#10 Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson can't buy a break lately. He's still running like he has all season, but he just hasn't seemed to have lady luck on his side in recent races.
At Charlotte he ran out of gas on pit road gambling for a win. At Dover only race winner Jeff Gordon was quicker before an errant tire from another crew clouted Benson's car on pit road effectively ending his race. He hoped Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup race in front of the home state crowd at Michigan International Speedway would change his luck.
But it didn't.
Maybe the most inexpensive part on an expensive race car fell off forcing Benson to leave the two-mile, D-shaped oval with a respectable but disappointing 12th-place finish.
"I think we had a top-three race car," said Benson after the race. "But I got a really bad vibration and I just didn't want to take a chance. I elected to come in."
This week's culprit was a small wheel weight that came off the left rear tire causing a huge vibration. Benson initially thought the magnitude of the vibration so bad that it might be the engine, but the pit stop for four new tires on lap 160 cured the problem.
"It's one of the wheel weights that came off," reported Crew Chief James Ince over the team radio. "It's probably good it happened when it did. That would have slowed us down a lot if we had stayed out."
Although the vibration went away, Benson was down a lap. It appeared the early stop would not jeopardize his race because Gordon's crew planned to call their driver to pit road on lap 173. Once Gordon and the other leaders pitted, Benson would be back on the lead lap in prime position to contend for the victory in the final 30 laps.
But just as Gordon was told to come in, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s engine erupted bringing out the yellow and allowing Gordon and the leaders to pit during the caution.
"Of course, with the way our luck has been the last couple weeks, the yellow came out. That put us down a lap. If it had stayed green we would have been OK. We didn't want to pit then, but we had to. It was just a deal that if it had stayed green it probably would have worked out OK. I would have been happy with it, but the yellow came out and that put us way behind."
Benson stayed on the track and restarted at the front of the field, but on the tail end of the lead lap. He managed to break away from the pack then move back to the lead lap after another caution. Another caution soon followed but the laps ran out and Benson finished in 12th.
"I'm disappointed, but I'm real proud of the guys, we finished on the lead lap," he said. "It probably could have been a lot worse than what it was."
Benson was fast throughout the race. He started tenth and raced right to the front even leading laps 31 through 41 -- the third most behind Sterling Marlin who led 25 laps and Gordon who led 143 laps and edged Ricky Rudd in the final lap for the victory.
Benson's 12th-place finish moves him eighth to seventh in the 2001 driver point standings. He and his Valvoline Racing teammates return to action Sunday in Pocono, Pa.