Johnny Benson ended one of the longest winless streaks in NASCAR by holding off Mark Martin to win the Pop Secret 400 for his first victory in 226 starts yesterday in Rockingham, N.C.
Benson, widely considered the best driver to never win a Winston Cup race, led the final 28 laps but had to battle Martin over the final dozen laps at North Carolina Speedway.
"I thought for a couple of years that I'd never get a win," Benson said. "I was always going to be the best guy who never won a race."
Martin, in the thick of the Winston Cup championship chase, was racing for the win and several times drove his Ford onto the bumper of Benson's Pontiac.
When he could not bump Benson out of the way, he tried to pass him in the lower grooves of the racetrack.
None of it worked and Benson, 39, beat him to the finish line by .261 seconds to become the fifth first-time winner this season.
"I'm glad for Johnny; he's a whale of a race car driver," Martin said. "It's a shame it's taken him this long, but I'm happy for him.
"I put a lot of pressure on him there at the end and he made no mistakes. That's what I was hoping for, but I was not expecting it because I've raced Johnny a lot."
Afterward, Martin's No. 6 Ford failed inspection because the left-front springs did not meet the minimum number of coils. NASCAR will punish the team next week, and the standard penalty this season has been a deduction of 25 championship points.
That would be a huge loss to Martin, who sliced Tony Stewart's lead to 87 points today. Stewart was 14th.
Kurt Busch was third and Jeff Burton took fourth, giving Roush Racing three Fords in the top four.
* CART: In Fontana, Calif., Jimmy Vasser charged past Michael Andretti on a restart two laps from the end of the Toyota 500 and pulled away for an easy victory in the fastest 500-mile race.
Andretti apparently was on the way to a win at California Speedway before Dario Franchitti's engine trouble brought out a yellow flag that led to a nine-minute pause in the action four laps from the end of the 250-lap race.
Vasser's winning speed of 197.995 mph easily beat the previous 500-mile record of 189.727 mph set by Al Unser Jr. in 1990 in a CART race in Michigan.