DETROIT, Aug. 8, 2001 - Like every competitor, Pontiac driver Johnny Benson entered the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup season with the hope of getting off to a fast start. The only difference between Benson and most of the others is that he did exactly...
DETROIT, Aug. 8, 2001 - Like every competitor, Pontiac driver Johnny Benson entered the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup season with the hope of getting off to a fast start. The only difference between Benson and most of the others is that he did exactly that.
In the first 11 races of the year, Benson posted two top-five and seven top-10 finishes in the Valvoline Pontiac Grand Prix, including one stretch that included four straight finishes of seventh or better. He rose to a career-high second in the Winston Cup points after the fifth race and was well on his way to achieving his preseason goal of at least a sixth-place finish in the year-end standings.
Now, after a rough stretch of luck that lasted through June and most of July, Benson is back on track and has returned to his early-season form. He led eight laps on his way to a fifth-place finish at Pocono Raceway on July 29 and then followed that up with a third-place run in the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday.
This weekend, Benson and his Pontiac teammates hope to continue rolling on the road course at Watkins Glen International, where he and the other five members of the "WideTrack Attack" will look to prove that "Wider Is Better."
Johnny Benson, No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac Grand Prix
HOW IS YOUR CONFIDENCE HEADING INTO THE SECOND ROAD COURSE EVENT OF THE YEAR, KNOWING YOU RAN WELL IN THE FIRST ROAD COURSE OUTING AT SEARS POINT?
"For the most part, we're looking forward to going up to Watkins Glen. The Pontiac that we're taking up there is the same one that we ran at Sears Point and I think it will work good up there. Hopefully we'll have a good consistent run. We'll just have to see what happens when we unload. "Watkins Glen is not as bad as Sears Point, as far as difficulty. It's still very competitive because most of these guys do a pretty good job at it, but it's a fun track."
DO YOU DREAD HAVING TO RUN ON ROAD COURSES OR DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO IT?
"They (road course events) aren't my least favorite races of the year, but they're not in the top half, either. It's a deal where you know you've got to run two of them a year and you've got to give it all you've got. I think they're fun, but in the same token they're pretty challenging, also. In a roundabout way, it's something different to do, but they can be kind of fun."
YOU'VE POSTED BACK-TO-BACK TOP FIVES THE PAST TWO WEEKS...IS YOUR CONFIDENCE LEVEL HIGHER THAN IT WAS A FEW WEEKS AGO?
"It's pretty much stayed the same. Our guys have just done a tremendous job. They have just continued to do what they are supposed to do and I've tried to keep doing what I'm supposed to do. It's been fun. Our confidence level really hasn't changed. Hopefully, we've gotten most of our bad luck out of the way and we'll be in pretty good shape the rest of the way."
WITH ALL THE BAD LUCK YOU EXPERIENCED, DID IT GET FRUSTRATING?
"It got frustrating at times. But we always felt like the car was pretty good and that helped. If we had felt like we were having all that bad luck and also weren't running well, that would have been hard to deal with. But we had decent cars and had good runs. We had just a lot of little things - the driver hit a tire on pit road, we had some mechanical failures. Those things all put a hurting on us. But again, we knew we had fast cars, so it was just a case of getting through that rough stretch."
YOUR GOAL AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON WAS TO FINISH SIXTH IN THE FINAL POINT STANDINGS. YOU'RE 10TH NOW. HAVE YOUR GOALS CHANGED AT ALL?
"We're still eyeballing sixth because you have to stick with your goals. If we were to change that we would probably fall further back. That (finishing sixth) is still the plan. It's just going to be harder to get there from 10th, but we've just got to keep working on it and make sure that it happens."
ARE WE SEEING MORE TIRE STRATEGY EMPLOYED AT THE END OF RACES NOW COMPARED TO OTHER YEARS?
"I think it's always been this way. We've always seen Jeff Gordon take two tires and then just hang on and do a pretty good job with it. I just think a lot more guys are doing it now. A lot of teams are using different strategies. When you throw some different rules and some different tires into the mix you have to work around those. It's just a matter of what is going to work for you at the time. We've seen it work for us and we've seen it backfire on us. It still all depends on what your race car is doing and what the track is going to allow you to do. You just have to decide what is going to work with your situation and what you want to deal with, and then see what happens."