Originally created 11/04/02

Benson's streaks ends at 226



ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - It's long been said that Mark Martin was the best driver on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series to never win a championship and Johnny Benson was the best driver to never win a race.

Both took huge steps Sunday to change all that.

Benson won the Pop Secret Popcorn 400 at the North Carolina Speedway, and Martin's second-place finish allowed him to cut 59 points off Tony Stewart's lead in the point standings.

After the race, Martin car failed inspection because the left-front springs did not meet the minimum number of coils. NASCAR will punish the team next week. Standard punishment this season has been a deduction of 25 championship points.

Benson drove the final 28 laps like a driver who was tired of losing. Martin pressed him in the final 12 laps, getting to his door a couple times, but Benson never backed off. By the final lap, Martin fell four car lengths behind and settled for second.

For Benson, who joined the Winston Cup Series in 1998, Sunday's victory was his first in 226 career starts. Apparently, it was worth the wait.

"We've been close so many times," he said. "We've had opportunities; we just haven't been able to pull it off at the end. But I knew (a victory) was going to come, if not today it was going to be next week at Phoenix."

The lead-lap cars stopped on the 293rd lap for fuel during a caution period. That meant all of them would stretch their final tank of gas to the end.

"They told me I was within a half a lap," Benson said of his chances of running out. "And they weren't sure which side of the finish line it would run out."

He easily finished, had enough gas to do a burnout in front of the main grandstands, but not enough to make it back to Victory Lane.

Kurt Busch finished third, followed by Jeff Burton in fourth, Jeff Gordon in fifth, Mike Skinner in sixth, Bobby Labonte in seventh, Matt Kenseth in eighth, Ricky Craven in ninth and Jeff Green in 10th. Craven and Green were out of gas at the finish.