In the last two weeks, ...
In the last two weeks, #10 Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson and his Crew Chief James Ince have worked race strategy to perfection leaving Pocono with a fifth-place finish and Indianapolis with a third-place finish. At both races, the Valvoline Pontiac spent the first two-thirds of the race biding it's time before moving to the front just before the checkered flag fell. At Pocono, the Valvoline team stretched fuel mileage and at Indy the team elected to take on two-tires while others took on four during the final pit stop.
The two races have been indicative of how strategy has changed in the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup season compared to years past. This year, teams have the option of taking on two, four or even no tires at the end of the race. Benson said the driver has limited but key input in deciding race strategy.
Benson On Race Strategy:
"The driver is concentrating on what the car is doing and you don't have much time to think about anything else going on. Heck, most of the time I'm not even sure what lap we are on. When it starts to get late in the race then the driver can help the crew chief decide whether we can come in early to take advantage of new tires or even stretch the fuel mileage. If there is a yellow you then start discussing two, four or even a gas only pit stop. But until you get a break with a caution or something, there isn't a whole lot of help I can give the crew chief."
Benson On A Driver's Duties When It Comes To Race Strategy:
"My job is to tell the crew chief if the car was better with four tires, two tires, or how effective were the handling adjustments we made. He takes that information and uses it in his decision on what we will do. He is looking at the lap times, the tire sheets, listening to what other teams are doing plus a whole lot of other stuff. There are a lot of things that go into the crew chief 's decision but he probably listens to the driver's input as much as anything else."
Benson On Strategy Changes In 2001:
"Before it was always four tires or two tires and most of the time it was four tires. Now it seems like with the tires Goodyear has brought to the track this year you aren't automatically going to head for the pits. Some guys can take no tires. Sterling Marlin did that at Indy and finished second. Jeff Gordon did two tires and won and I did two tires and finished third. A lot of guys ahead of us took four and couldn't make it back to the front. Your strategy sometimes just boils down to what the driver is going to be comfortable with and whether he thinks he can make it back to the front if he takes four tires. It can be just a guessing game."
Benson On Never Giving Up:
"With all the stuff that happens at the end of the race you never give up. I know everyone always says that but it is really true this year. NASCAR is so competitive that if you are on the lead lap, you could be OK by the end of the race. You work on your car to get it better and better and spend the first two-thirds of the race preparing for the end. Obviously, you would like to lead every lap and win the race, but if you aren't there your goal is to improve so that when the end comes you can get to the front. In our last two races we have top five finishes, but I don't think we were in the top 10 for most of the day. Nowadays it's all about the end. That's when it counts the most."