Despite zero victories, Benson a model of consistency
By Stephen Thomas, CNNSI.com
After a one-week reprieve, Winston Cup drivers venture to Talladega Superspeedway this week. As teams prepare to tackle the series' biggest track (2.66 miles), we venture off the asphalt to question which driver has been the most consistent -- despite a nearly 200-point deficit in the championship race.
1. Yes, Dale Jarrett has won three races, but who is Mr. Consistency this year?
Jarrett can sit back and crow all he wants, the man can kick up his heels and tell the world all about his three wins, two other top-fives and that 123-point lead he has over Jeff Gordon in the points race (Has NASCAR announced him as the winner yet?). But there is a little matter of that 22nd-place finish in the Daytona 500. Excuse us, but: Dale, could you please explain that one?
And while you're at it, would you care to address the subject of Johnny Benson, only the most consistent driver of the year through eight races? Say what you will, point to the fact that Benson is a fairly distant third in the points race (Does anyone know if NASCAR has written him the check for third-place money yet?) all you want. And, sure, the negative Nellies among us will start talking smack about how Benson has yet to win one race ... ever. But, hey, taking pot shots is easy, isn't it?
Benson? He flat-out rules. When he finished 20th at Martinsville, it marked just the third time in eight races he has finished outside the top 7. True, when he does have an off day, it's something of a doozy (28th at Daytona and 26th at Bristol), but the fact remains that Benson is one of only five drivers in the top 10 to register as many as five top-10 finishes (the others are Jarrett and Gordon, obviously, and Sterling Marlin and Steve Park).
2. Did somebody say something about Steve Park?
Yes, somebody most certainly did say something about Park and if people want to waste time talking about how poor Benson, he of the emotion-tinged, fiscally challenged campaign in 2000 (Can't you just hear Chris Meyers? Who can forget his exciting charge in an unsponsored car at Daytona to inaugurate the 2000 season?) just hasn't gotten the attention and respect he deserves for an outstanding and consistent season, then peeps best be taking stock of the year Mr. Park is having ...
If Park isn't this year's poster child to raise awareness for the annual campaign on the subject of how bad the points system is, then no one is. Take away a 43rd in Atlanta and a 31st at Daytona -- was it his fault he got caught up in the big one? -- and Park's "average finish" is better than seventh.
Have both Jarrett and Gordon legitimately been better than Park this year? No doubt, but the DEI driver has won once, finished second twice, has two other top 10s and still he trails Benson and Marlin in the points. You figure it out.
3. Will someone -- please -- publicly join Bill Simpson at the forefront of safety?
As NASCAR continues its investigation into what might have caused Dale Earnhardt's death at Daytona, as drivers continue to debate the merits of improved safety devices like the Head and Neck Support, and as the circuit heads to infamous Talladega, Bill Simpson, long a force in the move to better driver safety, continues his efforts to make NASCAR's "harmonious cocoon" that much more ... melodious.
Despite the fact that the seat belt manufactured by Simpson's company was famously paraded -- though not directly named -- before the world by NASCAR as possibly having played an important role in Earnhardt's death, Simpson himself has remained steadfast in his refusal to accept the belt as having played any role whatsoever in the driver's death.
And while Simpson is diligently working to prove that his product bears no culpability in the accident, he is also working to ensure that his name will forever be properly associated with safety.
Recently, Simpson announced that his company, developing an alternative to the notorious and supposedly uncomfortable HANS device, would furnish the device, known as the SEARS device and which attaches the driver's helmet to his fire suit, free of charge to any driver who wanted to test it at Talladega this weekend.