#10 Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson's three consecutive top seven finishes propelled him to third place in the 2001 points standings. But, this weekend he faces an opponent a lot tougher than 42 other drivers. Benson concedes 52-year-old Darlington Raceway just might be "The Track Too Tough To Tame" as track promoters have called the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval in South Carolina.
Benson recalls a race in 1997 that saw a potential third-place finish go away with a brush against one of the walls at the "Lady In Black." He agrees with the advice crew chiefs give their drivers before the race. "Just race the track, don't worry about the other racers."
Like Rockingham two weeks ago, this weekend marks the first time in recent history Darlington is a two-day show for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The two-day show makes life a bit easier on the Winston Cup teams according to Benson's Crew Chief James Ince who said Rockingham's two-day show worked fine. NASCAR eliminated second round qualifying this season.
Johnny Benson On Third Place In Points:
"Third in points is pretty cool. But we aren't thinking about points during any of these races. When the season is over we want to be on that stage at the New York City banquet, but right now our concentration is on winning races. If we go to Victory Lane enough we know we will go to New York City."
Benson On Secret To Success In 2001?
"Time. This is our second year together and (crew chief) James Ince is putting together a heck of a team. I think James is one of the best-kept secrets in the garage. He is a leader. Being a crew chief is more than just deciding when to pit the car. It's about keeping 50 employees all motivated and working toward a common goal. James is the man in my book."
Benson On Darlington Toughness:
"I think Darlington is still extremely tough. It's a track that I don't think is ever going to be easy. The track surface is worn, it's tough on tires, you slip and slide, and you are always right up next to the wall. I think it is always going to be tough unless they change the track and I don' t think they will ever do that. Swapping the start/finish line a few years ago didn't change anything. It's still way tough. I think I always look forward to going to Darlington because it is a huge challenge. Most racers like challenges so most like Darlington."
Benson On Darlington Biting Drivers When They Least Expect It:
"I think everyone has at least brushed the wall there. I don't think I've ever been bit real hard but one of the first times came in 1997 when I was running about fourth or fifth in the #30 car. In the closing laps I was trying to get in the top three and bounced off the wall pretty hard. I wasn' t trying to race the racetrack, instead I was racing the competition and it got me in trouble. I'm glad it happened late in the race and not early in the race because we were able to finish the race in tenth. But that was probably the time Darlington bit me the hardest." Benson On Racing Other Drivers Versus Racing The Track:
"Everyone says you have to race the racetrack. That's true. You have to make smarter decisions when you pass someone. You have to know their weak spots and your strong spots to make a pass there. If you run side-by-side you start wearing the tires down and slow down so much. That's what crew chiefs mean when they talk about racing the track and not worry about the other drivers. When you race someone at Darlington two things happen. One you slow down and wear your tires out and two you are liable to have something happen. I think you have to pick your battles when you are racing at Darlington. When you have new tires you can do pretty much anything you want to do, but as the tires wear down you have to start being real careful."
Crew Chief James Ince On Fast Start In 2001:
"I'm not surprised with what we have done this season. Johnny wanted to finish sixth this year. He set that goal. But I know the kind of people on this team and the kind of driver Johnny is. Don't think for a second we are going to be satisfied with sixth if we have a chance to get more than that. We want to win and we are going to do that. But we aren't going to be satisfied until we win a championship. If you aren't racing to win races and championships then you shouldn't be racing."
Ince On Rockingham and Darlington Two-Day Shows:
"I think the schedule was great At Rockingham. The race was a lot better than I thought it would be and the two hours of practice Saturday afternoon was more than enough for us to work on the race setup. The way the schedule is right now we get to drive down Friday morning and we don't have to be real rushed. It means a lot to these guys to spend another night in their own bed. Plus, if you do have trouble getting through inspection Friday morning you have plenty of time to get it right. Right now it has all been very, very positive and NASCAR has done a good job. I don't think the fans have noticed any difference at all. The cool thing is the people who come on Saturday not only get to see a Busch race but also get to see Winston Cup qualifying in the morning and Happy Hour as well. The fans are getting more for their money."
Ince On Second Round Qualifying:
"No I don't miss second round qualifying. It's nice to be able to go from first round qualifying right into your race setup. Second round was rarely beneficial and then when you had to explain to your sponsors why you stood on your time then had to take a provisional; they had a hard time understanding all that. One round sure makes our life easier."
Benson On Two-Day Shows:
"They all need to be one day shows. I'm just joking. Actually I wish they would go to two-day shows everywhere. I think Rockingham was great. It was the step in the right direction. I think the time we had on the track at Rockingham was fine. One round of qualifying was fine. Only a half a dozen times has that second round benefited anyone."