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 HIS OUTLOOK FOR THE SEASON LEAVING DAYTONA AND HEADING TO ROCKINGHAM "We're looking forward to the 2003 season and just moving on. We've got a new Grand Prix and we're trying to get back into the swing that we ran in 2001 and how we ended up in 2002."
HAVING TESTED THE NEW PONTIAC, HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO THE OLD GRAND PRIX? "We haven't tested a whole lot of places yet. But we got in one decent test out in Las Vegas. How it stacks up to other cars, we don't know until we get it into race trim and run with the other manufacturers. The balance of the car seems to be a little bit better than what we had last year. And it's running about the same speed. So that, to us, is a positive - knowing that the new Pontiac has a lot of potential in it yet. We've got to do a lot of work to get the potential out of it to get it as fast as we can as quick as we can. We feel good about it."
ARE YOU CONFIDENT ABOUT RETURNING TO ROCKINGHAM AFTER WINNING THERE LAST FALL? "Absolutely. Rockingham has always been a track where we've ran pretty decent at. Sometimes we haven't had good finishes, but by the same token we've always ran good there. We're comfortable with the race track. It's the type of race track that I like to race on. I was finally glad we were able to win. We've been close in the Busch Series and had had a bunch of top fives in Winston Cup too. Now we'll go down there and see how the spring works for us. I feel good going into it."
IS A TRACK LIKE ROCKINGHAM TOUGHER ON YOUR BODY THAN AT DAYTONA? "Daytona, probably yes. A lot of that is a mental factor - dealing with the traffic you have to deal with. You could go down through all the tracks on a list and probably say that most all the tracks are mentally challenging and some are more physical than others. I would say that Rockingham is probably more physical than Daytona. There's other tracks that are more physical. Rockingham is a track where you do a lot of slipping and sliding and have to do a lot of sawing on the steering wheel. So yeah, it can tire you out. But it's a neat race track to race on."
WHEN YOU WAKE UP ON A MONDAY MORNING AFTER A RACE ON A SHORT TRACK OR AN INTERMEDIATE TRACK, CAN YOU TELL WHETHER OR NOT YOUR CAR WAS HANDLING RIGHT BASED ON SORE POINTS YOU HAVE ON YOUR BODY? "No, not really. Sometimes if your car is not handling well and you're at the mid-pack or at the back, it seems like you have to work harder. But by the same token, being up front at any of the Winston Cup races nowadays, you're working just as hard to keep up front. I don't know if there is technically a difference because you're still sliding the car around to either catch a car or keep it from pushing. So physically you're doing the same thing running up front as you are in the back except for the fact that maybe your car is a little quicker as opposed to a little slower."
IF THE CAR IS NOT RUNNING RIGHT, DO YOUR LEGS AND ARMS HURT FROM HAVING TO STRUGGLE WITH THE HANDLING? "That's hard to say. It's like walking up steps. The longer the steps are, the more your legs are going to hurt. So if you're pedaling the gas more, your leg should hurt more. So I guess if you want to look at it that way then, sure. You're going to feel some difference."
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO WATCH THE VIDEO OF YOUR VICTORY AT ROCKINGHAM?) "Actually, no. I have seen a couple of clips of it - at least the last 10 laps of it. As far as the race goes, the important one was the last one (lap). I watched a little bit of it at the end. You always watch certain things to see what you could do differently. It was one of those days that everything went right for us. There wasn't a lot to look at to learn from. But it was definitely a great race for us. A lot of people have commended us for winning that race and a lot of that has to do with the team. They gave us a good race car for that day. James Ince did a tremendous job on the calls he made for the race."
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU COULD BE A RACE CAR DRIVER? "I don't know. I started racing when I was 19 years old. So I started kind of late. But I did work in the racing business. My dad's got a parts business called 'Benson's Speed Equipment' up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I build a lot of race chassis and components for him and I've been involved with that since I was about seven years old. I really didn't start thinking about the driving end of it until my dad decided to retire in '81. When he decided to retire, I was kind of wondering who was going to race for the company. At that point in time I decided to build a dirt car, of all things, as opposed to an asphalt car. We were selling dirt cars and asphalt cars, but nobody had raced for the business on the dirt side so I chose that to start with. I had a lot of fun with it."
