Allen Johnson has been treating the famed Western Swing as a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Countdown to 1, NHRA’s championship playoffs.
The way he figures, if his Team Mopar crew can put a lot of points on the board during the grueling three-week stretch of races near the end of NHRA’s 17-race regular season, it’ll give his team a small glimpse of what chasing the Pro Stock championship crown will be like come September.
As the team gears up for the third race in as many weeks, the 31st annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals near Denver, July 23-25, Johnson is hoping for a better outcome at scenic Bandimere Speedway. So far on the Western Swing, Johnson has two quarterfinal exits and earned a No. 1 qualifying position at Sonoma.
Johnson, the defending Pro Stock event champion at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, was joined in winner’s circle last year by Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle). The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event is televised on ESPN2 HD.
"We’ve pretended that we’re already in the Countdown and we’re trying to win races and do away with mistakes," Johnson said. "That’s what I’ve challenged the guys to do. This Western Swing has been like a mini-Countdown."
While Pro Stock points leader Mike Edwards has dominated for much of the season, no one has had the success of Johnson on the mountain in the last three years. Johnson has powered his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to three-straight finals, including a runner-up finish in 2008 and another victory in 2007. He was also runner-up at the high-altitude dragstrip in 2002.
"We’ve always tested at Bandimere Speedway, and my Mopar Dodge Avenger/J&J Racing team has got really good notes," Johnson said. "I’m a little bit nervous, though, because we haven’t tested there this year, but hardly any drivers did because of how the order of the Western Swing was changed. I feel like we have good enough notes to where we can go up there and start off right where we left last year."
Johnson brings in quite a bit of momentum from the season. He’s currently second in the point standings, elevated to that position with three runner-up finishes, three No. 1 qualifying positions and a consistent on-track performance that hasn’t included a first round loss in 15 races.
"I’d probably give us a B-plus," Johnson said in grading his team’s effort this season. "The reason being, we’ve done awful well and we’ve been consistent, but we haven’t been able to win yet. We haven’t sealed the deal. That’s what we’re looking to learn how to do in the races before the Countdown. We’re looking to be consistent through the semis and then learn how to win."
Meanwhile, Edwards’ commanding lead includes eight victories and 10 No. 1 qualifying efforts in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP. But Johnson says the rest of the pack has reeled in the 2009 world champ in recent events.
In the back-half of the regular season Edwards showed a little vulnerability when he suffered first round losses at Atlanta and Norwalk and a second round exit last weekend at Sonoma. At Norwalk Edwards qualified a season-low 12th.
"I think in the last three or four races he’s been caught a bit," Johnson said of Edwards. "There’s three or four cars that have caught up with him. The only thing is that he’s learned how to win and we haven’t yet. I think in the next three or four races you’ll see three or four different winners."
Johnson says his consistency this season has been the result of hard work from his crew, led by his dad Roy, and his brand new Avenger.
"This Mopar Dodge Avenger is the best car we’ve ever had. Period," Johnson said. "The aero guys at Dodge and Mopar did an excellent job on it. For the first time in a long time I really believe we have a car equal to or better than our competitors."
Other pre-race favorites in the 200-mph category include Norwalk and Seattle winner Greg Anderson, Sonoma winner Jeg Coughlin and Sonoma runner-up Jason Line.
In Top Fuel, eight-time season winner Larry Dixon holds the series lead over a strong quartet of challengers, including Cory McClenathan, seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher, defending event winner Brown, Doug Kalitta and Brandon Bernstein among others.
John Force is back to his winning ways in Funny Car after a lackluster 2009 season that was one of the worst in his legendary career.
Defending world champ Robert Hight has been strong in his Auto Club Ford Mustang, as have team Schumacher drivers Capps, who has been to the last two finals and won at Sonoma, two-time winner Matt Hagan and Infineon No. 1 qualifier Jack Beckman. A hot summer surge that included three consecutive final rounds and two victories pushed noted independent racer Tim Wilkerson into the championship mix as well.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending world champ Hector Arana has held the series lead all season on his Lucas Oil Buell despite not winning a race. Matt Smith, Andrew Hines, Steve Johnson and red-hot Michael Phillips, who won at Sonoma on his Racers Edge Suzuki, have all been consistent final round performers this season and will be in the hunt in Denver on their two-wheel machines.
• SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. on July 23 and 1:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. on July 24. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 25.
• TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. For tickets call Bandimere Speedway at (800) 664-UWIN (8946) or visit ticketreturn.com.
• ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise a 90-minute qualifying highlights show at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, July 24. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute race preview show, at 10 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 25. Also on Sunday, July 25, ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 7 p.m. (ET).
• LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in several categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at noon on Friday, July 23 and eliminations begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 24 and continue Sunday, July 25.
MOPAR MILE-HIGH NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 31st Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, 16th of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Bandimere Speedway, Morrison, Colo. The track is 10 miles west of Denver, just north of the historic town of Morrison. From Denver, take Interstate 70 west to C-470 and travel south to the Morrison Road exit. Take Morrison Road west to Rooney Road and go north to the track
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, July 23-25
SCHEDULE: FRIDAY, July 23 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at noon
FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 4:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, July 24 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations begin at 10 a.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 1:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, July 25 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
TELEVISION: Saturday, July 24, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise a ninety minute show of qualifying highlights at 6:30 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, July 25, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute news magazine show, at 10 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, July 25, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 7 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE: Friday, July 23, 11:30 p.m. – Midnight (ET), AMC 9 / Transponder 5K (Digital SD feed)
Saturday, July 24, 8:30 – 9 p.m. (ET), AMC 9 / Transponder 5K
Sunday, July 25, 8:30 – 9 p.m. (ET), AMC 9 / Transponder 5K (11800 MHz, horizontal; Data Rate: 18.295441161 Mbp; Symbol Rate: 13.235 Ms; FEC: ¾; Bandwidth: 18 Mhz)
WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
TRACK Top Fuel – 3.862 seconds by Antron Brown, July ’09; 318.39 mph by Brown, July ’09.
RECORDS: Funny Car – 4.121 seconds by Ron Capps, July ’09; 303.37 mph by Jack Beckman, July ’09.
Pro Stock – 6.957 seconds by Mike Edwards, July ’09; 197.71 by Edwards, July ’09.
PS Motorcycle – 7.319 seconds by Hector Arana, July ’09; 186.54 mph by Ryan Schnitz, July ’05.
NATIONAL Top Fuel – 3.771 sec. by Tony Schumacher, Oct. ’08, Richmond, Va.; 324.98 mph by Schumacher, March, ’10, Gainesville, Fla.
RECORDS: Funny Car – 4.022 sec. by Matt Hagan, June ’10, Joliet Ill.; 316.38 mph by Ashley Force Hood, March ’10, Charlotte, N.C.
Pro Stock – 6.509 sec. by Mike Edwards, Oct. ’09, Richmond, Va.; 212.46 mph by Greg Anderson, March ’10, Charlotte, N.C.
PS Motorcycle – 6.847 sec. by Karen Stoffer, March ’10, Gainesville, Fla.; 197.65 mph by Michael Phillips, July ’10, Sonoma, Calif.
RESERVED SEATS (includes pit pass) – Friday: Adult, $40-50; Junior (12 years and under), $18-24. Saturday: Adult, $40-50; Junior (12 years and younger), $18-24. Sunday: Adult, $48-58; Junior (12 years and under), $24-28.
NHRA FULL THROTTLE DRAG RACING SERIES POINT STANDINGS
Point standings (top 10) for NHRA professional categories following the 15th of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series –
1. Larry Dixon, 1,444; 2. Tony Schumacher, 1,233; 3. Cory McClenathan, 1,227; 4. Antron Brown, 1,066; 5. Doug Kalitta, 1,039; 6. Brandon Bernstein, 953; 7. Shawn Langdon, 727; 8. Morgan Lucas, 693; 9. Steve Torrence, 619; 10. Terry McMillen, 557.
1. John Force, 1,114; 2. Robert Hight, 1,071; 3. Jack Beckman, 1,008; 4. Matt Hagan, 994; 5. Ron Capps, 959; 6. Tim Wilkerson, 929; 7. Bob Tasca III, 906; 8. Ashley Force Hood, 905; 9. Del Worsham, 839; 10. Tony Pedregon, 699.
1. Mike Edwards, 1,526; 2. Allen Johnson, 1,113; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 1,013; 4. Greg Anderson, 970; 5. Jason Line, 838; 6. Greg Stanfield, 763; 7. Ron Krisher, 762; 8. Shane Gray, 686; 9. Rodger Brogdon, 646; 10. Johnny Gray, 637.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
1. Hector Arana, 804; 2. Matt Smith, 663; 3. Andrew Hines, 661; 4. Michael Phillips, 658; 5. Steve Johnson, 564; 6. Eddie Krawiec, 526; 7. LE Tonglet, 514; 8. David Hope, 467; 9. Craig Treble, 423; 10. Karen Stoffer, 411.