The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

Pennzoil Pontiac Race Report: Benson Finishes 13th in Pennsylvania 500

21 July 1997

Pennsylvania 500
July 1997
Pocono, Pa.  

Steady Driving, Good Strategy, and Little Bit of Luck Give Benson 13th 
Place Finish

   Pennzoil Pontiac driver Johnny Benson didn't like his chances 
before Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 in Pocono, Pa. The 1996 Rookie of the 
Year started 40th -- taking his third provisional of the year -- and 
struggled all weekend with a car that just wouldn't go fast.

   But Benson, Crew Chief Doug Hewitt and the rest of their Bahari' 
Racing teammates proved Sunday that sometimes steady driving, good 
strategy and a little bit of luck can gain a whole lot of positions on 
a racetrack and allow a so-so car to finish 13th. A finish that bumped 
Benson up to 13th-place in the 1997 Winston Cup points standings.

   "Today's finish was because of all the boys in the pits," Benson 
said as he climbed from the Pennzoil Pontiac. "That fuel mileage deal 
allowed us to get up to where we finished. If we didn't do that, I 
don't know what would have happened."

   The strategy began almost immediately after the green flag fell on 
Sunday. When Darrell Waltrip's first-lap spin brought out the yellow 
flag, Hewitt ordered Benson to the pits to top-off the fuel tank. With 
such little green-flag time, Benson had yet to pass another car so the 
Bahari' team had nothing to lose by bringing him in for additional 
fuel.  More importantly, the move allowed Benson to go about three 
laps longer than the rest of the racers. 

   That pitstop paid a big dividend later in the race.  

   Benson struggled with handling. Like most competitors he complained 
of a severe understeer exiting each of Pocono's three unique turns.

   "We were tight off the turns all day," Benson said. "I guess a lot 
of others were the same way as we were, but we kept after it and it 
improved some as the race wore on."

   Benson only climbed to 35th in the first half of the 200 lap-race 
and even fell down a lap to eventual race winner Dale Jarrett and 
runner-up Jeff Gordon.  Those two drivers took advantage of a traffic 
free racetrack as the race proceeded caution free.

   At the lap 120 mark, Gordon and Jarrett had lapped all but 15 cars 
as green flag stops commenced. Nearly every team pitted within a lap 
or two of the leaders. But, Benson remained on the track. Hoping for a 
caution flag that would allow him to regain his lost lap. 

   "We were going to pit the next lap," said team engineer Jon Plyer 
after the race. "And then the caution came out and we made that lap 
up. That was pretty lucky."

   Benson regained the lap and when racing resumed he moved into the 
top-10. What appeared to be a gloomy day quickly turned into an 
exciting race and a chance to post a good finish. 

   With the fuel strategy already played out, Benson managed to stay 
on the lead lap in the final 80 laps of the race and claim a 
13th-place finish. A dramatic accomplishment compared to pre-race 

   "Yeah we did better than we probably should have, but Johnny drove 
hard and we did get a little bit lucky on the fuel mileage thing," 
Hewitt said.

   Benson's performance will once again earn him the Exide "Hard 
Charger" Award. The award honors the driver who improved the most from 
his starting position during the race. It's Benson third award of the 
1997 season.

   Benson has posted a series of charges from the back this season.  
He started 40th three times in 1997 and earned top 15 finishes in each 

   The Pennzoil Pontiac returns to the track on Aug. 2 in Indianapolis 
for the Brickyard 400. Benson hopes to top his 8th-place performance 
in 1996 when he led, a race record, 72 laps.

For More Information
Contact: Drew Brown
Cohn & Wolfe
(404) 880-5269