Johnson in fast company on biggest racing weekend

Jeff Birchfield • May 26, 2014 at 7:19 PM

Allen Johnson played a major part in racing’s biggest day on Sunday, although his accomplishment was more than a little overshadowed.

The Greeneville driver won the NHRA Pro Stock race at Topeka, Kansas, but it came on the same day as an epic Indianapolis 500 finish and six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson winning for the first time this season at the Coca-Cola 600.

In addition, Nico Rosberg won the Monaco Grand Prix, the biggest race of the year on the Formula One calendar. Even in the NHRA ranks, the headline coming out of the Kansas Nationals was Courtney Force’s milestone 100th win for women in the premier drag racing series.

Still, Johnson was more than appreciative for his role Sunday, which included his series-best third win of the season.

“It’s special, very special, because everybody is watching racing on that day,” Johnson said. “To include yourself in that company, it’s pretty cool.”

It wasn’t the first time this year when one of the 2012 Pro Stock champions’ wins was overshadowed. He won at Phoenix in February the same day when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500, and his win in the Gatornationals came on the same day as the Food City 500 at Bristol.

However, his 23rd career national-event win win isn’t something to take lightly. It was especially rewarding to have his teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. for an all-Mopar final. Johnson’s Dodge Dart stayed out front the whole way down the track for his third victory at the Kansas Nationals.

He made a winning pass of 6.663-seconds elapsed time at 207.18 mph, compared to Coughlin at 6.664 and 207.05 mph. Johnson talked about the pressure being off at that point and how it was just the two drivers going at it.

“What a great relief when you get to the final with your teammate,” said Johnson, who now has five final appearances in the last six years at Topeka. “You feel like you’ve won either way. Anytime I’m in a final with Jeg, it raises my IQ about 50 points, because he’s that good. It makes me want to be better to race him and gets me up for the challenge.”

The victory moved the 54-year-old Johnson up to second in the Pro Stock standings.

He used a 6.676 elapsed time at 206.95 mph to defeat Larry Morgan in the first elimination round and then ran a 6.637 (207.21) to best Shane Gray in the quarterfinals. Johnson posted a near identical mark to Erica Enders-Stevens in the semfinals with a 6.657 (206.32) . She matched the time at 6.657 seconds and had a faster speed of 206.51 mph.

The difference was the start, where Johnson’s quicker .022 reaction time to Enders-Stevens’ .046 helped clinch his 49th career final-round appearance. It set up a showdown with Coughlin, who won the previous week at Atlanta, although Johnson was at that point happy to have both cars running so well.

“We’ve been struggling just a little bit,” Johnson said. “We finally got a handle on Jeggy’s car at the last race, and in the second round today we got a handle on mine. This team just keeps battling. It doesn’t matter what it is, every single run we’re just attacking the car, and that’s just the way this team is. To have half the wins this year (in the class) in our camp is a pretty good feeling.”

While Kansas is generally flat, there is some elevation at Heartland Park Raceway. For Johnson, it is the type of place where his team excels.

“It’s halfway to Denver elevation-wise,” he said. “It’s about the same as Las Vegas, and we just seem to do well on the elevation tracks.”

The performance also bodes well for Johnson with his home race, the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, just three weeks away. He wants the weather more than a little uncomfortable when the NHRA circuit comes to the Tri-Cities.

“Bristol is not quite as elevated as Vegas and Topeka, but it’s pretty close,” Johnson said. “We get on those hot, grimy, high-altitude tracks and those are the conditions we like. We’d like for it to be hot and humid and the track to be a little greasy. That’s our setup.”

He knows whatever the track is like, the competition will be fierce. Despite the three wins, he still trails Enders-Stevens by 85 points in the Mello Yello driver standings. The Pro Stock class has the reputation as being the most competitive division in all of auto racing, and Johnson said that continues to be the case.

“It’s as close this year as it’s ever been,” he said. “It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out all year. For us to have half the wins at this point of the season, that speaks volumes about our team.”

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