Sonoma: Johnny Benson preview

Valvoline Pontiac Driver Johnny Benson and his Crew Chief James Ince have never considered themselves road racers, but that didn't stop the Valvoline team from working to improve their road course-racing program over the last two years. While it...

Valvoline Pontiac Driver Johnny Benson and his Crew Chief James Ince have never considered themselves road racers, but that didn't stop the Valvoline team from working to improve their road course-racing program over the last two years. While it may have surprised many experts, it wasn't a total surprise to the team when Benson was running third and turning lap times faster than the leaders during the Sears Point race last year.

A pit road penalty and a late race accident ruined the good run and left Benson with a 29th-place finish. But it increased optimism for this weekend's return to California wine country where Benson hopes to gain a measure of revenge. Even though Ince, a dirt track racer from Missouri, and Benson, a short track racer from Michigan, think their road course racing is improving they wouldn't be too disappointed if NASCAR would turn its entire attention to ovals and leave the twisty circuits for other series. The NASCAR Busch Series no longer races on road courses.

James Ince:

What Would You Do If NASCAR Eliminated Road Courses?

"I'd send them a fruit basket on Monday morning if they did. Other than that it wouldn't change our life a whole lot other than it would save us a whole lot of money and time. We probably spend a quarter of a million dollars a year at least working on road course cars, testing them, and all the manpower and time that goes with running just two road races a year. It's not that we dislike road races, but it isn't what we do. I'd much rather go to the Chicago and Kansas City ovals twice."

Don't You Appreciate Road Courses Just A Little?

"I didn't know there were even road courses when I was growing up racing in Missouri. I know they ran sports cars on road courses but that was something I was never around or really ever even thought about. I'm not going to say racing on a road course is something I am excited about or that I really want to go do, but it's a lot different than when I first started going to road courses. I know what to do now as far as setting up a car and I'm excited about it now because we've got our program to the point where we know we will run pretty well when we do show up at a road course. As a racer and a competitor it's OK to race anywhere when you run well. If you go to do something you aren't comfortable with in the first place and you don't have any success at it then you will hate it automatically."

How Have You Improved Your Road Course Program?

"We are racers. Johnny has always had the ability these other guys have. The Winston Cup drivers, with a few exceptions, didn't grow up on road courses. But the racer side in all of us came out and we wanted to do better. We learned and we got smarter every time we went to the track. We changed our race cars to make it good for Johnny. To make it do what Johnny needs it to do. That's no different than what we do at Darlington, Daytona or Martinsville. We always try to do the same thing. That's the racer in us coming out.

"You know we have worked real hard on this program. Johnny is almost a road course racer now. He's as good as any Winston Cup guy out there. It's a place we plan to run as well as can. You never know what can happen on a road course. It might be the place where we get our first victory which would be nice. It's not nearly as painful as it used to be."

Johnny Benson

On Racing a Road Course With Two Cracked Ribs And A Broken Rib:

"We tested Virginia International Raceway back before we went to Pocono and it went pretty good as far as pain and discomfort go. I'm not worried about it. I think we will be fine. Pocono was tough there at the end because of the G forces but Michigan wasn't as painful and we ran well there. If we are up there contending for the win then I doubt I'll ever even think about the ribs."

On Road Courses:

"They are kind of fun. I'm glad we only have to do two a year. Now if they had a schedule with a lot more road courses then I might go find some other thing to do. You get better the more you run but by the same token everyone else does too. That keeps the playing field fairly equal."

On Road Course Strategy:

"You run the best you can and you have to stay on the track. If you stay on the track, by the end of the day you should be in pretty good shape. You have to have good brakes, a good race car and a good engine like every other week. I think I'm a little bit harder on brakes than your standard road race guy. If I can keep brakes on my Valvoline Pontiac I think I will have an OK day. Before the race I tell myself that I have to get a good rhythm. That's a huge key. You are running the car side-to-side and these cars don't like that. They aren't built to do that. When you sit down to design a road course car, a Winston Cup car isn't what you would build. You would build something totally different. You just have to be smooth, consistent, get a good rhythm and work with it"

Big Brothers Big Sisters Of America:

Benson is racing this week for the Danville, Va. Chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters Of America. Each week Valvoline donates money to the national Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America organization as well as an individual local chapter based on Benson's on-track performance. Valvoline matches Benson's performance by donating $5,000 for a win, $2,500 for a pole, $1,000 for a top ten 10 finish, $500 for a top 20 finish and $20 for each lap led. The 3-year program has raised over $750,000.

-mbvm-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Johnny Benson