Allen Johnson’s big gamble paid off in Las Vegas.
Instead of taking a proven race car to last weekend’s NHRA races at The Strip at Las Vegas, the defending Pro Stock debuted a brand-new Dodge Avenger. The results were a victory in Saturday’s K&N Horsepower Challenge, a special event for the Pro Stock cars, and another victory in Sunday’s NHRA Summit Racing Nationals.
“The car came right out of the box and was fast,” said the Greeneville driver. “We tested the car 10 runs at Rockingham before we left, but we hadn’t raced it. We tuned on it every run to make it a little better, and that car is undefeated as we speak.”
It turned out to be a lucrative weekend for Johnson, who earned $50,000 for the K&N win, $25,000 for the national event win and a $25,000 bonus for the weekend sweep.
“It’s awesome to win both races,” Johnson said. “I was asked if this just became my favorite track, and I still have to answer that another high-altitude track, Denver, is still tops in my books. Not just because it’s Mopar’s title race but probably because I’ve won there four times. But Las Vegas is quickly becoming a favorite after winning it three times now, along with our sweeping the K&N Challenge.”
With his 18th career victory, Johnson repeated as event champion and took over the lead in the NHRA Mello Yello point standings.
With back-to-back wins at the last two national events — the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., and at Las Vegas — Johnson now holds a 354-350 lead over 2009 Pro Stock champion Mike Edwards. Four-time champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. ranks third with 330 points.
“We’re barely ahead, but it was a great weekend,” Johnson said. “The team is doing such an awesome job and everyone is working well together. Everything is jelling right now.”
Johnson, who was the No. 2 qualifier for the Summit Racing Nationals, cruised through Sunday’s first round of eliminations when opponent J.R. Carr broke at the starting line. He edged teammate Vincent Nobile in the quarterfinals with a pass of 6.668 seconds (206.82 mph) to 6.708 (206.70).
He defeated Coughlin in the semifinals to earn the 38th final-round appearance of his career. In the final round, Johnson posted a 6.713-second elapsed time (206.76) as Erica Enders-Stevens shut her car off halfway through the run.
A day earlier, the 53-year-old Johnson was easily the best among an eight-driver field in the K&N Horsepower Challenge.
He beat Coughlin in Saturday’s opening round and had his best run in a semifinal victory over Greg Anderson. Same as the following day, Enders-Stevens was the opponent in the final round.
Both drivers faced a slick track following a Top Fuel session, but Johnson was able to get down the track with less trouble.
“The race on Saturday wasn’t very pretty, but we were able to get the win,” said Johnson who last won the K&N Challenge in 2008. “The race on Sunday, the track got a little tricky in the semifinals, but the new car did its job and the guys made great decisions in the pits. Everything just worked.”