Defending Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 winner Johnny Benson battled back from two laps down in the first half of Sunday's race at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. But, the second half of the 393-lap event wasn't nearly as much fun as he failed to make it two wins in a row in the autumn event at The Rock and finished his penultimate race for MBV Motorsports in 29th position.

An untimely caution flag coupled with chassis problems late in the race dropped Benson three of the five laps he finished behind the leaders and left him just inside the top 30 in a race filled with incident, accident and ill-timed caution periods.

"Last year was a lot more fun," joked Benson who won this race last season. "We struggled early today, but got our laps back and things were looking pretty good and then something broke on the car and we struggled the second half of the race. We weren't that bad but a yellow got us down two of those laps and we lost the other when NASCAR said we didn't beat the pace car out when we were working on the car. We didn't agree with the penalty but there isn't much you can do about it."

Benson started 25th but reported handling troubles immediately. He lost a lap to the leaders on lap 50 and then came into the pits for new tires on lap 55 dropping him down two more laps. The faster tires enabled him to regain one of the lost laps but a yellow fell before the leaders pitted and Benson was down two laps.

Benson passed the leaders on a lap 84 restart and caution to regain one of the laps and then returned to the lead lap through the Lucky Dog rule on lap 103.

"We thought we were going to be OK then," Benson said. "But we weren't." He gained spots and moved up to about 20th but the leaders passed him on lap 220.

Benson reported that something broke on the car. The crew checked for a broken shock and track bar but could make no quick fix for the problem.

Benson came in for new tires just before a lap 240 caution dropping Benson down two more laps. NASCAR said the Valvoline Pontiac didn't beat the pace car off pit road and Benson fell another lap down.

While Benson struggled, Bill Elliott won his first race of the year and Matt Kenseth claimed his first Winston Cup title.

The 2003 Winston Cup season ends this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway where Benson will make his final appearance in the #10 Valvoline Pontiac before Scott Riggs takes over in 2004.

 

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