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Johnson debuts new car in style

March 17th, 2014 6:21 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Johnson debuts new car in style

Out with the old, win with the new.

That was the case for Allen Johnson who drove a new Dodge Dart body style to the Pro Stock win Sunday in the NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway.

Two weeks earlier, the Greeneville driver drove an old style Dodge Avenger to victory at the NHRA race in Phoenix.

“That’s a first race ever for the Dart to win,” Johnson said after Sunday’s win. “It drove close to the Avenger, although there are some differences. The visibility of how you see out of the car is a little different. The center of gravity is a little different. But, they are more subtle differences than huge differences.”

Johnson, the 2012 Pro Stock Champion, said it only took three or four passes during testing when he started feeling comfortable with the new car. 

Besides his second straight win on the NHRA tour, it was his second time winning the prestigious Gatornationals and his 22nd career NHRA national event overall.

“Any time you can win any race twice, it’s a big deal,” Johnson said. “But the Gators, that’s one of the biggest races of the year. It’s one that makes your entire year. To win two in a row with Phoenix, it’s the double-double.”

The current surge has lifted Johnson to the top of the NHRA Mello Yello point standings.

Johnson now holds a 71-point advantage over Erica Enders-Stevens, whom he beat in the final round on Sunday. While the Dodge Dart was fast, Johnson won the championship at the starting line. He had a .017 reaction time and made a 6.566-second pass at 211.73 mph. The 54-year-old driver beat Enders-Stevens by .030 seconds off the line, which was critical as her Camaro was slightly faster down the track.

Earlier in the weekend, Johnson qualified fourth with a speed of 214.04 mph. He rocketed past Jonathan Gray in round one of eliminations, and then beat Shane Gray in the quarterfinals as both drivers struggled to get down the track. 

Johnson was back on his game in the semifinals, going 6.569 seconds (211.79 mph) to beat Dave Connolly.

“The (J&J Racing) crew is doing a great job as well as the engineers from Dodge and SRT,” Johnson said. “They’ve done an awesome job on this car. I expect really big things out of it.”

While the Dart is already a winner, Johnson admitted there was one Dodge body style he never liked.

“It seemed like when we went from the Avenger in the late 90s to the Neon around 2000-01, it was a big difference,” he said. “That Neon wasn’t a very good race car.”

Regardless of the car, one of the big decisions for a team is making the right lane choice. Johnson and his crew chief Mark Ingersoll were spot on Sunday, consistently picking the fastest way down the 1,000-feet stretch.

“You have to pay attention to every run,” he said. “The lanes can change from run to run. Lane choice can change based on the sun, what happened in that lane with the car before you. It’s a lot the crew chief relying on his experience. The track at Gainesville really didn’t change a lot from last year. It was really good last year and it was good this year.”

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