Strategy, hard work & hard driving net top-10 for Benson ...
Strategy, hard work & hard driving net top-10 for Benson
#10 Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson and his Crew Chief James Ince could barely contain their laughter as the slapped hands in the hauler's lounge after the race.
The pair along with teammates had just posted a 10th-place finish Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
It wasn't the home state driver's best finish of the year, but a tenth-place run on a day that started with the Valvoline Pontiac so slow it looked like a caboose at the end of a very long line of rail cars was a mighty fine if unexpected surprise.
It isn't the fastest car that always finishes first.
"We sure aren't going to apologize for this," laughed Benson. "We've run really well before at some place and not finished like we should. So, we are going to take our tenth place finish and go to Bristol with smiles on our faces. I think you could say we earned our finish this afternoon."
There should be lots of smiles after a day like this.
Three factors determined Sunday's success..
First, the Valvoline team never gave up working on its Pontiac all race long. While others came to pit road for two-tires or just a gas and go, Benson and Ince asked their pit crew to change bars, tire pressures, add rubbers to the coil spring, add or remove wedge, plus a host of other minor changes to make the car faster.
It took time, but it worked.
"We probably would have changed everything on the car but the number if we had more time during the race," Ince said. "I think from the time the race began to the time the race ended we might have changed the attitude of the car 100 percent. We threw everything plus the kitchen sink to it today and it turned out it liked the kitchen sink because we got faster and faster as the day went along."
The second factor was superb race strategy.
At the end of the race while others opted for the prime track position at the front of the pack, Ince brought Benson to pit road three times during the final caution making sure gasman Jimmy Watts packed as much fuel as the Valvoline Pontiac could hold.
When the race resumed Benson was mired at the back, but he was told drive as hard as he could - except for one caveat.
"Man, you better save us a good bit of fuel, because it is going to be closer than close," Ince radioed.
Benson's driving became the third factor in the success.
The leaders raced away while he tried to climb through the field heeding Ince's advice by drafting everything in front of him, getting off the throttle a little earlier in the corners, and doing everything he could to save fuel while still trying to race.
"That isn't real easy to do when you are out there racing," Benson said. "As a racer you want to pass anything and everything. But I knew if we burned up too much fuel we'd get a bad finish. I did what I thought was right and hoped it would work out in the end."
As the laps would down Benson was about 15th when the leaders who had yet to pit peeled off for pit road and a splash of gas.
Benson battled and finally slipped past Ward Burton, Elliott Sadler and dueled with Jeff Burton as the laps trickled down.
A few laps later those who had pitted at the same time as Benson began experiencing problem. Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas as did leader Kurt Busch.
"Johnny you got two more laps, just bring it in," said Ince. "The others are running out, so make sure it gets here. If you do make it your probably aren't going to make it back to the garage its so close."
The pit crew held it's breath. Preparations were made if Benson need to make a last second stop for a splash of fuel.
But it wasn't needed.
With Burton on his back bumper Benson appeared out of turn four and eked it over the finish line for the 10th-place finish -- the second best finish of the season.
"I don't know how close we were, but it got us to the flag and that's as far as it needed to go," Benson said after the race. "We ran out of fuel at Sonoma so I guess you could say we got back even today. This was pretty awesome considering how tough this race began for us."
The finish moved Benson into 21st place in the driver's point standings. It makes him the second highest scoring Pontiac trailing Ricky Craven by 44 points.
Despite what the team regard as a "frustrating season" the Valvoline Pontiac is ahead of cars fielded by some of the sport's top teams including Richard Childress Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc., Robert Yates Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, The Wood Brothers, Evernham Motorsports and two cars from Ganassi Racing and Petty Enterprises.
"We know we can do better and I hope this propels us for the rest of the season," Benson said. "This sport grows tougher every year and it seems you have to fight harder and harder just to keep even."
Ryan Newman inherited the victory after Busch ran out of gas. It was Newman's season leading fifth victory of the season.
Benson and his teammates return to action on Saturday night in Bristol Tenn.