Hoping For A Grand Day

15002Jpg
Share:
Not much has gone right for Johnny Benson and Bobby Labonte this season. At least Labonte has managed to stay healthy, though.

Labonte does have one victory, but he’s 18th in the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings. Eighteenth? Isn’t he the same guy who won the championship two years ago?

Benson is still looking for his first Winston Cup victory. Many thought this could be the year Benson broke through that barrier, but all he’s broken this year is bones.

Yet here are the two Pontiac drivers at the front of the New Hampshire 300 field. Benson qualified second Friday, moving Labonte to third for Sunday’s race at the difficult 1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway.

For Benson, qualifying second was his best of the season, a season with more broken or cracked ribs as top-10 finishes. Benson has competed in 21 of the 26 races after being forced to the sidelines twice because of injuries.

He broke one rib and cracked two others in a Busch Series crash at Richmond in May, and then broke two different ribs in a crash during the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July.

The second accident forced him to watch the first NHIS race from a recliner at his house.

“I have a lot nicer seat this time,” Benson said. “Last time I was at home watching on television. Driving is a lot more fun than watching. I don’t know how much different this race will be compared to last time NASCAR was up there. I hope we aren’t battling the track like the guys were the first time. That looked pretty wild.

“Whenever you race a second time at the same track the race is usually better. I think that’s because we you arrive you pretty much have no idea what’s going to happen. But this time we will kind of have an idea what the track will do during long runs in the race. Jerry Nadeau did a great job for me in July and I think (crew chief) James (Ince) and the guys will have a pretty good car for me on Sunday.”

The car was obviously pretty good in qualifying, as Benson went faster than all but one guy.

“We were pretty happy with practice,” Benson said. “When we unloaded the car we were only about 25th quick, but we made a couple of changes. James Ince and the guys are just doing a tremendous job. They got the car a little bit more comfortable for me, and by the end of practice we were second on the sheet, and that’s where we ended up in qualifying.”

Benson seems to be getting more comfortable after coming back from the injury. He’s qualified or finished in the Top 10 in three of the last four races. That’s not much to celebrate, but then again Benson hasn’t done much celebrating this season.
“I’m in good shape,” Benson said. “When I wrecked at Daytona I broke totally different ribs than I did in Richmond. I think I’m in OK shape now. Obviously I don’t want to hit anything, but by the same token I think we’re fine.”

Labonte said his team is doing fine, too. Labonte doesn’t have the excuse of broken ribs, but Benson almost has as many top-10 finishes as Labonte. A puzzling season of 2001 has been followed by another puzzling season, and somehow the championship year seems like a long time ago.

But Labonte says the team has weathered the storm and is starting to revert to its 2000 form.

“We’ve made a turn and we’ve got the program going in all areas now,” Labonte said. “We’ve got to keep working on it and make sure that it turns out really good. It’s something that we’ve been working on. Here lately, we’ve kind of hit upon the right combination, and that is a good thing.

“We just need to make sure we finish it off. Lately we seem to be able to run good at the beginning of the race and in the middle portions, but we just can’t seem to finish the races off like that. That’s what we need to keep working on.”

Since Daytona, Labonte has finished 11th or better five times. That won’t win championships, but it’s a lot better than 41st, 34th and 32nd – which Labonte did midway through the year.

At New Hampshire, Labonte and crew chief Jimmy Makar worked magic similar to their title year.

“We started off 30th or something in practice right off the bat, and we were a little tighter than we were last time here,” Labonte said. “We made a few changes on the car, and it got better as we went. We ran quite a few laps in practice and kept making changes, and finally we made our bonsai run before practice was over, and we ended up fifth. We just kept making the right changes.

“Jimmy and all of the guys worked real hard on this car because it’s the same one I hit Johnny with last week, as a matter of fact, but he got the better end of it. The guys did a great job working on it replacing the nose, the fenders, the hood and all of that stuff to get back here this weekend. This is the same car we qualified fourth with last time here. I didn’t get to start fourth because I crashed on Saturday morning, so now I have to be careful Saturday morning.”

Labonte is hoping for the best. After a year like he’s had, sometimes that’s all you can do.

“We’ll practice Saturday morning the best we can and see if we can’t get our car working really good,” Labonte said. “We had a good car last time and finished 13th after we had to make an extra pit stop there at the end, so really that’s the key for us to just try and get our car as fast as we can right now and not worry about anything else.”

Photos

  • Class of 2017
  • Class of 2017
  • Class of 2017
  • Class of 2017
  • Class of 2017
  • Class of 2017
  • Class of 2017
  • Class of 2017
  • Class of 2017
  • Carl Edwards Stepping Away
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards' NASCAR Career
  • Carl Edwards Stepping Away
  • Class of 2017: Benny Parsons
  • Class of 2017: Benny Parsons
  • Class of 2017: Benny Parsons
  • Class of 2017: Benny Parsons
  • Class of 2017: Benny Parsons
  • Class of 2017: Benny Parsons
  • Class of 2017: Benny Parsons

Advertisement

You may unsubscribe at any time.
Motor Racing Network
555 MRN Drive
Concord, NC 28027
www.mrn.com/Footer/Contact-Us.aspx
(704)262-6700
feedback@mrn.com
  • © 2017 MRN. All Rights Reserved

    FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousLinkedInGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksLive (MSN)

    ISC Track Sites