Johnson, leader of the Pro Stock standings, heads to Indy fresh off his sixth final round appearance of the season in the most recent NHRA event in Brainerd, Minn., on Aug. 19. The driver of the Mopar Dodge Avenger is tied for the Pro Stock lead with four victories this season and has a class-best nine No. 1 Qualifier awards, as he gears up for the six-race Countdown.
“We always look forward to going to Indy for the U.S. Nationals,” said Johnson. “It’s a long weekend, and a little bit different of one than a normal event, but we always have fun there. The U.S. Nationals rank right up there, prestige-wise and money-wise, as one of the biggest events of the year. It would certainly mean a lot to win it.”
Johnson has reached the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals each of the last two years and five times overall in his career, as he chases his first win in the historic event. The native of Greeneville, Tenn., was fastest in qualifying at Indy in 2008, and has been among the top-four qualifiers in each of his last four visits to Lucas Oil Raceway.
“The track at Indy can get kind of tricky when the heat gets on it,” said Johnson. “Hopefully we’ve worked through those issues that have caused us problems there in the past. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Our Mopar Dodge Avenger is very fast and consistent right now.”
When the Countdown begins on Sept. 14 in Charlotte, points will be reapportioned, with the leader receiving a 20-point bonus, in addition to the 10 points that separate each spot, which would give Johnson a 30-marker cushion on the field if he retains the top spot.
“We’re sort of in test mode right now, knowing the good position that we are in with the points,” said Johnson. “We’re trying some things at the races that we normally wouldn’t. We’re still going to be fast, and still want to qualify on top and win the race, but we might be doing some things outside of the box on every qualifying run, just to get a little more under our belt for the Countdown.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr., driver of the Mopar/JEGS.com Dodge Avenger, is embroiled in an intense fight for a berth in the Countdown, as the six drivers shooting for the final four Pro Stock spots are separated by just 51 points. The native of Delaware, Ohio, is just two markers behind fellow Mopar-powered Pro Stock driver V. Gaines, who sits 10th. Coughlin has four career wins in the U.S. Nationals, with three of those coming in Pro Stock and one in Super Gas.
“This year’s Indy race feels like the World Finals race to me,” said Coughlin. “We are in a tight battle to crack into the elite ten that will later challenge for the 2012 Full Throttle championship. Fortunately, we have been in this type of point battle many times and our on-track performance is improving. This, coupled with it being NHRA’s most elite race of the year, will make it that much more fun and special.”
Coughlin, Gaines and Johnson are among a large contingent of Mopar-powered Dodge Avenger drivers looking to make the show at Indy. As many as seven HEMI®-powered Dodge race cars may hit the strip at the U.S. Nationals.
Matt Hagan, who will sport special Mopar graphics on his Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car during the U.S. Nationals, is also in a fierce battle for a spot in the Countdown. The reigning Funny Car champion is currently 11th in points, just 19 markers out of the top-10. Hagan has advanced to at least the semifinals in three consecutive NHRA events, including a pair of final round appearances, as he chases his first win of the season. The native of Christiansburg, Va., has reached the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals each of the last two years.
Ron Capps enters the U.S. Nationals as the point leader in Funny Car, looking to clinch the No. 1 spot in that class for the Countdown. The Californian was victorious on Aug. 19 in Brainerd, Minn., which marked his third win of the season in his Dodge Charger R/T for Don Schumacher Racing. Don Schumacher Racing drivers have won 74 NHRA national event Funny Car titles and the milestone 75th will come in a Dodge Charger R/T — a perfect coincidence, considering Mopar is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2012.
Source: Team Mopar