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Pennzoil Pontiac Race Report: Watkins Glen

11 August 1997

Bud at the Glen
August 10, 1997
Watkins Glen, NY  

Benson and Hewitt Duel Fuel Mileage Gods !!

Pennzoil Pontiac Crew Chief Doug Hewitt celebrated his 48th birthday 
on the Bahari' Racing team hauler Sunday just minutes before The Bud 
at the Glen. The impromptu party included the team presenting its 
fifth-year crew chief with an oversized cake with about half the 
required candles. 

"And wait `til you see the present this team and Johnny (Benson) will 
give you this afternoon," said car owner Chuck Rider. 

The race proved Rider correct as Hewitt, a native New Yorker, watched 
the team, Benson and the fuel mileage gods reward him with an 11-th 
place finish -- one of the team's better finishes on a road course.  

It was the third consecutive race Hewitt and Benson parlayed hard 
driving and savvy fuel strategy into a top finish. Last week at 
Indianapolis fuel strategy and last lap driving heroics enabled Benson 
to finish 7th and at Pocono the previous week, they timed caution 
lights and pit stops correctly to finish 13th. 

Sunday's 11th-place finish enabled the team to continue its quest to 
climb into the top-10 in the 1997 Winston Cup point standings. Benson 
remains 12th in points, but less than 70 points behind 10th place Bill 
Elliott and 109 points behind eighth place Jeremy Mayfield.

The 1997 Bud at the Glen boiled down to fuel mileage. Everyone knew it 
would be a gamble to try and make the 90-lap race on two stops, but 
Hewitt and the team rolled the dice.

Just how close did Hewitt and the Bahari team cut the fuel mileage on 
Sunday in order to ensure making the race with just two pitstops? As 
close as it gets.

After stopping on lap 17 while running about 20th, Hewitt wanted 
Benson to stay on the track until lap 54. If the Pennzoil Pontiac 
could stay out 37 laps and take advantage of track position then come 
in at lap 54, it would have a chance to race the final segment without 
another stop.

"We are going to stick to our plan and see what happens," Hewitt told 
Benson on the radio as the crew debated fuel strategy. 

Benson stayed out when others came in to pit. He led several laps and 
remained among the leaders despite racing with older tires.  Benson 
and the crew knew as lap 54 drew near that they were tempting fate, 
but as soon as the 1996 Rookie of the Year crossed the start/finish 
line on lap 53 Hewitt ordered him to the pits.

Then disaster appeared to strike.

Benson radioed he was out of gas. As crew members looked for ether to 
restart a dead engine, everyone's hopes deflated. Then Benson radioed 
in another message.

"Wait, I think its running again," he said to the delight of the team.

Benson managed to restart the Pennzoil Pontiac on the course and make 
it into the pits losing relatively no time. 

"That was close," Hewitt told the team.

But that drama was just unfolding. Engineer John Plyler,  engine 
builder Ron Puryear, gas man Bill Tucker and Hewitt began figuring the 
gallons of gas used on the last run, the number of laps, expected 
cautions, and several other factors. When the calculating was over 
they concluded Benson could go the rest of the race without pitting 
only if a few caution flags flew in the race's final segment.

"We need three laps under caution to have a chance," said one crew 

Hewitt's strategy appeared to have worked to perfection as caution 
flags flew for a handful of laps at the end. Benson circled the track 
slowly saving gas. When the green flag fell, Benson retained 11th 
place and on the final lap when it appeared a long day was going to 
end happily.

Then the nightmare repeated itself. 

"I'm out of gas," Benson said. And then after a pause. A very long 
pause. He said, "Wait, I think I can make it across the finish line."

He did and took the checkered flag without losing a position. He 
needed a quick splash of fuel to get back to the garage where he 
congratulated a relieved Hewitt and his teammates.

"Man, I'm worn out today,"  Benson said.

"The fuel mileage thing was certainly a good call again today. We are 
pleased. We came up here for a few days to test last month and that 
helped a lot, but I'm ready to return to the ovals."

Benson will return to the ovals, in fact, he will return to his 
favorite oval -- the Michigan Speedway -- where several thousand 
homestate fans will cheer him on Sunday in his bid to improve upon his 
13th-place finish in June and move into the top ten in the point 

As for Hewitt, this birthday won't be soon forgotten. .

"That was interesting day," he said smiling.
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