Benson looks to reclaim a piece of The Rock

It's been a tough year for Johnny Benson. The 30-year-old Michigan native has just one top-5 finish through 34 races this season and has been outside of the top-20 in the championship standings since April. He was told two weeks ago that he...

It's been a tough year for Johnny Benson.

The 30-year-old Michigan native has just one top-5 finish through 34 races this season and has been outside of the top-20 in the championship standings since April. He was told two weeks ago that he would not be back in the driver's seat of the MB2 Motorsports #10 machine next season.

Benson, who was the Winston Cup rookie of the year in 1996, picked up his first career win one year ago at Rockingham and would love nothing more than to repeat at The Rock this weekend in the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 (Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on TNT).

"We have had it circled on the calendar for a while," Benson admitted. "Heck, we have even talked about how we would celebrate if we were lucky enough to win again."

Benson was the Busch Series' top rookie in 1994 and followed up with a series championship the next year. In 1996, he made the jump to the Winston Cup circuit with team owner Chuck Rider. He managed six top-10 finishes and finished 21st in the point standings. He moved up to 11th following season before moving over to Roush Racing in 1998.

Benson was bumped from the Roush garage by current points leader Matt Kenseth, who went on to win the rookie of the year title in 2000. Midway through the season, Benson hooked up with Nelson Bowers and has been with the University of Georgia alumnus ever since. Bowers, Tom Beard and Read Morton joined Valvoline in a unique team ownership program in 2000.

The team announced in October 23 that Scott Riggs - the current Busch Series points leader - will take over the #10 Winston Cup entry next season.

Benson hasn't indicated what his plans are for 2004, but he is focused on finishing strong in his final two races with the Valvoline team.

"This team has been together for four years and we want to win Rockingham or Homestead as much as we wanted to win Daytona when we first started," Benson says. "That would be going out in style."

Benson missed six races with rib injuries last year and battled back for his first win late in the year. He fought off Mark Martin -- his former teammate -- for the final 12 laps and held on for the win. Benson ran his fuel cell dry in his post-race celebration and the Valvoline Pontiac needed a push to victory lane. It took 226 starts, but an emotional Benson was happy to be finally called a Winston Cup race winner.

"I just remember racing hard there at the end," Benson reflected. "We had come close so many times and the guys deserved that win.

Benson has finished in the top-6 in three of the past five races at Rockingham. He started on the front row in February, but dropped back and finished 13th.

"I just feel comfortable there," Benson says of the 1.017 mile oval. "We clinched the Busch Series title there in 1995 and then to get our first Cup victory makes Rockingham a really special place to me. I'd run 10 races a year at Rockingham were it up to me.

"Last year's win was great, but with what has been going on here lately, another win at Rockingham would be even better. We are motivated. We want to win."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Johnny Benson , Scott Riggs , Mark Martin