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The Callahan Report: Benson Puts Pennzoil On Michigan Pole

17 August 1997

BROOKLYN, MI: Race drivers are comfortable at home. Johnny Benson feels right at home at the Michigan International Speedway. He should.....he grew up pretty close to this track. The relaxing comforts of the hometown crowd may have aided the pole position run by the number 30 Pennzoil Pontiac, piloted by Benson. The home state favorite ran a lap of 183.332 mph to earn the top starting spot for the DeVilbiss 400.

The pole was the second of Benson's young career in Winston Cup. Benson was the series rookie of the year last year and earned his first pole in that rookie season. Benson commented on his run, "We'd have been happy if we would have qualified fifth or 10th,'' he said. "This just makes us a little more happier."

When Benson won his last pole, he crashed the car the following day. That kind of bad luck didn't reappear this time. The morning practice session was a washout as rains limited today's practice sessions. Benson brought the Pennzoil car out late in the day (after the Busch race) for a few shakedown laps. He said "We're in a great spot right now....We really don't have to do too much to the car."

Winston cup points leader, Jeff Gordon, could not get his Monte Carlo up to a competitive speed. He is 2 mph slower than Benson. Gordon has already visited victory lane eight times in 1997. He will start the DeVilbiss from the seventeenth spot in his DuPont Chevy. Gordon said "I think we're going to be pretty good in the race. I just can't find any speed here for qualifying."

Gordon is running the same car at Michigan that he ran in the Brickyard 400. If that race was any indication, he will be running up front. Gordon ran fourth at the Brickyard but was faster than the first (Ricky Rudd) and second place (Bobby Labonte) finishers. Dale Jarrett finished third at the Brickyard and will start fourth at Michigan. Jarrett is currently third in the Winston Cup Points standings. and Gordon paced much of the race at Indy and are expected to be major contenders here in Michigan.

The biggest threat to Gordon's championship hopes is also starting ahead of him on Sunday. Mark Martin's Valvoline sponsored Ford Thunderbird is fast at Michigan...he will start alongside Benson in the "all oil" front row. Martin is second in the series point, 109 behind Gordon.

One of Gordon's teammates has found the speed necessary to run up front at Michigan. After eating up "provisional starts" like candy, Ricky Craven will start the DeVilbiss 400 from the inside of the second row. The third member of the powerful Hendrick team, Terry Labonte will start 14th.

Oddly, Rusty Wallace was the slowest car to make the race. The track is owned by his boss, Roger Penske. Wallace will start the race from 2nd. "We're struggling. I've been having a heck of a time trying to get it running. We can't get the speed out of the thing."

Michigan International Speedway is located in the peaceful Irish Hills area of Southern Michigan. The peace will be interrupted for a few hours as the NASCAR stars and fans fill the air with rumbling and roars. A nice way to break the peace.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel