Jonathan Benson, Jr. (born June 27, 1963 in Grand Rapids, Michigan) is a NASCAR driver and the son of former Michigan modified driver John Benson, Sr. His career highlights include the 1993 American Speed Association AC-Delco Challenge series championship, the 1995 Busch Series championship, the 1996 Winston Cup NASCAR Rookie of the Year award, and the 2008 Craftsman Truck Series championship. Despite being the defending champion, Benson is currently a free agent.
Johnny Benson, Jr. was late model champion at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan before joining the American Speed Association (ASA) in 1990, During Benson Jr's rookie season in the ASA he captured one pole position, led 174 laps and scored eight top 10 finishes to blitz the competition for the ASA"s Pat Schauer rookie of the Year award . In 1991 Benson compiled 13 top 10's including four second place finishes. Benson ranked fourth in the ASA AC-Delco Challenge Series in 1991. Benson later when on to win the 1993 American Speed Association (ASA) champion. During his time in the ASA series he drove the # 21 Valvoline Chevrolet for Throop Motorsports.
In 1993, Benson made his Busch Series debut at Michigan International Speedway, driving the #41 Delco Remy Chevrolet for Ernie Irvan. He started 20th, but finished 40th after an early crash. He ran three more races that season in the #74 Staff America Chevy for BACE Motorsports, qualifying third at Hickory Motor Speedway. His best finish was an eighteenth at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Benson was hired to drive full-time for BACE in 1994. He won his first career race at the SplitFire 200 and finished sixth in points, winning Rookie of the Year honors. The following season, Benson won early in the season at Atlanta and Hickory and had nineteen top-tens, winning the championship. He also began running in the Truck Series in the #18 Performance Friction Chevrolet Silverado for Kurt Roehig. In his first season, his best finish was a second at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The following season, he won the pole at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
In 1996, he moved up to the Winston Cup Series. A series Benson's father John Benson, Sr competed in for one race back in 1973 . He joined the #30 Pennzoil team owned by Bahari' Racing. He failed to qualify for one race at the Food City 500, but won the 1996 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year title. He won one pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In August he dominated the Brickyard 400 before a problem on the last pitstop that ended his chances for victory. He ended the season with seven top-tens and was 21st in points. He was invited to the 1996 International Race of Champions as the reigning Busch Series champion, and finished third in the final points, finishing in the Top 10 in all four races.
In 1997, Benson had nine top-tens, but did not finish in the top-five once. He won his second career pole at Michigan and finished outside of the top 10 by one point to Ken Schrader. At the end of the season he announced he would be joining Roush Racing to run the brand-new #26 General Mills/Cheerios Ford Taurus.
He missed the season opening Daytona 500, then finished 30th at the following race. He then had a streak of no finishes worse than ninth over the next five races and rose as high as tenth in points, before he finished 38th and 41st in the next two races. For the rest of the seaon, his best finish was ninth and he qualified no higher than second. He finished 21st in points. Benson had numerous crew chiefs in 1999. He had two top 10 finishes and finished 28th in the final standings. After a long negotiation, he was able to buy out his contract and announced he would leave Roush.
At the start of the 2000 Winston Cup Series Season Johnny found himself without a sponsor when he signed on to join Tyler Jet Motorsports to run the #10 car. The team showed up at Daytona Speedweeks with a white unsponsored Pontiac Grand Prix. Lycos.com signed on to be the team's sponsor for the year on the morning of the Daytona 500. During the race Johnny and crew chief James Ince gambled on a late pitstop when they took only 2 right side tires and fuel, to come out with the lead with 43 laps to go. He held off the field until Jimmy Spencer brought out the caution in the final 10 laps. On the restart with 4 laps to go Benson was leading with Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton right behind. Jarrett bid his time in the closing laps and going into turn one Jarrett passed him for the win while Benson slid back in 12th. Benson finished sixth in the third race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and was eleventh in points. At the next race at Atlanta, Benson did not qualify in first-round qualifying, and he missed the race after the second round was canceled. Benson finished second three weeks later.
At the July Pepsi 400, the Tyler Jet Motorsports car showed up at Daytona again with a white car. During the weekend before the race the team removed the Lycos.com decals. Reports say that it was because Lycos never paid.
Tyler Jet went sponsorless for the next 4 races when Aaron's came aboard right before the team shut down. During the sponsorless run the team was sold to MB2 Motorsports. In August, Valvoline announced they would not only sponsor the team but become part owner. Benson finished in thirteenth place in the final points. He had a career high second in the points following the Spring Darlington Race. He finished third at Texas and Indianapolis. He did not win a points race although he won the pole for the Winston Open on his way to winning the non-points race after the problems that leader Ryan Newman in the #02 Altell Ford suffered late in the race, finishing eleventh in final points.
The 2002 season started out with a 10th place finish in the Daytona 500 despite a crash early in the race. In May, Benson agree to race in the Richmond Busch Series race for Marsh Racing in the 31 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet. Benson was involved in a wreck in the early stages of the races and ended up with broken ribs and he missed three Cup races. At the Pepsi 400 in Daytona he started sixth, and on the eighth lap he got together with Michael Waltrip. Benson ended up rebreaking his ribs which put him out of action for two more races. At Loudon. Johnny started second, led 53 of 207 laps, and finished fourth. Benson had a career-best second place finish at the Martinsville Speedway On November 3, he started 26th in the 43 car field at the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400. With 50 laps to go he was running in fifth, and with 28 laps left he passed Mark Martin for the lead who had Valvoline as his sponsor for many years. In the last 10 laps other drivers were running out of gas including his teammate Ken Schrader, but held off Martin by 0.26 seconds to win the race.
