Johnson No. 9 in First Day of NHRA Gatornationals Qualifying; Busch Looks to Crack Top 16 Tomorrow
Johnson recorded a 6.521-second elapsed time at 211.96 mph in his first run, then shook the tires and got out of the groove early in his second qualifying pass. The Greeneville, Tenn. native, not at all satisfied with his No. 9 spot, knows he can do better in his Mopar Dodge tomorrow.
“Even in the first run today, we didn’t perform nearly as well as we should have,” said Johnson, currently ninth in the point standings. “We’re going to swap in a new engine, make some other changes and come out tomorrow with a clean slate and show what we can do.”
Busch shook the tires in his first qualifying run and was timed out on his second run after failing to stage in the allotted seven seconds, leaving the Shell Dodge Avenger driver on the outside looking in at the Top 16 of the Pro Stock field. The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is ready to put his rough first day in Pro Stock behind him and rebound with two strong qualifying passes tomorrow in order to make the cutthroat Pro Stock field.
“It was an interesting day. There’s so many things to talk about. We just didn’t do our job today,” said Busch. “We struggled as rookies. On the first run we blew the tires off as far as tire shake, which was due to the track having so much grip. We just didn’t make the right adjustment with the clutch to put the power down to the racetrack, and we wadded the tires up and shut down.
“We had to go out early (in the second qualifying run), and we didn’t have a real good look at the track again, since I was in the first pairing. I shook hands with Vincent Nobile beforehand and said, ‘Hey, we’re both new at this. Let’s make this happen.’ He pre-staged, I pre-staged. I looked over at him, and he didn’t move at all. I looked up, and there was his stage light already on. That was my fault; Allen Johnson said you’re always supposed to keep your eyes on the tree, you’re not supposed to look at the other guy’s car. I pitched forward to stage my car, never got there, seven seconds and I was timed out.
“I thought, ‘At least get data.’ I dropped the clutch and went through the gears. We ended up getting a little tire shake in second gear and I was late shifting to third; the way the telemetry looked it would have been a 6.53 with a five, which would have been 12th or 13th quick.
“An interesting day to say the least. A lot of rookie things that I felt I’m ready to put behind me. I’ve done this before. I’ve done testing, I know what to do, I know what to expect. I know that Mark Ingersoll, the crew chief on Allen Johnson’s car, is definitely looking to do what he can to make sure we make the Top 16 tomorrow. I’ll take a deep breath and go after it tomorrow."
“Kurt made some mistakes today, but he’s proven he can get down the track,” said Johnson. “We’ve got two shots to get him in tomorrow, and I have all confidence that he’ll make the field."
Mopar-powered Dodge Avenger driver Nobile is No. 12 after today’s two qualifying sessions, with V. Gaines No. 14 in his Dodge. The Pro Stock classes will begin the first of two final qualifying runs at 11 a.m. ET tomorrow.