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Benson on Pole for Winston Cup ITW DeVilbiss 400

16 August 1997

BROOKLYN, MI - Homestate favorite Johnny Benson will lead the flag to green for Sunday's Winston Cup ITW DeVilbiss 400 at Michigan Speedway in the #30 Pennzoil Pontiac.

At least he hopes he will...this time.

The Grand Rapids, MI native won his first (and most recent) series career pole in March 1996 at Atlanta Motor Speedway but had to start the Purolator 500 from the rear of the field after destroying his primary car during Happy Hour practice the afternoon before the event.

"We're not even going to unload it tomorrow," joked Benson. "Heck we did this at Atlanta and wrecked!"

The 183.332 mph-lap (39.273 seconds) around the 2.0-mile speedway was well off the record speed of 186.611 mph set by Jeff Gordon in 1995 but clocked in more than two-tenths of a second faster than outside polesitter Mark Martin.

"We're pretty excited," said Benson, who became the 15th different pole winner in 21 races this season. "The Pennzoil Pontiac ran good most of the day. It will sink in tomorrow. This is the same car we ran at Indy and it seems to run pretty good. We kept it for Indy and then brought it here. Hopefully we'll run good on Sunday. Man, we're just happy."

Time trials were delayed by about an hour and a half after morning showers played havoc with the day's schedule putting the first of 44 cars to take a time on the track late in the afternoon.

"We got a not-so-good draw," said Martin, who completed his lap in 39.356 seconds at an average speed of 182.945 mph. "Having to go out second at 4:35 (pm), the track is going to get faster and faster. We had the fastest lap in practice, but that was probably a lucky lap. Then we picked up another tenth qualifying, and that was probably the weather."

Ricky Craven and the Hendrick Motorsports Budweiser team breathed a huge sigh of relief with a third quickest qualifying effort. Craven has struggled all season with qualifying and had already used his current allotment of provisional starting positions leaving him no room for error on his lap.

"When you've qualified as bad as we have the past two weeks, that'll do it to you," explained Craven. "We just had to get it going. I got down into the third turn coming to the green and I knew I had the car that I'd been looking for all day. I think the weather came to us, too. We wasted two hours of practice today. We just couldn't find what we needed, but we found it when it counted today."

Rounding out the top five are Dale Jarrett in the #88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Thunderbird and Jeff Burton, pilot of the #99 Exide Batteries Ford.

Current series points leader Jeff Gordon, who qualified 12th for the Miller 400 at Michigan Speedway in June, could do no better than 17th fastest with a 181.786 mph lap.

"I just couldn't find any speed here for qualifying," said Gordon. "That was the best lap we'd had all day, but it still wasn't very good. We picked up a lot from practice. The problem was we were so far off in practice. I think we're going to be pretty good in the race.

The top twenty-five qualifiers are locked in for Sunday's 200-lap event. Among those who failed to secure a starting position today are Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, Dale Earnhardt, and Rusty Wallace. The second round of time trials to round out the possible 43-car field is scheduled for Saturday morning at 10:45 (EST).

Lori Vizza -- The Auto Channel