Benson was sixth in points after the first 4 races in 2003. Benson had Top 5 finishes at Dover and Homestead, and finished 24th in the points. Valvoline decided to release Johnny to go with rookie driver Scott Riggs after the season was over.
Busch and Trucks: 2004-2009Edit
2004 started off with Johnny signing on with Phoenix Racing to run the full 2004 Busch Series schedule. Benson won his first Busch career pole at Rockingham, but a rules violation relegated him to last place. He was poised to win at Bristol in the spring until Benson was caught up in a late race incident between Kevin Harvick and David Stremme. Benson was also involved in a crash between the top 4 drivers at Nashville while racing for the win, and parted ways with Phoenix before the Richmond race. He also drove four races in Phoenix's #09 Cup ride, his best finish 27th at Daytona.
Over the next few months Johnny ran one Busch race for Matt Kenseth. In August he was offered a ride in the Bill Davis Racing #23 truck in the Craftsman Truck Series. Johnny had eight Top 10 finishes in thirteen races. Benson had ten Top 10 finishes in 25 races, and 10th in the 2005 points standings. He ran four Busch races, one for FitzBradshaw Racing, and another for Smith Bros. Racing, finishing 18th at Nashville. He also had three Cup starts, two of them in the #00 Sara Lee Chevy for Michael Waltrip, and another in the #23 Dodge Intrepid for Davis Racing. He finished 28th at Atlanta.
He won his first Craftsman Truck Series race at the 2006 Con-way Freight 200 at the Michigan International Speedway. With the win, Johnny became the seventeenth driver that won a race in all three of NASCAR's major series. He has also won a pole in each of the three series. He followed with a back-to-back win at the Toyota Tundra Milwaukee 200 at Milwaukee Mile. His third win of the season was at the Toyota Tundra 200 at Nashville Speedway. His fourth win of the season was at the Sylvania 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Johnny won his fifth race of the year at the Casino Arizona 150 at Phoenix International Raceway. Benson finished the 2006 season in second place, 127 behind Todd Bodine. He was named the series' Most Popular Driver for 2006.
For the 2007 season, Benson continued to drive in the #23 truck for Bill Davis Racing. He finished the season in third place with four wins: the Toyota Tundra Milwaukee 200 at Milwaukee Mile, the O'Reilly 200 presented by Valvoline Maxlife at Bristol, the Missouri/Illinois Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200 at Gateway International Raceway, and the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Benson was named the series' Most Popular Driver for the second year in row, becoming the first driver to repeat as award recipient.
Benson drove the #23 truck in the 2008 Craftsman Truck Series, winning the series championship in the last race of the season. With the CTS title, he became the second driver to win both the Busch Grand National (now Nationwide) Series and Craftsman Truck Series championships (Greg Biffle accomplished this in 2002). In addition, to date he joins a list of only 3 drivers to ever win at least one championship in more than one of the three main title series. His first win of the season came at the Camping World RV Sales 200 at the Milwaukee Mile, the third consecutive race that Benson has won as Milwaukee Mile. His second, third, and fourth wins came at the Built Ford Tough 225 at Kentucky Speedway, the Power Stroke Diesel 200 at O'Reilly Raceway Park, and the Toyota Tundra 200 at Nashville Superspeedway. With this series of wins, he became the fifth driver in the Craftsman Truck Series to win three races in a row. His fifth win of the year came at the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway. Benson was named the series' Most Popular Driver for the third year in row.
Benson returned to NEXTEL Cup racing by driving the Wyler Racing #46 Toyota Camry in the 2007 Crown Royal Presents The Jim Stewart 400 and the Bill Davis Racing #36 Toyota Camry in the Checker Auto Parts 500 and Ford 400. In 2008, after a the deal for Jacques Villeneuve to drive the Bill Davis Racing #27 Toyota Camry fell through, it was announced that Benson and Mike Skinner would share driving duties for the #27. Benson failed to qualify in his first appearance in 2008 at the Kobalt Tools 500.
On November 6, 2008, Benson announced that he would not be returning to Bill Davis Racing after the 2008 season. On December 8, 2008, Benson announced that he would be joining the Red Horse Racing team to drive the #1 Toyota Tundra in the 2009 season. Benson's crew chief from the 2008 season, Trip Bruce, also joined the #1 team. On June 8, 2009, it was announced that Red Horse Racing was having to suspend the #1 due to a lack of sponsorship.
On June 13, 2009 Benson was burned in a fiery crash in an ISMA Supermodifieds race at Berlin Raceway. He was transported to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital with injuries to his ribs, a puncture to his lung, a bruised wrist, and minor burns.
- ↑ Ungrey, Steve (2009-06-13). "Johnny Benson transported to hospital after crash in Berlin Raceway supermodifieds race", Grand Rapids Press. Retrieved on 2009-06-14.
- ↑ Ungrey, Steve (2009-06-14). "Grand Rapids' Johnny Benson upgraded to stable condition after crash at Berlin Raceway", Grand Rapids Press. Retrieved on 2009-06-15.