Defending champion Allen Johnson won the Pro Stock title at the NHRA Gatornationals on Sunday, adding another marquee trophy to his growing collection.
It was the Greeneville racer’s first win in the 44th annual event at Gainesville, Fla., considered one of the major races on the NHRA tour
It was Johnson’s 17th career victory and his 37th final-round appearance.
“That ranks right up there with Indy, the championship and winning one at Bristol,” said Johnson, an 18-year Pro Stock veteran. “The Gators is a really special race, especially for Pro Stock. It’s a place with a lot of Pro Stock history. I’ve always wanted to win that one, so it was a really special deal.”
Johnson won on a hole-shot against teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in an all-Mopar final. Johnson’s quicker reaction time of .005 combined with a 6.535-second elapsed time (212.59 mph) defeated Coughlin’s slower reaction time (.031), but quicker 6.514 elapsed time (212.25 mph).
“We have a great bunch of guys racing for this team,” Johnson said.“Out of the last five races, we’ve had Mopars in four of the five finals. Jeg’s one of the best drivers out there. To go up against him in the final and to beat him, that’s huge.”
The victory moved Johnson up to third in the Mello Yello point standings behind Mike Edwards and Coughlin. Another of his teammates, Vincent Nobile, is currently fourth in the standings. Although it’s still March, Johnson said it’s not too early to be thinking about points and the “Countdown for the Championship.”
“We’ve start working earlier than ever on points,” he said. “This time last year, we were seventh or eighth in the points. We want to stay on the path we’re on, and hopefully stay up there all year.”
Johnson had his best elapsed time (6.514) in an opening-round win over Matt Horford. He and Erica Enders-Stevens both struggled in the quarterfinals, but Johnson pedaled his way to the next round.
He barely outran Jason Line in the semifinals, but in all four of his elimination rounds, the driver gaining an advantage at the starting line was a key.
It was a particularly sweet win after the team struggled in the first couple of races this year, testing some new combinations.
“I said all weekend you have to break some eggs to bake a cake,” Johnson said. “We’ve been trying some different combinations testing. We didn’t have the fastest car, but one race it might be the car, one race it might be the driver and one race it might be the engine. You have to step up when it’s time to step up.”
Robert Jones of Indianapolis was one of 10 winners of Ford Mustangs in “Bruton’s Big Bristol Giveaway” before Sunday’s Food City 500.
Jones, 44, showed up at Bristol Motor Speedway with numerous cuts and broken bones, which included a broken shoulder after smashing his pick-up truck in a tree while trying to avoid hitting a deer.
After winning the car and watching the race on Sunday, he had to be home on Monday to undergo surgery.
Other winners included Charlie Grooms of Morristown, Heather Barnett of Cedar Bluff, Va., and Keith Rose of Pounding Mill, Va..
In addition to their big prize, winners of the five white and five black Mustangs were treated to a lap and a half around the high-banked track.