DETROIT (March 6, 2001) - After a successful 2000 season and a strong start to 2001, "WideTrack Attack" standout Johnny Benson should have no trouble flashing a smile when he arrives at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend for the fourth race of...
DETROIT (March 6, 2001) - After a successful 2000 season and a strong start to 2001, "WideTrack Attack" standout Johnny Benson should have no trouble flashing a smile when he arrives at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend for the fourth race of the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule.
After posting one top-five and two top-10 finishes the last two weeks, Benson finds himself ranked sixth in the Winston Cup points, just 74 markers out of the top spot. As good as things are right now, however, for the driver of the Valvoline Pontiac Grand Prix, they seemed equally bleak at this point one year ago.
Benson headed into the fourth race of the 2000 season 11th in points, looking to gain momentum for his fledgling team. When second-round qualifying was rained out on Saturday, he suddenly found himself on the outside looking in. With too few owners' points from the year before, he and his Pontiac Grand Prix were left out of the starting lineup. It was a setback that could have put a stop to any of Benson's plans for a breakthrough season.
It didn't. In fact, it seemed to light a bigger fire under Benson's team, as they've gone on to post two runner-up, four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in the 34 races that have followed. Now, as the series heads back to Atlanta one year later, the Grand Rapids, Mich., native finds himself in the thick of the Winston Cup points battle and is providing strong evidence that "Wider Is Better."
Thoughts From Johnny Benson,
No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac Grand Prix
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TEAM PULLING TOGETHER AFTER MISSING LAST YEAR'S SPRING RACE AT ATLANTA
"The deal at Atlanta was just one of those things that caught us a little bit off guard, but it was a heartbreaker - sitting there 11th in points and having that happen. But we went back to the shop on Sunday morning and had a nice meeting. It wasn't a yelling session. It was just a deal where [crew chief] James [Ince] said, 'Hey, keep your head up, guys. This is a good race team. I'm sorry this happened, but this is a good race team.'
"We all talked about it, got it off our chest and didn't have to worry about it again. We sat around for probably a good hour and a half and just discussed it. The floor was open. And as much as it surprised me, there wasn't anybody there that had their head down. Don't get me wrong - they weren't happy. But, they all sat there straight in their chair with their head high and said, 'We'll overcome this. We'll work hard at getting back to where we need to be,' and they did. To have that happen and still end up 13th in the  points, we're pretty proud of that."
WAS THERE ANY CONCERN THAT THE TEAM WOULDN'T STICK TOGETHER AFTER THAT SETBACK?
"That never crossed my mind, and I don't believe that it crossed anybody else's mind. We've got a really good group of guys. It's refreshing, the way this deal is run. I think it's a little bit different than some of the other places I've been, but it's been good."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A NEW AERO PACKAGE OF SOME KIND RUN AT ATLANTA?
"I think we're OK with what we've got there. Some people want to try some different things, and I'm open to trying things. But, the thing is, you can't take what we run at Daytona and Talladega and put it on those cars. I think you could alter those pieces and maybe run that stuff. But it's not that easy. There are some areas that we could work on, but now that we've changed the tire we need to look into that first.
"Do I think that we need to go faster or slower? That part doesn't matter to us. We want to go as fast as we can. I don't want to put something on the car to slow us down. If we put something on the car that is going to make it more stable, then I'm for that."
HOW DO YOU LIKE THE NEW TIRES THIS YEAR?
"Goodyear has done a great job. They wanted to put a tire on there that was a little bit harder. They wanted one on there that was going to slow the car down, let it slip and slide a little bit - a controllable slip and slide - and they wanted to make a tire that is not affected by camber. They accomplished that. That is something that I'm sure was very hard for them to do.
"Now they have the tire so it turns like it's supposed to without having to put all the camber in it. You put more camber in it now, it's not going to make it turn any better, so we don't need to put it in there."
ATLANTA APPEARS IDENTICAL TO TEXAS AND CHARLOTTE, BUT IT'S NOT. WHAT IS THE BIG CHALLENGE AT ATLANTA?
"Atlanta is fast. It's got a little bump getting into [turn] one. The bottom is good, but the groove moves all around, so the challenge is finding the right spot for your car to work and being able to deal with that most of the day."
HOW HARD ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE TO WORK TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOAL OF A SIXTH-PLACE FINISH IN THE FINAL POINTS?
"We're going to have to work extremely hard. Our goal is sixth, and that's what we're going to try to do. That's what we're going to try to accomplish. You've got to put that bar up there fairly high, or you'll never get there. We're going to do everything we can to be there at the end of the year.
ON THE EFFECT OF A DNF ON YOUR SEASON
"You don't want to see them. You don't want to have them, but you're going to have them. It doesn't matter if it's the first race or the last race. It's going to come, so you have to try to minimize the impact. Does it help us this year that a bunch of guys got a DNF at Daytona? Yeah, a bunch of those guys did, but so did we. "Finishing races is very important. But to be in the hunt, you've also got to win races and you've got to be there week in and week out."