(Sunday Feb 27, 2000 Rockingham, N.C.) - You can't blame ...
(Sunday Feb 27, 2000 Rockingham, N.C.) - You can't blame #10 Lycos Pontiac driver Johnny Benson and his Tyler Jet Motorsports crew chief James Ince if they were worn out after Sunday's 400-mile NASCAR Winston Cup race at Rockingham.
They were relieved.
It wasn't relief from action on the track that led to Benson's 14th-place finish. Instead, Ince, Benson and most of the crew spent long periods during the race holding their breath the flagman wouldn't throw a yellow caution flag.
"We short pitted a lot and whenever you do that you just pray to God that there won't be a yellow flag," said Ince after the race in which short pitting played a role three times in keeping Benson on or close to the lead lap and in contention during the 3-hour race.
Short pitting means pitting the car about 10 to 25 laps before the leaders. At Rockingham new tires can mean almost a second a lap or 10 mph quicker. You lose 20 seconds getting in and out of the pits but you can make it up on the track by running faster than competitors on old tires. Over a long green flag run if you short pit you can gain a few seconds on the competitors.
Short pitting is sometimes a good strategy or in Sunday's case for the Lycos team it was a necessity.
"The main reason we brought Johnny in today was to make some changes to the handling of the car," said Ince. "If we had stayed out longer like the others we would have lost a lot of ground. In a perfect world we wouldn't have short pitted as much. But we did what we had to do today and it worked."
Short pitting fails when the caution flag falls after you stopped for tires and before have time to make up the lost ground with fresh tires. At Rockingham that usually means losing two laps to the leaders.
"That's something I tried not to think about," said Benson. "Whenever I came out of the pits James would say drive that thing as hard as you can but don't be the reason for a yellow. I think they were holding their breath in the pits."
Fortunately the yellow flag never fell at an inopportune time for the Tyler Jet Motorsports team. Benson moved as high as 10th and fell as low as 20th during the pit sequencing but when the checkered flag flew he had climbed to 14th.
"That's about what we deserved today," Benson said. "We started pretty far back in the field (34th) and had to work hard all day."
Bobby Labonte took the lead away from Ward Burton, on lap 281 and led the remaining 113 circuits to win at Rockingham for the first time in his career. Dale Earnhardt finished second.
Benson finished two laps behind Labonte, but he said Sunday's race at the North Carolina Speedway was a good first step for he and his new crew chief and their young team.
"This is a good starting point for our team. Last week at Daytona we finished 12th and led a bunch of laps and today we persevered, took a few chances and walked out of here with a pretty decent finish," Benson said. "James and I have a good idea now on what we need to work on so when we return here later in the year we will be pretty good."
And maybe when they return in October, Ince and Benson will enjoy a more comfortable day. Maybe even breathe a little.
Benson and Ince's gambling paid off Sunday which is a good omen as the NASCAR Winston Cup teams head to Las Vegas for Sunday's 400-mile race.