News & Media

Notebook: Patrick hires Benson as driving mentor

March 04, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

LAS VEGAS -- Danica Patrick isn't one to turn down assistance when it comes to stock car racing -- she's even willing to pay for it.

On crew chief Tony Eury Jr.'s suggestion, Patrick hired veteran driver Johnny Benson as a mentor for her races at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Bristol.

Kobalt Tools 400

Race Lineup
2. M. Ambrose188.16628.698
3.C. Edwards188.12728.704
4.G. Biffle187.97028.728
5.Ky. Busch187.56528.790

"I said I'd like to meet him, so I met him at Daytona, and then he started the next weekend at Phoenix," Patrick said Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "[He's] just somebody that's got a good reputation around the paddock for helping drivers, and that's really what it comes down to. He was available, and that's how it happened."

Patrick soaks up information from many sources. Juan Montoya has made it a point to offer constructive suggestions. On Friday at Las Vegas, Patrick watched Sprint Cup practice as an invitee of Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief.

"I've gotten to know Chad over the last year or so, actually, from Daytona of last year," Patrick said. "That was the first time we really got together. I went out to dinner with him. I like him, and we get along really well. He said, 'You've got to get over to the Cup garage and check it out. We've got a headset for you. You can listen in.'

"For me, it's really interesting to hear the drivers and to hear how they talk about the car and how they describe it and also potentially being able to figure out what things are important to the car and what is something you don't need to worry about. It's just all learning for me. ... It's more knowledge and more education about how they talk about the car.

Jeff Gordon goes for a quick spin

On his first practice lap Friday, Jeff Gordon, last week's winner, spun off Turn 4. Gordon avoided the wall and won't have to go to a backup car.

Goodyear has supplied the same right-side tires used at Daytona to the Cup teams this week, tires designed to provide more grip at the 1.5-mile speedway. Gordon said his No. 24 Chevrolet felt so comfortable that he was pushing it on his first practice lap.

"This tire takes a couple of laps to get some heat in it," Gordon said. "I think we're going to take a more conservative approach for those first couple of laps the rest of the day."

Martin closing in on Petty's record for career starts

When Mark Martin takes the green flag for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400, he will have started the 1,052nd NASCAR race of his career.

Though that total is nearly four full seasons short of Richard Petty's record 1,199 starts, it puts Martin in the conversation.

Whether he breaks Petty's record, Martin is justifiably proud of his performances.

"When I look back on it, I probably will be proud that there were quite a few quality starts in there, and I'll probably be proud of the quality of the level of competition that I brought to all those starts," said Martin, who started his first Cup race in 1981. "[I'm] not proud so much of the number of starts but proud of the level I managed to bring to it.

"At this point, I'm just happy that I can do what I love and still do it well."

Almost all of Petty's starts came in the Cup series. He made 15 starts in NASCAR's short-lived Convertible Division in the late '50s. Petty's career ran from 1958 to 1992. He did not race in the Nationwide Series, and the Truck Series didn't begin until 1995, three years after his retirement.

Martin has started 796 Cup races, eighth-most all time; 231 in the Nationwide Series and 23 in the Camping World Truck Series. Martin is also in Saturday's Sam's Town 300 Nationwide race at Las Vegas.

Whether he'll surpass Petty's record is an open question, given that Martin will need 150 starts to do so.

"That's quite a lot of starts," Martin said. "I'd say it's possible, but I haven't even thought about it. That's four more years of nearly full-time of some kind of NASCAR competition, so I don't know."