After the 2009 accident in a Super Modified that left him in serious condition, as well as bruised and battered, Johnny Benson has fully recuperated and simply cannot hide how much he is itching to get back behind the wheel of a race car or truck.
[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”290″][/media-credit]”Physically I’m feeling great,” Benson said. “We obviously had a little accident a little while awhile ago but I’m really good on that end and enjoying my time at the moment, working in my shop and building and selling race cars, the Outlaw Late Model stuff.”
“I’m staying busy but not busy enough.”
While he continues to pursue a ride, the former NASCAR Nationwide and Truck Series champ is keeping busy coaching one of the sport’s most visible up and comers, Danica Patrick. Benson was tapped by Patrick’s crew chief Tony Eury Jr. to assist her in her development in the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Nationwide ride for JR Motorsports.
“I have been helping Danica a little bit,” Benson said. “Tony Eury Jr. called me and wondered if I’d come give a hand. He was trying to be both coach and crew chief and as we talked he really wanted to focus on the race car.”
“I’ve always admired the work he’s done and because he called is why I did it,” Benson continued. “That’s why I’m there.”
“They have a great race team and I’m impressed with how they work and their rapport,” Benson said. “It’s a good group of guys and that on my end is pretty cool to see.”
“And to work with Danica is a pretty neat deal,” Benson continued. “Hopefully we are giving her the advice and help she needs.”
“It’s been working out great,” Benson said. “Danica’s doing a great job and we’re just helping her out in the areas she needs for stock car racing.”
Benson is no stranger to the coaching and mentoring role. Last year, he worked with Trevor Bayne, the 20 year old that this year won NASCAR’s most prestigious event, the Daytona 500.
What is the secret to Benson’s mentoring success, with both Bayne and now Danica Patrick?
“I can’t tell you everything I’m telling her,” Benson said playfully. “I think a whole lot of it is just trying to get her acclimated with the stock cars.”
“They are very different than the Indy cars,” Benson continued. “Some of the things that I see from Indy car drivers coming to the stock cars is that they do not like loose race cars. And unfortunately you have to be able to do some of that.”
“Going fast for her is not a huge issue,” Benson said. “But getting the car to go faster in practice and faster yet in the race has been a bit more challenging for her.”
Benson is working with Patrick to as to the feel of the race car, as well as not being such a perfectionist during practice. He also has been coaching her on different lines around the race track.
“She’s got a good feel of the car,” Benson said. “I’ve been impressed with that. It’s just a matter of trying to narrow that down from practice to the race.”
“She wants it perfect for practice and every driver does,” Benson continued. “But I’m trying to show her what’s going to be good for the race.”
“Practice doesn’t do anything but give her track time,” Benson said. “But when we’re good in practice, we may not be good in the race and she’s understanding that now.”
“I’m changing her line on the track and where she needs to run,” Benson said. “That’s something that every driver tries to accomplish from practice into the race. It’s just helping her close those gaps.”
After mentoring Patrick to a fourth place finish at Las Vegas, the highest ever for a female in NASCAR history, Benson set his sights to guiding her around Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend.
“She ran a great race,” Benson said, in spite of Patrick’s on-track incident with Ryan Truex leading to a 29th place finish and a totally wrecked race car. “We wanted to run as many laps as possible and stay out of trouble.”
“She ran good, she was passing cars and she did well there,” Benson continued. “She had an unfortunate incident late in the race but it was just a racing deal.”
“She was frustrated but it happens so fast there that it’s just one of those scenarios,” Benson said. “You chalk that up to experience and move forward. It’s too bad she’s not racing this weekend rather than waiting a month or two to get back in again.”
Because of her IndyCar schedule, Benson will also now go on hiatus as far as coaching Ms. Patrick.
“The three race deal was strictly because she’s going back to do the Indy stuff right now,” Benson said. “She needs to concentrate on it because that’s her main job.”
“At this time I was just going to help her out until that time comes,” Benson continued. “Hopefully I can help her some more. There’s some areas that we can still work on.”
“Hopefully, I will get that opportunity…if I’m not doing anything.”
“I’m still looking for a ride,” Benson said. “I’d love to be able to go run for a championship in the Truck Series but obviously we can’t do that this year. But yeah, I’m still looking for a ride with someone that can run a bunch of races.”
“It’s obviously going pretty slow, but I’m still hopeful.”
What Benson misses most is simple. He desperately wants to compete again.
“I miss the competition,” Benson said. “I’ve always built race cars from the ground up and that’s what I like.”
“I like building new cars and going out and proving them on the track,” Benson continued. “That’s what I enjoy the most. And of course racing at the NASCAR level, that’s the biggest part of what I enjoy.”
“I really want to run the Truck Series,” Benson said. “That would be in my mind the best case scenario.”
“I would run for a Nationwide championship,” Benson continued. “As far as the Cup stuff, I don’t really see many opportunities there and I don’t necessarily believe in the ‘start and park’ deal, so I don’t know that I’d venture down that road.”
“But if it comes down where I can’t run for a championship in the Truck or Nationwide Series, my next one I’d like to run for a championship is in the Super Modifieds.”
“I’ve got an Outlaw Late Model Championship, an ASA Championship, a Nationwide Championship and a Truck Series Championship,” Benson said. “So, I’d like to get one in another series. I think that’d be really cool.”
“I don’t have that many years in the NASCAR side, but I’ve got a lot of racing left in me that’s for sure,” Benson said. “And I’ve got a couple of championships left in me. That’s also for sure.”