BRISTOL — Allen Johnson has never come to Bristol Dragway with this attitude.
Riding the hottest streak of his racing career, the NHRA Pro Stock driver expects nothing, but the best at this weekend’s Ford Thunder Valley Nationals.
“We come to every race expecting to qualify No. 1 and win the race,” said the Greeneville driver. “We will come here with more of a vengeance since it’s our home track.”
There is plenty of reason for Johnson’s optimism. He’s been the No. 1 qualifier for the Thunder Valley Nationals each of the last two seasons and reached the event semifinals a year ago.
This season is shaping up as the best of his career. At age 52, he’s never been better, winning two of the first eight races, and being the No. 1 qualifier three times.
Asked what’s different about this season, and Johnson points to one trait.
“It’s just confidence as a driver, as team members, as the crew chief and motor guy making decisions,” Johnson said. “Everybody has a certain aura of confidence about them. We’re not going into that next round thinking, ‘I wish we could get to that next round.’ You expect to get to it.”
Johnson, an 11-time national event winner, has only won multiple races one other time in his career, back in 2009. But, he’s never had a stretch like the last six weeks, which includes six straight semifinal appearances and wins at Las Vegas and Topeka.
While Johnson and his team have been a consistent front-runner in the Pro Stock ranks, qualifying every year for the “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs, this is only the second time in his career he’s won multiple races.
The other time was 2009 when he won two races and finished seventh in the final point standings. On pace to surpass those marks, he explained it’s a process to become a championship contender.
“As a team, you have to learn to win, expect to win,” he said. “We’re now just learning to win. It’s for the guys and their confidence. To have six straight races of semifinals or better, you go into every round expecting to win. That’s a neat feeling.”
A big addition was former World Champion driver Jim Yates joining the team last October to work alongside crew chief Mark Ingersoll, and Johnson’s father and engine builder, Roy.
Looking at the first nine races of the season, Johnson gives his team more than a passing grade.
“We’ve got a really good team right now,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of extra personnel and it’s paying dividends to have them. We made a couple of boo-boos, which probably cost us a couple of more final rounds, but for the most part, we’ll give ourselves an A-minus right now. If we win a couple more races before the Countdown, I’ll move us up to an A.”
Third in the points behind Summit Racing teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line, Johnson trails Line by just 60 points heading into this weekend’s race. He mentions them and a couple of others as top contenders for the Thunder Valley crown.
“The Summit boys and me have a pretty fierce battle going on,” Johnson said. “You know (three-time defending race champion) Mike Edwards and even Erica (Enders) again, will be right there. It’s a real battle right now.”