This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Johnny Benson, driver of the No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac Grand Prix and his crew chief, James Ince. Benson took a 19th place finish in Sunday's Daytona 500 and is looking forward to this week's...
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Johnny Benson, driver of the No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac Grand Prix and his crew chief, James Ince.
Benson took a 19th place finish in Sunday's Daytona 500 and is looking forward to this week's Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC where he captured his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory in November '02. He has three top 10 finishes overall at Rockingham - the other two were during the 2001 season. He has five top 10 starts at North Carolina Speedway.
ON THE CHALLENGE OF GOING FROM A RESTRICTOR PLATE RACE AT DAYTONA TO THE RACE AT ROCKINGHAM "More than anything, I think it's kind of a relief. Daytona is our biggest race of the year and we probably put more effort into Daytona than we have anything else. But this weekend is not about restrictor plates. It's not about having a buddy on the race track or making sure the right guy drafts with you. It's about taking your race team that you worked extremely hard on with your driver and the crew chief and all the guys on it to build the best cars. Let the driver drive the car. Let the guys pit the car and work on the springs and the shocks. You have more opportunity to control more of your own destiny. You've still got to do all the right things at Daytona and Talladega, but you're also at everybody else's mercy. So it just gives us the opportunity to kind of stretch our legs a little bit as a race team and see where we're really at."
SINCE YOU'VE OBVIOUSLY FOUND YOUR WAY AROUND IT, WOULD YOU BE HAPPY IF THERE WERE MORE THAN TWO RACES AT ROCKINGHAM? "Well, I feel like we've found our way around a lot of places. We did get our first win at Rockingham and that's always going to be special to us. But there are lots of other race tracks where we also feel we're good at as a race team. I think for us and for the future of the sport that we go to a lot of different places. We look forward to the opportunity of the schedule maybe expanding to take us to more venues. Not necessarily more dates, because I don't know that we could do any more dates. But we enjoy racing everywhere we go. There's always place where you have a better confidence level, but we're not fearful of going anywhere now."
DO OTHER RACES REQUIRE AS MUCH OR MORE PREPARATION THAN THE DAYTONA 500?) "Actually, we work hard for all the races. Daytona is a special creature just because it is our Super Bowl. It's very important to run well there. It kicks off your season for your momentum. The only other place that I can think of where we put that extra effort into because it's almost as important as Daytona is Indianapolis. I think every single Winston Cup team tests at Indy and everybody usually builds new cars for Indy. It comes in the middle of the season. I think the reason the emphasis is there is because it's close to the halfway point in the season. As you learn things throughout the year, you start applying and start building that special car to go to Indy because it's such a prestigious and high-paying race. Almost as much effort goes into that car as it does going to Daytona."
IS DAYTONA JUST IT'S OWN DEAL - MEANING THAT THE SEASON REALLY BEGINS AT ROCKINGHAM? "I think so. Our season definitely begins at Daytona and they hand out the same amount of points there as they do at Rockingham. But it's totally different. At Daytona, you're so dependent on what the other teams have done. You're so dependent on getting the right draft and being in the right pack. When you go to Rockingham, you're basically seeing what your race team is. At Daytona, the cars are so close now that you can be off a little bit, but the templates can kind of keep you in line. But when you go to Rockingham, it all falls back on the team. We're going to know this week pretty much where we stand for the rest of the season. It's a while before we go back to a restrictor plate race. But we know if we put the right pit crew together and we know if we hung the body correctly and if we brought the right race car. The one thing that I know going into the year is that I've got a great race car driver. Other than that, there's always changes on your team. As you go into the winter, you try to improve your race team. There's always going to be a few people that leave or your want to make additions. You always want to make the team better. You don't really know that until you get to the Rockingham and Atlanta and Las Vegas and start getting into your year. Daytona is just a little different animal."
SO A 19TH PLACE FINISH ISN'T THAT DEBILITATING AS YOU HEAD TO THE ROCK, RIGHT? "I'm tickled to death and doing back flips over a 19th place finish for us as a race team. We finished 10th at Daytona last year and of course we want to win that race. But if you look at our stats at the other three restrictor place races, we finished 40th or worse (because of) wrecks and one engine failure. We kind of joked all week that I was going to call the green and then run to the Infield Care Center because that's kind of the way our seasons have been the last two years at speedways. Looking at the big picture for the points, 19th is good for us. If we average out our year from where we were last year, yes we did get a top 10 finish at Daytona, but the other three (restrictor plate) races weren't that good to us. So, we'll take our 19th place finish and go back to Rockingham where we have a lot of confidence and really kick off our year there."
WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'LL BE WITH THE NEW GRAND PRIX IN A COUPLE OF MONTHS? "The biggest thing that we're excited about is that right now - even with the new matching aero templates and the things that NASCAR has changed for us - is that right now we are equal to where the older Pontiac was last year. I've got pretty much the same downforce and the same drag. We're pretty much in the same area and we've got a brand new car. The old Pontiac was developed in 1996. All the development was used up in that car. We got all the potential out of it. We're excited going into the year knowing that I have basically the same aero package going into Rockingham this week as I had going to Rockingham last fall. And yet, we have all this time left to develop it. And even though the rules are going to change and things are going to happen, this is still a new car. So, we're excited because the future is a lot brighter for us. Even if we're off a little bit now (and) if there's a possibility that the other teams have done a better job, we at least know that we've got time on our side to improve on our car as we go."
ON TIRE STRATEGY FOR THIS SEASON "I don't know what Goodyear is planning to do later on. They build an extremely good tire. They're harder than what we'd probably like to see and it makes calling the race and the strategy a whole lot easier. On one hand, as a crew chief, you think you really like that and it makes it easier to decide that we don't always have to put tires on the car. Personally, I'd like to see it get back to where we do have to put tires on and that your really gambling and that you have to have a good car to do no tires or two tires. Calling a race is a little bit easier in my opinion right now than what it used to be because the tires are so good and Goodyear has done a great job. The tires will last all day long. And that's a good thing for the safety side of it and everything that goes on. But I would like to see it revert back in the other direction so we could have more strategy and maybe you could do something more on pit road to determine the win or the loss of the race."