CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 3, 2000) Ask BACE Motorsports owner Bill Baumgardner, and he'll tell you Johnny Benson is one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR. He just needs a confidence boost. And if there's an authority on Benson, Baumgardner's the...
CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 3, 2000) Ask BACE Motorsports owner Bill Baumgardner, and he'll tell you Johnny Benson is one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR. He just needs a confidence boost. And if there's an authority on Benson, Baumgardner's the man.
While driving for BACE, Benson ascended to the pinnacle of the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division ranks, winning the 1995 championship in the No. 74 Lipton Tea Chevrolet. That success landed him quality rides in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series with both Bahari' Racing and Roush Racing. However, after experiencing limited success with both, his confidence was shaken like never before.
Now, heading into NASCAR 2000, he has a new ride and a new attitude at Tyler Jet Motorsports. He knows there is much to prove, but he's ready to take the task head-on.
"Of course I (have something to prove)," said Benson, the 1996 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year. "Every driver in this business does. Even when (Dale) Earnhardt went some time without winning a race everyone was saying he had something to prove.
"He went out and won races last year and everyone eased up. In this business you are either going up or going down there is no standing still. I have a lot more input here and I think it is going to show on the track. This business, for all the machinery and high technology stuff, is still a people business. We plan to prove that this year."
Benson proved he had the talent compete at racing's highest level in years past, but inconsistency has plagued him. While at Bahari', he tallied 13 top-10 finishes, topped $2 million in winnings and finished a career-high 11th in the standings. Along the way, he managed to catch the eye of Roush, one of NASCAR's most prolific owners.
In 1998, Benson took the seat of Roush's No. 26 Cheerios Ford, prompting many to think he'd become a major force when teamed up with Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. That never happened, and Benson began to question his ability. Midway through the 1999 season, he asked for his release from Roush.
"The situation just wasn't right for me," he said. "I have always said that if racing weren't fun I would go and do something else. Running the way we were and with all the problems I just had to get out. It was frustrating for them, frustrating for me, frustrating for everyone."
NASCAR 2000 promises to be different. For the first time in years Benson feels comfortable providing input on what his car -- the still sponsorless No. 10 Pontiac -- needs to run at its peak potential. He claims that was a distraction during his two years at Roush Racing. He's comfortable at Tyler Jet, and feels more prepared than he has in quite some time.
"It's probably too early to know what this team can achieve," he said. "The goal is to finish in the top-10 in points. That is the goal, and that's the goal we're going to try to achieve by doing the best we can. But, realistically, you don't know. You don't know until you get going.
"It's so competitive nowadays that even if you finish 15th, it wasn't like a terrible year. But, it's never good enough. It's just a situation where you need to dig down hard and get the cars the best you can. You know, I feel like this is actually one of the years we've been the best prepared. We've got cars ready for the first four races already, so it's actually looking pretty good.
"I'm really looking forward to it. Last year was a really tough and frustrating year, which makes me look forward to this even more. I'm back in a Pontiac, and the guys at Tyler Jet have been building some great race cars, so I'm ready to go."