For the third consecutive year, Johnny Benson and his #10 Valvoline MBV Motorsports team have come to NASCAR's newest track and been a threat to win the race. But just like the previous races something happened near the end of the race to ruin their day.

In Sunday's Banquet 400 at the 1.5-mile tri-oval, Benson moved as high as third and appeared to be as fast as any car on the track. Then the bad luck reared its head like it did in 2001 when Benson was in second place and his engine broke. Or like last year when he was destined for a top-10 finish and got caught up in a wreck in the closing laps.

On Sunday he was fourth on lap 209 of 267, ready to resume his charge to the front when he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. collided under caution.

The damage on the Valvoline car's right side was so extensive he had to give up track position and come in for repairs. He returned to the track mired deep in the field and with just 30 laps to go it seemed he would settle for a top-15 finish.

But things got worse. Mark Martin hit Benson on the front stretch on lap 238 sending him into the wall ending his afternoon in Kansas.

Benson literally didn't know what hit him.

"I was just riding down the front stretch and the next thing I know I got turned around," said the aggrieved Michigan native. "I'm not sure who was behind me, but they ran into us. It's the first time I've wrecked on the straightaway, which is kind of odd," Benson said.

"The Valvoline Pontiac was running pretty good and I thought we were going to have a pretty good run, but we got the fender knocked off by Junior doing that lucky dog deal and that put us behind. It's our fault for getting ourselves in that position."

Benson said Sunday's race could have turned the season around.

"It is hard to describe how disappointed all of us are right now," Benson said after being checked out at the medical centre. "Our guys worked really hard all weekend and gave me one of the fastest cars on the track. We really thought we had something for them today and then all that happens. It's just real disappointing."

Benson's early race was a slow steady march to the front as the crew worked to perfect the handling of the Pontiac.

"It's just sliding the nose in the turns," Benson said. "Lets keep doing four tires and I think it will come to us in the long runs."

That it did.

Benson moved to eighth during a pit sequence on lap 106 then drove past the next five spots to move into third.

"The only car here that can match you is (Bill Elliott) so just be smooth and take car of this thing," Interim Crew Chief Jay Guy told Benson.

But on lap 209 Dale Earnhardt Jr. was driving up on the right side of Benson to make up his lap and Earnhardt's left rear hit Benson's right front damaging the sheet metal. Benson was forced to pit road and returned to the track in 21st.

"Track position is everything here," Benson said. "Your car handles one way in clean air and another way in dirty air and I think everyone was having trouble in dirty air today."

Benson turned in some decent times but not like he had before. Late in the race Mark Martin approached Benson and the two made contact on the front stretch sending Benson into the wall and leaving him with a 35th- place finish.

The race ran caution free after Benson's accident with Ryan Newman stretching fuel mileage to gain the victory.

Benson and his teammates return to action Saturday night at Charlotte.



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