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Johnny Benson on a Mission

7 February 1999

Daytona Beach, FL-February 6, 1998

Johnny Benson is a man on a mission. After missing the Daytona 500 in 1998, Benson has set out in 1999 to attack the grueling Winston Cup season one race at a time. The key word for Benson in 1999 is "consistency." The Grand Rapids, Michigan native burst on to the Winston Cup scene in 1996 garnering Rookie of the Year honors in the process. In 1996, Benson won a pole at Michigan, finished in the top five one time and finished in the top ten 6 times. By season's end, Benson finished 21st in the points standings as well as winning $947,000.00 in prize money. Benson appeared well on the way toward Winston Cup stardom. To achieve stardom status in Winston Cup two items are required. Talent, which Benson has in abundance, and a healthy dose of luck. Unfortunately 1997 was a learning year but not a lucky year for Benson. Paired with the Bahari Pennzoil sponsored raceteam , Benson won 1 pole and finished in the top ten eight times. Garnering $1,256,457.00 in 1997 Benson finished in 11th place in the standings, just missing the season-ending podium dais by an eyelash. 1998, it appeared, would be the year to break through.

Benson's driving talent was noted by mega-team owner Jack Roush. The chance to drive for a top-level team in Winston Cup had arrived. The optimistic anticipation of a new year in 1998 was turned to ashes during the 125 mile qualifier for the Daytona 500. Benson, needing to finish in the top 15, came home in 24th place and was out of the Daytona 500 field. Not exactly a great way to start your season with a new team. None the less, Benson remained optimistic toward the remaining 32 races. The next race at Rockingham was a mixed bag. Benson qualified 8th but finished in 30th place. The communication between driver and crew chief was missing something. Sometimes a change of scenery will rejuvenate the soul. Whatever the reason, Benson bounced back with a vengeance at the third race of the year at Las Vegas with a strong fourth place showing. Maybe Vegas was going to be the turn around race for the team. For the next four races, Benson and his Cheerios team finished in the top ten. Grabbing two consecutive fifth place finishes at two difficult (Bristol and Texas) tracks it certainly looked that it would be just a matter of time before Benson earned his first victory.

The next ten races could only be described as a roller-coaster ride. Two poor finishes (38th at Martinsville and 41st at Talladega) followed by two good finishes (8th at California and 9th at Charlotte) were just the beginning of the hills and valleys. A 41st place finish at Dover in June and 41st at Rockingham in October would become the low-points of the season.

Benson would have to build on the highs and lows. Learning from the experiences of both, Benson was able to achieve only five top twenty finishes over the remaining races of the season. But a bright spot to build on for the future was emerging from the shadows. Qualifying second at the October Rockingham race gave everyone optimism for 1999. From that point the Cheerios team decided to turn it's resources toward 1999.

So what will happen in 1999 for Benson? Only time will tell of course but be assured of one thing. Johnny Benson will be giving his all looking to find that little bit of luck and that word called "consistency."

David Treffer -- The Auto Channel