The Greeneville driver won the Pro Stock class at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals for a third straight year Sunday at Bandimere Speedway.
That makes 12 straight round-wins for Johnson at the Colorado track. Granted his wins come in the six-second range, while Manning’s games last around three hours, but the five-time NFL MVP ‘s longest win streak with the Broncos has been 10 games.
For Johnson, the win was his sixth in the last eight years. Overall, a quarter of his 24 career wins have come at Denver in his sponsor’s race.
“This team just continues to find a way to do it,” said Johnson, who ranks second-time all-time in Pro Stock wins at the venue behind Bob Glidden’s seven. “We want to win here for Mopar and Magneti Marelli, and my guys step up and I step up. It’s a confidence thing. It’s just deep in our gut and we keep doing it.”
Besides it being the sponsors race, they also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 426 HEMI engine and a 100th anniversary of the Dodge brand.
It was an all-Dodge final as Johnson defeated his J&J Racing teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the championship round for his fourth win of the season. Johnson’s Dodge Dart cruised to a 6.930 second pass at 198.61 mph after Coughlin fouled by leaving too early at the start.
Johnson continued another streak, advancing to the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals final round for the eighth-consecutive year.
With track temps over 100 degrees, Johnson started hot out of the No. 2 qualifying spot. He posted a 6.933-second elapsed time and the track-record fastest speed ever at Bandimere Speedway, 199.23 mph, to beat Tommy Lee in the first round.
He took down Chris McGaha in the quarterfinals, clocking a 6.959 (198.50) winning pass and then ran down Dave Connolly in the semifinals to advance to the 50th final of his career.
In a matchup of Dodge Darts carrying his father Roy’s engines, Johnson took advantage fo Coughlin’s foul for the victory. It was the third straight all-Mopar Pro Stock final at the Denver track. Johnson defeated Colorado native V. Gaines for the event title each of the last two years.
About the only thing he didn’t accomplish was being No. 1 qualifier for the race for a fifth straight year. He was the provisional No. 1 before losing it to Jason Line on the final pass of qualifying on Saturday.
It ended up giving Johnson even more incentive.
“It’s extra motivation,” he said. “It puts fire in my belly when we get hit with like something like that. He took my No. 1 spot away from me, and you’re dang tootin’ it fired me up. It fired up Jeg up too. When Jeg took him out in the semifinals, I was ready to jump on the hood of his car when he came around the corner. Both of us in the finals — it was a great day at that point.”
Johnson has already matched his win total from last season and 15 of his 24 wins have come since the start of 2012 season. However, the 54-year-old driver remembered the struggles of his early days and got a little sentimental about the Denver race.
“This was the first race I ever qualified at in 1996, and that is the only race that I qualified for that year,” said Johnson, currently second in the NHRA Mello Yello point standings to Erica Enders-Stevens. “I have qualified for every single one (here) since then. It’s very important to us. It’s almost like a championship to us to excite all the Mopar executives and everyone that comes out to watch us, but it gets tougher every year.”
The company also announced a three-year extension as the event’s title sponsor. They already have the longest continous sponsorship of a NHRA national event at 26 years. It was good news for Johnson in his pursuit of track history. After the win, he was confident of making even more history at the track.
“Mopar and the mountain and me, we’re married,” Johnson said. “We’re going to take that deal and run with it the next three years and break Bob Glidden’s record and be the king of the mountain for a long time.”