* Johnny Benson's sixth place finish is his best ever at North Carolina Speedway. Benson has improved that mark in three straight races here, posting a career best 14th in February 2000, an 11th in October 2000 and now a sixth. The Valvoline...
* Johnny Benson's sixth place finish is his best ever at North Carolina Speedway. Benson has improved that mark in three straight races here, posting a career best 14th in February 2000, an 11th in October 2000 and now a sixth. The Valvoline Grand Prix driver clinched his Busch Series championship here in October 1995, starting from the pole and finishing third.
JOHNNY BENSON, NO. 10 VALVOLINE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
"That wasn't too bad. We started out tight and then we got it pretty good. With it being decent we hated to get too far off, so we just tried little things. I thought we were going to be good to go - maybe not to win, but I think top three. But that last set of tires got just a little tight and as they wore down they got tighter and tighter. I fell back, but it was a good run for everybody on the Valvoline Pontiac. We're real happy."
(WERE YOU CONSERVING FUEL AT THE END?) "No, I wasn't. He (James Ince) told me not to. He said to 'just go, and we'll be OK making it.' I ran as hard as I could."
(WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR YOUR OUTLOOK ON 2001?) "I'm looking forward to it. I thought that going through the winter. I thought that the last race of 2000 and I still feel that way today. "Last year when we were here, we didn't have as good of a run as what we wanted to see. But we came back, worked on it and ran a lot better today than we did then."
(WHAT DO YOU THINK DALE EARNHARDT IS THINKING RIGHT NOW?) "I think he is probably a little sad he's not racing and not here. But in the same token, he is in a better place and had the best seat in the house to see one of his cars win."
JAMES INCE, CREW CHIEF, NO. 10 VALVOLINE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
(ON THE LAST HALF OF THE LAST RUN) "We got in a situation there. It was close on gas for everybody, I know. I know everybody backed down a little bit. We were conserving a little bit. The car wasn't as good the last run as it had been all day. It got a little bit tighter that what we had anticipated. But all in all it wasn't a bad day for us. This isn't one of our best racetracks, so we'll take a sixth on go on to Vegas."
(WHAT ABOUT THE IMPROVEMENT JOHNNY HAS SHOWN HERE SINCE YOU TWO WERE TEAMED UP AT THE START OF LAST YEAR?) "I think we're learning. This is the first opportunity we've had to come back to these places for a second year to where we're regrouped and kind of have our eggs in a row. I look for a better performance every where we go than what we had last year."
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
(ON THE RACE) "It was a great race for us. There at the end we just got a good run on him and got the momentum going and everything. I got up on the outside of him a little bit. Both of us were slipping and sliding with that many laps on our tires, and I got up in the fence a little bit on the right rear. I still had a little momentum to come back, but it's hard to get a good bite up off the corner. But it was still a great run for us today. "I just want to say one thing. Last year at this race, [Dale] Earnhardt finished second to me, and he came by before the race started then and told me what to do. It seemed like it helped me. It didn't help me win today, but it did help me get to second."
(ON STEVE PARK WINNING) "He had a good car all day. There was no doubt about it. I thought at the beginning of the race that he was going to be a 'hot rod' all day, and he was. Congratulations to those guys. It was a great run for them. They needed that. I sure would have liked to have gotten him there at the end, but I came up a little short."
(ARE YOU HAPPY TO GET THIS RACE BEHIND YOU AFTER A TOUGH WEEK?) "We've got 36 more to go. Each race is just one more down and we've got a lot more to go. If you're thinking about this week because of what happened last week to Dale [Earnhardt], it's going to be tough every week. We're still going to feel the same."
(ON THE SAFETY DEVICE HE WORE TODAY) "It worked just fine. I need to make it a little bit better. But for the first time out - I didn't even try it until yesterday during the race - it worked just fine."
