of things that have happened to us this year have made things difficult. We have done very well for what we have been presented and we have overcome a lot of things. We haven't been able to test and go to the wind tunnel as much as we have liked. That's going to change in the future. With MB2 buying the team and Aaron's stepping on board, it has allowed us to obviously finish the rest of this year and begin preparing for 2001. It's also allowed us to go ahead and use our test dates for this year. The guys are grateful for all of that. We are having fun. We are able to finish 2000 and we can be very competitive and keep our goal of winning a race. We have been driving to races as well. I know the guys drove to Richmond so we are still on a pretty good budget. In fact we are joking that we are going to get a big Greyhound party bus and take it to Talladega. Go down there and get shirts made and make it a big deal. This is the best group I have ever been with. I look forward to coming into the shop everyday. I want to do nothing to change this team."

{TB|

THE RACE: Dura Lube 300 Sponsored by Kmart Winston Cup Race #26 of 34 for the 2000 season a.. Race: Sunday, September 17, 2000 in Loudon, NH b.. TV: TNN 12:30pm/et c.. Posted Awards/Purse: $2,924,681 d.. 1999 Race Winner: Joe Nemechek e.. Race Record: Jeff Gordon, Sept 1998, 112.078mph f.. Track/Race Length: 1.058 mile oval, 300 laps, 317.4 miles g.. Pit Road Speed: 35mph

h.. Practice i.. Practice: Friday, Sept 15th 12:30 - 3:00pm/et; Saturday, Sept 16th 8:30am - 9:30am/et j.. Happy Hour Practice: Saturday, September 16th, after the BGNN race, TV-none known

k.. Qualifying Draw: Friday, Sept 15th at 12:00noon/et l.. First Round Qualifying: 1 lap for positions 1-25, Friday, Sept 15th at 4:00pm/et, TV-TNN tape delayed on TNN to be shown at 9:00am/et on Saturday morning and live via MRN radio/internet m.. Second-Round Qualifying: 1 lap for positions 26th-36th, Saturday, Sept 16th at 11:00am/et n.. Track Qualifying Record: Rusty Wallace, July 2000, 132.089mph o.. Event Qualifying Record: Rusty Wallace, Sept 1999, 129.820mph

p.. Last Year's Pole Sitter: Rusty Wallace, 129.820mph

Track Specs: Superspeedway: 1.058 mile oval Turns: Banking: 12 degrees; Striaghts: 2 degrees Length of Straights: Frontstretch - 1500ft; Backstretch - 1500ft Attendence: ~100,000

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Adam Petty , Joe Nemechek , Johnny Benson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports