Originally created 08/16/97

Benson gets big surprise



BROOKLYN, Mich. - It was the best of all homecomings Friday for Johnny Benson at Michigan Speedway.

Benson, born and raised a few miles up the road in Grand Rapids, earned the second pole of his NASCAR Winston Cup career - and first this season - with a speed of 183.332 mph in his Pontiac Grand Prix for Sunday's DeVilbiss 400.

"It caught me by surprise," Benson said. "I figured we'd qualify anywhere from fifth to 10th. We ran 10th in our practice run. We'd have been happy if we would have qualified fifth or 10th. This just makes us a little more happier."

Mark Martin's Ford Thunderbird will start beside Benson, on the outside of the first row, after turning the 2-mile oval at 182.945. Ricky Craven got his Chevrolet Monte Carlo around in 182.927 and will start down low on the second row, just behind Benson.

"When you've qualified as bad as we have the past two weeks, that'll have to do," said Craven, who started 41st at the Brickyard 400 and 39th last week at Watkins Glen. "We just had to get it going."

The only other pole for Benson, who was the NASCAR Winston Cup rookie of the year in 1996, came in last season's Purcolator 500 at Atlanta.

"It was pretty good today," Benson said. "We were good between turns 1 and 2, and a little tight between 3 and 4."

The team's strategy was mainly to observe the car and see how it would respond to the speedway's high-banked turns.

"Michigan is famous for loosening up," Benson said. "So, we didn't touch the car. We just left it alone."

Benson has never won a race. His best finish this year was seventh - three times. His best finish at Michigan also was a seventh. That came in last year's August race.

"It's great to be home here in Michigan," said Benson, who now resides in Charlotte, N.C. "It's been a fun week and this has topped it off."

It was the third pole this season for Pontiac, but the first time a Pontiac had ever won the pole for an August race at Michigan since the speedway opened in 1969. Ford and Chevrolet each have eight poles this season.

The last time Pontiac won a pole at Michigan was the June 1996 race.

The qualifying was far off the track record of 186.611 by Jeff Gordon for in Miller 400 qualifying on June 16, 1995.

Jeff Burton, the defending pole winner for the August race at Michigan - formerly the GM Goodwrench 400 - was fifth-fastest this time with a speed of 182.648, only slightly faster than Dale Jarrett's 182.764.

Starting up front pays off at Michigan. In the 56 Winston Cup races held at the facility, the winner has come from the first five rows 49 times. The pole winner has won 13 times.

Still, there is little else that is consistent. The last 12 Winston Cup races at Michigan, going back to 1992, have had 12 different pole winners.

A heavy morning rain delayed the start of qualifying by 90 minutes. The sun came out while the cars practiced, but gray clouds moved back over the 2-mile oval around 4 p.m., about 30 minutes before qualifying was to begin.

About halfway through the session, the clouds broke up and the run was finished in sunshine with long shadows slanting across the high-banked track and a stiff breeze blowing the flags straight out on the top of the grandstand.

Benson became the 15th different pole winner in 19 events this season. Qualifying was rained out at Richmond and Texas.