ATLANTA - Johnny Benson returns to the North Carolina Speedway at Rockingham on Sunday for the Subway 400. The raceway is special for the former American Speed Association and NASCAR Busch Series champion because it's where he won his first, and only, race in his seven-year career on the Winston Cup Series. Benson talked with racing writer Don Coble about going back to the 1.017-mile, D-shaped oval for the first time since he won there on Nov. 3, 2002.
Q: Are you confident about returning to Rockingham after winning there last fall?
A: "Absolutely. Rockingham has always been a track where we've run pretty decent. Sometimes we haven't had good finishes, but by the same token we've always run good there. We're comfortable with the racetrack. It's the type of racetrack that I like to race on. I was finally glad we were able to win. We've been close in the Busch Series and had had a bunch of top fives in Winston Cup too. I feel good going into it."
Q: Is a track like Rockingham tougher on your body than at Daytona?
A: "Daytona, probably yes. A lot of that is a mental factor ñ dealing with the traffic you have to deal with. You could go down through all the tracks on a list and probably say that most all the tracks are mentally challenging and some are more physical than others. I would say that Rockingham is probably more physical than Daytona. Rockingham is a track where you do a lot of slipping and sliding and have to do a lot of sawing on the steering wheel. So yeah, it can tire you out. But it's a neat racetrack to race on."
Q: When you wake up on a Monday morning after a race on a short track or an intermediate track (like Rockingham), can you tell whether or not your car was handling right based on sore points you have on your body?
A: "No, not really. Sometimes if your car is not handling well and you're at the mid-pack or at the back, it seems like you have to work harder. But by the same token, being up front at any of the Winston Cup races nowadays, you're working just as hard to keep up front. I don't know if there is technically a difference because you're still sliding the car around to either catch a car or keep it from pushing. So, physically, you're doing the same thing running up front as you are in the back except for the fact that maybe your car is a little quicker as opposed to a little slower."
Q: If the car is not running right, do your legs and arms hurt from having to struggle with the handling?
A: "It's like walking up steps. The longer the steps are, the more your legs are going to hurt. So if you're pedaling the gas more, your leg should hurt more. So I guess if you want to look at it that way then, sure. You're going to feel some difference."
Q: Have you had a chance to watch the video of your victory at Rockingham?
A: "Actually, no. I have seen a couple of clips of it ñ at least the last 10 laps of it. As far as the race goes, the important one was the last one (lap). I watched a little bit of it at the end. You always watch certain things to see what you could do differently. It was one of those days that everything went right for us. There wasn't a lot to look at to learn from. But it was definitely a great race for us. A lot of people have commended us for winning that race and a lot of that has to do with the team. They gave us a good racecar for that day. James Ince did a tremendous job on the calls he made for the race."
Q: What, if anything, did your first win do to soothe your past emotions about racing well and almost winning?
A: "I'd won in everything that I've raced - except for the Winston Cup Series - until last year. I just felt we could get it done. If you keep knocking on that door, you're going to win one. There were so many years we were so close. But I never thought we were never going to win one. I still feel like we have more wins in us. We just have to do it maybe in a little quicker manner than we did in the past."
Q: What race sticks out in our mind as the win that got away?
A: "Well, there's every one that you finish second, third, fourth, or fifth in that you could go back and wish you would have done this or that or, what could we have done that could have made us better in that area. I think running the Brickyard back in '96 in my rookie year was something. We had pretty good control of the race. We ran good and led a lot of laps. We were in position to win that race that kind of got away from us on a pit stop. I can think of (a race at) Darlington where the same thing happened. We were running extremely well and leading the race when we had an issue where the pit stop could have - it's really hard to say what would have happened - that cost us some positions.
"Martinsville is another one where we ran extremely strong. We were right there but weren't able to quite get in the lead there at the end. You could sit there and probably do that for every race that you finished in the top five and wish you would have done this or that."