The #10 Valvoline Pontiac team feels like it received a high compliment this week when Goodyear asked the team to take part in Goodyear's tire test on Monday and Tuesday in Pocono. In addition to gaining track time without having to use one of his seven NASCAR-allotted tests during the season, driver Johnny Benson said taking part in the test, usually limited to the better NASCAR Winston Cup teams, is a compliment to his crew. Benson said the work done by Goodyear has produced better and safer racing in the 2001 season.
Benson, who is third in points only five behind second place Jeff Gordon and 150 points behind leader Dale Jarrett, will test Monday and Tuesday in Pennsylvania then fly to California on Thursday to race in the California 400 at California Speedway on Sunday. Benson won the Winston West race at the Fontana track last year and hopes to do the same in the Winston Cup race this year. At this point, it's wins, not points that dominate team thinking. In order to win at California, Benson says each team must think about fuel mileage.
* Benson has finished seventh or better in six of the nine races in 2001. Only he and Dale Jarrett have scored six top-10 finishes in the first nine races of the season.
* Benson's seventh place finish at Talladega Sunday was his best career restrictor plate finish.
* Benson has competed in all four races held at the California Speedway, starting from the top-five just once. His best finish, eighth, was scored there in 1998. Benson finished 23rd in this race one year ago, after starting from 14th place.
Johnny Benson On Goodyear Test At Pocono:
"Its an honor for us as well as an opportunity for us to get on the track without costing us a test. As a driver it will help me get a good balance and a good feel for Pocono as well as help Goodyear out and I think most race fans know how important Goodyear is to all of us.
"Goodyear has a good plan as far as what they want to bring to the track, but I think they want to know for sure what they want to do. They need somebody to test the tire and make sure there aren't any problems. By that I mean we will run and hopefully show them the type of tire wear and tire temperatures they want to see. It's a safety thing. They need to make sure there are no problems when every one gets to Pocono in June. We will make laps for them this week.
"I think we will gain small bits of knowledge. It's not a full-blown test where you get to change springs, change shocks and anything else to make your car faster. Goodyear is looking for us to turn consistent fast laps so they can evaluate their tire. We are going to Pocono with a few less crew guys than we normally would at a regular test. This still gives me a good feel as far as the track goes and the tires go. We have to get the car to where it is balanced. So we can work some there. To get right down to it, if the car is decent we will bring it to Pocono in June. If it isn't then we will bring another car. This week will give us a good idea of what we want when we race there."
Benson On Goodyear Tires In 2001:
"The tire Goodyear is bringing to the track is a little bit better than what they brought last year. It's a little more consistent with what we have had in the past. It's not quite there for everything yet. Air pressure seems to make changes to the car consistently. It being a harder tire is also making for better races. In the past with the softer tires you knew you were going to pit if the yellow came out. Now, the tires are pretty good so it gives you that option of staying out on the track and gaining track position. We did that at Texas and it almost got us the win. That's because of the tires this year. It think it makes our races a lot more entertaining."
Benson On California Strategy:
"I always look forward going out there. We think we can run very well. We won a Winston West race there last year. We aren't racing a Winston West car this year so if we are going to bring home a trophy it will be from the Cup race. That would be a cool place to get a first victory. Any place would, but California with all its glitz and glamour would probably treat a first time winner pretty good.
"The California race seems to never have a lot of cautions. I guess it is kind of like Michigan. The fans should see about the same kind of race. I'm sure fuel mileage will be important. At places like California and Michigan you start thinking about fuel mileage during happy hour on Saturday. You have to make sure the car is good horsepower wise, but you also have to have fuel mileage. One without the other doesn't do you much good during the race. I don't think a driver will drive any differently. You might try to save fuel during the race. If you are racing with a pack you don't want to be the front guy. If you are behind in the draft you can save a little fuel. But fuel mileage all depends on when the cautions fall as well. You go into the race thinking fuel mileage and all of a sudden a yellow comes out late in the race and wipes out that strategy."
Benson On 2001 Season:
"Gosh, it's hard to be in a much better place points wise than where we are right now. Can we contend for the championship? Sure,why not? Dale Jarrett is looking awfully tough and Gordon, well he is Gordon and you know he's going to be next to impossible to beat. But we aren't thinking points at this point in the season. Don't get me wrong we are happy to be where we are, but our goal each weekend is to win the race. If we can do that a few times the rest of the season then the points will take care of themselves."
THE RACE: NAPA Auto Parts 500
Winston Cup Race #10 of 36 for the 2001 season
Race: Sunday, April 29, 2001 in Fontana, CA
NOTE: Fontana, CA is located in the Pacific Time Zone, all times listed here are in Eastern Time Zone (3 hours ahead)
TV: Fox 2:30pm/et(pre-race at 2:00pm/et)
Announcers: Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds
Pit Reporters: Dick Berggren, Matt Yocum, Steve Byrnes, Jeanne Zelasko
2000 Race Winner: Jeremy Mayfield, 149.378mph
Track Race Record: Jeff Gordon, June 1997, 155.012mph
Track/Race Length: 2.0 mile D-shaped oval, 250 laps, 500 miles
Pit Road Speed: 45mph
Practice: Friday, Apr 27th from 1:30 - 3:25pm/et
Happy Hour Practice: Saturday, Apr 28th from 11:15am - 12:45pm/et, TV-FX tape delay at 2:30pm/et
Qualifying Draw: Friday, Apr 27th at 12:30pm/et
Qualifying: 2 laps for positions 1-36, Friday, Apr 27th at 5:00pm/et, TV-FX tape delayed at 8:00pm/et and live via MRN radio/internet
Track/Event Qualifying Record: Mike Skinner, April 2000, 186.061mph
Last Year's Pole Sitter: Mike Skinner, 186.061mph ---- Track Specs:
Superspeedway: 2.0-mile oval 75 feet wide with a 15 foot apron
Banking: turns: 14 degrees; frontstretch 11 degrees; backstretch 3 degrees
PAST RACE/POLE WINNERS at California
2000 Mike Skinner, #31 Chevy, 186.061mph, finished 7th
1999 none, rained out
1998 Jeff Gordon, #24 Chevy, 181.772mph, finished 4th
1997 Joe Nemechek, #42 Chevy, 183.015mph, finished 18th
(1997 Greg Sacks, #40 Chevy was the fastest but in 2nd round 183.753mph)
2000 Jeremy Mayfield, #12 Ford, 149.378mph, started 24th
1999 Jeff Gordon, #24 Chevy, 150.276mph, started 5th
1998 Mark Martin, #6 Ford, 140.220mph, started 3rd
1997 Jeff Gordon, #24 Chevy, 155.012mph, started 3rd