(DID YOU WAIT TOO LONG TO MAKE YOUR RUN ON STEVE PARK?) "No, really I couldn't [have started sooner]. I picked up two seconds there in a short while and I got to a certain point, and that was the best I could do. If I would have tried any harder two laps before I think I probably would have lost time. This is one of those tracks that you actually have to slow down to go fast. My charge wasn't planned two laps too late. It was planned when my car was right to go. His car gave up there at the end. We saw that earlier, but he was definitely the fastest car for 95 percent of the day."
(ON BRUSHING THE WALL IN THE CLOSING LAPS) "It was a deal where we really didn't get together -- me and him (Steve Park). We just got sideways - both of us - and I drifted up and just brushed the wall a little bit with the right rear. I didn't really lose much momentum because I was back on the outside of him [going] into one, and then dove back underneath him off of two, so I really didn't lose momentum. If I had stayed there, then both of us would have wrecked, unfortunately. But I knew that we both had to give a little bit right there, and we both did. If I had been beside him, it would have been different. But I wasn't far enough up beside him to really make it very risky at all."
(WAS A SECOND-PLACE RUN "GOOD MEDICINE" FOR YOU TODAY?) "Definitely. We're definitely excited that we came back to a second place finish. We didn't have a good finish last weekend. It's kind of ironic, but I never even thought about where we finished all week from last weekend. "A lot of people had talked about whether another day was going to drag this out. But really this was no different than any other rain day. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dale, Jr., and Teresa and all the people at DEI. And one thing I haven't heard is Martha Earnhardt. I think I met her like 18 years ago. I haven't seen her in a while, but I have talked to her a lot before. Those people there - we're not going to forget about it. We're just going to another weekend.
"It's good that we got this race over with, but next weekend our thoughts are still going to be with them because this is not a situation that we're going to forget."
(MORE ON THE SAFETY DEVICE HE WORE THIS WEEKEND) "I just had something on me that Mike Skinner and Elliott Sadler had and I tried it today. It was something that Bobby Hutchens actually had been working with somebody else on and he had an extra one. Yesterday, I tried it and I tried it again today. I'm going to go tomorrow and work on some stuff. We'll probably talk to Jeff (Gordon) before we get out there (to Las Vegas) and maybe get him one if he wants one."
(HOW DID YOU LIKE THE DEVICE?) "It was pretty good. They've tested it in sled tests, so I felt pretty confident with it. It's just a matter of working with it, making it a little bit more comfortable to fit my application with some stuff that we can make on the fire suit to be better - just so it won't take five minutes to get in the car and all that stuff. So far, I give it a 'thumbs up.' It's been a great deal."
(DID YOU ADJUST ON THE CAR TODAY OR WAIT FOR THE RACE TO COME TO YOU?) "We adjusted on it a little bit, but not really a whole lot. We adjusted tire pressure all day. Sometimes it would be a little tight, sometimes it would be a little loose. We really didn't adjust on it that much. We played with that air pressure a little bit and that was about all."
(WHERE DO YOU AND THE OTHER DRIVERS GO FROM HERE ON SAFETY ISSUES?) "What Jeff [Gordon] said was perfect. There is no doubt. We don't want people going off in different directions. We're all going to work together with all the teams -- if we can -- with NASCAR -- if we can - with whoever. I think the positives are that we're all going to work forward. Our team and everybody else's team is going to work together. We're all excited about things of the future."
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
(SHOULD DRIVERS STEP UP THEIR ROLE IN THAT PROCESS?) "I guess we all probably need to do better than we ever have in the past. I thought my car was pretty safe, and after looking at it we changed a couple things on it. "I think all the drivers are probably looking at all that stuff. There's not doubt that we're probably going to talk about that a little bit more. If we do that, then we'll definitely be talking and going in the right direction."
