Benson Sears Point race report

Benson Frustrated But Road Course Effort Shows Dramatic Improvement Speeding Penalty, Late Race Wreck Ruin Impressive Performance Nobody at Sears Point Raceway was more frustrated after Sunday^Ã’s NASCAR Winston Cup race than ...

Benson Frustrated But Road Course Effort Shows Dramatic Improvement Speeding Penalty, Late Race Wreck Ruin Impressive Performance

Nobody at Sears Point Raceway was more frustrated after Sunday^Òs NASCAR Winston Cup race than #10 Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson or any of his teammates.

But few at the 2-mile road course put on a better performance than the Valvoline team whose road course program took a dramatic step forward Sunday.

It was the best of races and worst of races.

Benson finished 29th in the 43-car field, but for most of the race he was a quick as the leaders sometimes running as high as third as well as well as battling Rusty Wallace and eventual winner Tony Stewart.

^ÓThis is a tough one to take today,^Ô said Benson after the race. ^ÓI^Òm frustrated, but what can you do. We ran pretty well but we have nothing to show for it. We got penalized for something we didn^Òt do and then something broke on the car at the end and caused us to wreck. We were a lot better than where we finished.^Ô

Benson came to Sears Point this year after posting 18th-place finishes in 2000 and 1999. His 28th place average in 10 qualifying attempts on road courses seemed secure on Friday in morning practice, when Benson was about midpack on the time sheet. But Benson turned in a smooth and steady run in one-lap qualifying that was good enough for 14th place.

On Sunday the strategy was simple.

^ÓWe think we have a top 15 car so we are just going to be calm, keep it straight and on the track and get out of here with a decent finish and go on to Daytona where we can race,^Ô said Crew Chief James Ince before the race.

When the green flag dropped Benson proved that this day could lead to more than just a decent finish. On lap 7 he posted the quickest time on the track and as the laps ticked away Benson moved up to sixth.

By the halfway mark, teams were employing differing fuel strategies while Benson raced in third place. His tires began to go away and he slipped back to fifth but the race was running just and he and Ince hoped. Their fuel strategy required Benson to make his final stop under green within a lap or two of first place driver Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace in second place.

On lap 73 Benson entered pit road for four tires and fuel. He returned to the track after a 15-second stop and appeared ready to battle to the end of the race. But NASCAR called him back to pit road for a stop and go penalty claiming he exceeded the pit road speed limit on the leaving the pits. Benson said NASCAR mistook his shifting from second to first gear near the exit of pit road as him getting on the gas and speeding.

^ÓI don't know what happened on that one,^Ô he said. ^ÓI shifted from second to first to try and get some RPMs up and I think when I did that they thought I took off on the gas pedal two or three pits too early. That's just one of those deals."

The extra pit stop dropped him to about 30th place on the narrow racetrack that provides little opportunity for passing. His day wasn^Òt done as he worked hard to pass cars and took advantage of others pit stops to climb to about 17th place.

Just as it appeared the Valvoline team would leave California with possibly a top-15 finish something broke in the car on the next to last lap causing Benson to spin in the hairpin turn then slam into another car.

"We got put towards the back after our stop-and-go and had worked our way back to 17th or 18th, and then on the last lap I think it broke the rear-end gear. That really put a crimp to our day."

After getting the car restarted, Benson limped around to take the checkered flag as the last car on the lead lap.

Stewart crossed the finish line ahead of Robby Gordon and Jeff Gordon. It was the second win for Pontiac in 2001, both by Stewart. Ford and Chevrolet have each won seven races and Dodge remain winless.

Benson remains seventh in the 2001 points race. After an off weekend the Valvoline crew returns to racing at Daytona on July 7. <pre> 2001 Points

1       Jeff Gordon             2351
2       Dale Jarrett            2225
3       Ricky Rudd              2206
4       Tony Stewart            2117
5       Sterling Marlin         2108
6       Rusty Wallace           2038
7       Johnny Benson           1922
8       Bobby Labonte           1906
9       Kevin Harvick *         1894
10      Steve Park              1858
11      Dale Earnhardt, Jr      1825
12      Matt Kenseth            1810
13      Mark Martin             1801
14      Bobby Hamilton          1782
15      Jeff Burton             1712


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Steve Park , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Johnny Benson , Mark Martin