Benson on the right track By Marty Smith LAS VEGAS (Mar. 6, 2000) The rags-to-riches story thus far in NASCAR 2000 has to be located at 6780 Hudspeth Rd in Harrisburg, N.C. Lycos Pontiac driver Johnny Benson and his Tyler Jet Motorsports...
Benson on the right track By Marty Smith
LAS VEGAS (Mar. 6, 2000) The rags-to-riches story thus far in NASCAR 2000 has to be located at 6780 Hudspeth Rd in Harrisburg, N.C. Lycos Pontiac driver Johnny Benson and his Tyler Jet Motorsports teammates may be turning more heads than wrenches at the racetrack this season. Over the past two NASCAR Winston Cup Series seasons, Benson got a bum rap while driving Jack Roush's No. 26 Cheerios Ford. During his time at Roush Racing, Benson tallied just three top-5s and nine top-10s. Thus, he failed to achieve what many thought was limitless potential and subsequently left the program. He began to question his talent, unsure whether he belonged among racing's elite.
Three races into 2000, the answer is as clear as Lake Norman on a mid-summer day. You're darn right he belongs.
Benson finished sixth in Sunday's rain-shortened CarsDirect.com 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, marking the third consecutive week he's run in the lead pack. Three weeks ago, he led the Daytona 500 with four laps to go, only to be overrun by hard-charging Dale Jarrett and his Ford drafting mates. He went on to finish 12th. In the Dura-Lube/Big Kmart 400 at North Carolina Speedway last week, he finished 14th, which the entire Tyler Jet contingent admits was as good as they could've possibly been.
Sunday, Benson came home sixth -- his best finish since he notched back-to-back fifths at Bristol and Texas in the sixth and seventh races of the 1998 campaign.
"That was really good," said Benson, the 1994 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division Champion. "We had one little 'slow-up' deal that held us back a little bit. But we kept coming and kept coming. We'll take a sixth and walk out of here with the points. We're real happy with the way the car ran this weekend."
Likewise on his overall feelings for the season.
"Can't complain," he said. "We wanted to go down to Daytona, just gather some points, get rid of it and get out of there, and had an opportunity to almost win the thing. As the week went at Rockingham we thought we were going to be a little better than what we were, but still we walked out of there 14th. Today we really felt we had a top-10 racecar. I would have liked to have seen it go a little longer, but we'll take sixth, get out of here and go on to Atlanta."
Atlanta Motor Speedway hasn't been overly kind to Benson in the past. In eight NASCAR Winston Cup Series races there, he has tallied a pair of top-10s, but has finished outside the top-20 in each of the other six, including three finishes of 35th or worse.
This weekend's Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 at the 1.54-mile track promises to be different.
"We've got a really good race team and Johnny Benson is driving the wheels off," said James Ince, the team's crew chief. "We've got to be very happy with that right now. I guess the good part for us is that we are still being conservative with what we've doing.
"We've got to get through Atlanta to get us in a position to where we can go back and race, and be comfortable with where we are in the points. We're points racing right now like we would at the end of the year, but this is an awful strong race team."
Benson has had potent teams in the past. With the wealth of resources at Roush Racing, it's almost a given. However, his teams lacked chemistry, arguably the most vital component of any team-oriented operation. This year, his team is overflowing with it, and it was never more evident that this past weekend at Las Vegas.
"James Ince and all the guys at Tyler Jet Motorsports have just done a great job," he said. "We've just been working and working and working hard. We're just doing the best that we can. James puts a good set-up under this car.
"I always felt that I could get around (Las Vegas) pretty good, with a fourth place finish here before. I've had some pretty good racecars and had some pretty good runs. All-in-all, Tyler Jet Motorsports has just put a great (team) together."
That they have. They've got heads on a swivel everywhere.