WHAT, IF ANYTHING, DID YOUR FIRST WIN DO TO SOOTH YOUR PAST EMOTIONS ABOUT RACING WELL AND ALMOST WINNING? "I'd won in everything that I've raced - except for the Winston Cup Series until last year. I just felt we could get it done. If you keep knocking on that door, you're going to win one. There were so many years we were so close. But I never thought we were never going to win one. I still feel like we have more wins in us. We just have to do it maybe in a little quicker manner than we did in the past."
ON THE DAYTONA 500, WERE PEOPLE BEING TOO HARSH IN CRITICISING ABOUT HOW THE RACE ENDED DUE TO RAIN? "I actually heard very little about that. Obviously, I was trying to get home. I really never gave it much thought. There have been some questions on the show that we do on Monday nights at 7 o'clock on the SPEED channel, we had some questions and thoughts about that. But at the same token, we were down there and it was still raining at 10 o'clock at night. It was raining at 8 o'clock in the morning when I was leaving Daytona to go home to Charlotte. The right thing was done and so what do you do? The rules state that once you're half way through, it's considered an official race if it rains. We really couldn't stay down there. There are two sides to the coin. Some people would say that the race had to be finished because it's the Daytona 500 and it's a huge race. There's no doubt. But, every race on the schedule is huge. So, if you waited three days to run that race, then the same thing would have to happen at every race you run. Then that changes the rule book. There were a lot of people on planes going home Monday morning because they couldn't stay anyway. It's a very tough decision. Do I believe it's right or wrong? I think it depends on which fan you talk to. I think it's fine. There's nothing you can do. You have to move forward. We have to go to Rockingham for the first time a day early to get the cars through tech inspection. It's just putting these teams way behind if you ended up being there on Tuesday. But yeah, I wish the Daytona 500 would have been able to run in its entirety on Sunday."
IS THAT LIKE COMPARING IT WITH A RED SOX PLAYER IN THE 7TH INNING WITH A TWO-ONE LEAD OVER THE YANKEES PRAYING FOR RAIN SO THEY CAN WIN THE RACE?) "I don't follow baseball. I don't know if their rule book says they can finish in the 7th inning. They're rules might say they have to complete all 9 innings. Ours states halfway. We don't make the rules, we just follow the rules. I think the question would be that if they changed the rules to say that Daytona is completed when we run all 500 miles. What happens when you go to Rockingham and it rains there? Or Charlotte, and it rains there. Then you're re-writing the rule book. They saw what the weather was going to bring. Now the next question is going to be, 'Is TV going to cover the race two days later?' Are there going to be any fans there two days later to watch the race? We've had a lot of races end under these circumstances, but not the Daytona 500. At least, not that often. I think a lot of people are maybe upset because it's the first race of the year."
ON THE UNIQUE QUALIFYING PROCEDURE FOR THE DAYTONA 500 "That race has always been that way since I've been there, so that's the only thing I'm accustomed to. It's kind of a neat. Obviously, it's our biggest race of the year. They throw out a couple of qualifying races you have to run. It gives you an idea of what your race car is going to do for the 500. It gives you an opportunity to get on the race track. But at times, you can go down there and be feeling pretty stressful about it if things aren't going your way. For new teams coming in, it gives them an opportunity to maybe not just qualify the car - maybe not be fully prepared for qualifying, but give them an opportunity to race in. But that's the Daytona 500. I don't foresee the 125's ever changing or qualifying ever changing either."
WHAT RACE STICKS OUT IN YOUR MIND AS THE 'WIN THAT GOT AWAY'? "Well, there's every one that you finish second, third, fourth, or fifth in that you could go back and wish you would have done this or that......or, what could we have done that could have made us better in that area. I think running the Brickyard back in '96 in my rookie year was something. We had a pretty good control of the race. We ran good and led a lot of laps. We were in position to win that race that kind of got away from us on a pit stop. I can think of (a race at) Darlington where the same thing happened. We were running extremely well and leading the race when we had an issue where the pit stop could have - it's really hard to say what would have happened - tha t cost us some positions. Martinsville is another one where we ran extremely strong. We were right there but weren't able to quite get in the lead there at the end. You could sit there and probably do that for every race that you finished in the top five and wish you would have done this or that."
WITH ALL THE PERSONNEL AND EQUIPMENT CHANGES, WILL THE FANS SEE A MORE COMPETITIVE SEASON IN '03? "I don't really know how it could be any more competitive than what we saw last season. With the teams and the amount of people they have, it's going to be extremely hard. Even James Ince can tell you that he's working day and night trying to keep our team as competitive as possible. But there's 50 other teams doing the same thing. It's going to continue to be competitive. The closer they make the rules, the more competitive it's going to be."