(ON BEATING DALE EARNHARDT A YEAR AGO HERE AND LOSING TO A DEI CAR HERE THIS YEAR) "Those guys are well-deserving. Last year, Steve [Park], all of DEI, the race team - they were all going up the ladder. They were making great race cars, they were running great races, they were leading laps and stuff like that. Today, it's ironic, but it does my heart good to see them win. I'll take second place when I know that we couldn't get him. Obviously, if we could have gotten him we would have, but we couldn't get him. "I stuck my '3' hat out the window at him and he stuck his '3' hat out at me after the race was over. That's what it's all about. We gave it our best shot. We made a great race out of it. That's what it was. It was a great race. We did that as best we could. What [Dale] Earnhardt told me last year helped me this year to finish second. It didn't help me win, but it helped me finish second."
(ON STEVE PARK SAYING THAT HE WAS GLAD IT WAS YOU HE WAS RACING AT THE END) "That makes me feel good. That's for sure. I've raced Steve for quite some time. Like I said, towards the end of last year we got to race him a lot more. Their team was coming on from 'day one' last year. It's just great to see that with all the hard work that they did because they didn't do it on anything else but hard work. "It's the same feeling from me. I'm glad it was Steve Park. We were able to rub a little bit, but we didn't do anything wrong. We did everything right. We did some hard racing. He was driving his fanny off just like I was driving mine off, and that's what makes it worthwhile. We both ended up smiling at the end of the day because we know that we both gave it our best shot."
(WHERE DID STEVE PARK BLOCK YOU?) "Really, we came off turn four and I got into the wall just because he started losing grip and we all just went up towards the wall. That wasn't a block. It was just that we both had to check up a little bit to not get into each other. That was about all. We didn't do any blocking here."
(ON RACING PARK CLEAN COMING OFF THE CORNER) "If I had been wheel to wheel with him that would have been different. But I had my left front on his right rear, so I wasn't far enough up to make a good enough challenge. At this racetrack you use up all the racetrack up off of turn four and we just had all we could do. I came off turn two and we gave each other plenty of room, and I got up beside him there. I let up a little bit, but only because we're trying to protect ourselves. I didn't have enough of a challenge to not let up. If he hadn't have slid up there and I hadn't let off, maybe I could have kept going. But the fact that I knew that there was a shot that we were both going to lose grip, I just knew that I had to be careful there. It was all good racing. That's all it was."
(MORE DETAILS ON THE SAFETY DEVICE THAT YOU WORE TODAY) "It's a restraint that Mike Skinner and Elliott Sadler used at Daytona. It was the same type as that. Bobby Hutchens gave it to me. He and somebody else had been working on it.
"It just fastens around you, fastens to your helmet and goes down to your submarine belt between your legs. It works similar to a HANS device, just in a different fashion. They have tested it. Jimmy [Makar] asked them if they've been through a sled test with it and compared it to the HANS and stuff. We talked about it and he had an extra one, so we decided to use it. We modified it a little bit and made it work."
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
(ON THE RACE) "I'm glad we didn't have any more cautions than we had. I'm sore right now.
"It was a good day. The guys on the pit crew did a great job all day and kept us up front. We dropped back early. The car got pretty loose, but we just hung with it. Greg [Zipadelli] and I kept communicating real well. I think we've got some good things to look forward to this year.
"We had a really good day. I finally learned how to run the top all the way around this place. It was glad to get by [Johnny] Benson there at the end and hold on to fourth.
"It was a good day for all of us. If we couldn't win it and if Bobby couldn't win it, I was glad that Steve Park could win this one for [Dale] Earnhardt."
(WOULD SOME MORE LAPS HAVE HELPED YOU?) "We were catching the '24' (Jeff Gordon). I could see him up there, but we just ran out of laps. But there were some guys running us down, too. The weather just caught us off-guard a little bit today. We were pretty good yesterday, and it really messed us up today. But the guys did a great job in the pits getting us caught back up."
(ON DEI WINNING TODAY) "It's pretty fitting. Steve [Park] was fast all day. If I can't win and if Bobby [Labonte] can't win, it was good to see Steve Park win this thing for [Dale] Earnhardt and everybody. It was very fitting."
- Al Larsen