Pontiac Teams Prepare For Fresh Start at Rockingham DETROIT, Mich., Feb. 20, 2001 - Five Pontiac Grand Prix drivers head to North Carolina Speedway this weekend looking for a fresh start after a rough-and-tumble Daytona 500, hoping to give...
Pontiac Teams Prepare For Fresh Start at Rockingham
DETROIT, Mich., Feb. 20, 2001 - Five Pontiac Grand Prix drivers head to North Carolina Speedway this weekend looking for a fresh start after a rough-and-tumble Daytona 500, hoping to give Pontiac its 13th-ever Winston Cup victory at "The Rock."
Johnny Benson, who soldiered to a 10th place finish in Sunday's season-opening race, leads the way for Pontiac entering Sunday's event. Benson, who tested at the 1.017-mile oval last month, topped the Pontiac effort at Rockingham in 2001 in terms of average finishing position. Benson posted sixth and third place finishes in two events last year for an average finish of 4.5. That figure not only leads the way for Pontiac, but is also the best of any Winston Cup driver that ran both races at North Carolina Speedway last season.
However, the impressive numbers don't end with Benson. The next two drivers ranked on the overall list by average finish at Rockingham in 2001 are also Pontiac drivers. Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte recorded a pair of top 10s each in 2001 for an average mark of 5.5.
Labonte, who was the runner-up in this event one year ago, is the owner of Pontiac's last victory at North Carolina Speedway, taking the checkers on February 27, 2000.
2001 Average Finish - North Carolina Speedway
1) Johnny Benson, Pontiac - 4.5
2) Tony Stewart, Pontiac - 5.5
Bobby Labonte, Pontiac - 5.5
4) Dale Jarrett, Ford - 7.0
5) Ricky Craven, Ford - 8.5
WHAT HAS BEEN THE REASON FOR YOUR RECENT SUCCESS AT ROCKINGHAM? "I like the place. I've always liked Rockingham. It's a 'slip-slide' type racetrack. You've got to finesse it a little bit and we've been able to get our Pontiac to really handle there the last few times. Even going back to when I first started racing in the Busch series, we've always run good there."
WHAT ELSE MAKES ROCKINGHAM WORK FOR YOU? "One thing I really like about Rockingham is that turns one and two end up being two grooves, and three and four ends up being three grooves a lot of times. That's always fun when you can go race like that. If everybody is down at the bottom, you've got another choice. You just go ahead and run the top, or vice-versa."
IS IT NICE TO BE MORE IN CONTROL OF YOUR OWN DESTINY AT ROCKINGHAM AS COMPARED TO DAYTONA? "You definitely feel like you've got pretty good control of what is going on. At Rockingham, obviously drafting isn't important like it is at Daytona, so you don't have to worry about being hung out or not having a drafting partner. You don't set your car up specifically to draft, so there are a lot of other elements to think about."
HOW DID YOUR TEST GO AT ROCKINGHAM IN JANUARY? "We feel like the test went pretty well. There are always things you can learn and we felt like we learned a couple of different things there. We feel like we'll be OK this weekend. The last couple times we've been there with the Valvoline Pontiac team, we've been pretty good. We've been happy with our finishes being up in the top five and top 10. Now, we just need to get a little bit better."
Thoughts From Ken Schrader, No. 36 M&M's Pontiac Grand Prix:
YOUR TEAMMATE, JOHNNY BENSON, TESTED AT ROCKINGHAM. HOW MUCH DO YOU BENEFIT FROM ONE OF JOHNNY'S TESTS? "Obviously, we'll have access to all of the information that they obtained there. What we're able to do with it - what can apply to us - we'll have to figure out. We'll have to see. We'll take our notes from the past - what kind of cars we had, what kind of car he tested, what changes they made - and just use all of the information to the best of our ability.
"You can't test every place, so the fact that Johnny did and we that information, is a lot more help than not having it at all.
"Johnny and I do drive a little bit different - enough that the same setup doesn't necessarily work for both of us. There is a lot of that in this sport. Everybody does things a little bit different, but it's no big deal.
"The bottom line is this: there is a wall on both sides. You've just got to stay right in there somewhere. That's why it is so much easier when all the other cars are out there because you don't even have to worry about where to go. They'll just leave you your little place."
WHAT IS IT LIKE HEADING TO ROCKINGHAM AFTER SPENDING TWO WEEKS AT DAYTONA? "It's just more like going to the real world - and I mean because of the schedule. You get on the track Friday morning, Friday afternoon you know where you're starting, you work on it a little bit Saturday and you race Sunday. It's not like the schedule at Daytona. I love the schedule at Daytona - it's one of the races I look forward to - but our real season starts at Rockingham."
ON THE USE OF THE ONE-ENGINE RULE, WHICH BEGINS THIS WEEKEND? "It's not going to make a dramatic impact on cost, but it is going to be a little more economical for us.
"I'm a big supporter of it. I think it's good. It doesn't make a difference whether we all put in the 'killer' lightweight stuff and we all go two tenths of a second faster. We all did it. We just spent a lot more money for nothing, so I think NASCAR did a really good thing with this."
DO YOU FEEL SAFER IN YOUR CAR THIS YEAR THAN YOU DID LAST YEAR? "Our cars have gotten safer every year. NASCAR and the crews have been doing stuff to make them safer every year, even before we went through everything that we did during the past couple years.
"They are as safe as they've ever been right now and I'm sure we're going to look at them in 10 or 15 years and say, 'Why were we doing that? Look what we've got now. Why were we doing that?'"