Team Mopar® Pro Stockers Allen Johnson, Kurt Busch Make the Show at NHRA Gatornationals
Gainesville, Fla. (March 12, 2011) – What a difference a day makes.
Mopar® Dodge Avenger NHRA Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson and NASCAR Sprint Cup star and Shell Dodge Avenger Pro Stock driver Kurt Busch were shaking their heads after the first day of qualifying yesterday at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway. Following their final two qualifying runs today, the Mopar Dodge drivers had changed from head-shaking to fist-pumping, as Busch rocketed from dead last to qualify No. 12 and Johnson reeled off two solid runs, securing his No. 9 spot on the qualifying charts.
Johnson and his J&J Racing crew had invested much time and effort into helping Busch adjust to the Pro Stock ranks, supplying Mopar HEMI® engines for Busch’s Shell Dodge team and taking part in numerous joint test sessions prior to the NHRA Gatornationals. The J&J team’s blood, sweat and tears made yesterday’s rough outing for Busch that much harder to swallow—and today’s stellar runs that much sweeter.
“Yesterday we all left here bummed out, nervous, couldn’t sleep,” said Johnson, who scored the third quickest run of the final qualifying session with a 6.546-second pass at 212.03 mph. “Today everything went Kurt’s way. It went good, and hopefully it will carry over for tomorrow.
“I was two cars behind Kurt after his last qualifying run, and when I pulled in down at the top end he came to my door all happy, and then went back and packed my parachutes for me and put ’em in my car! So that was cool.”
Johnson has a large rooting section from Mopar at the event, including Tricia Hecker, Director of Marketing, Mopar. The group came to the line decked out in special “Allen Johnson No. 1 Fan” t-shirts.
“I’ve got three No. 1 fans out here, including Tricia Hecker,” said Johnson, who will face Greg Stanfield in the first round tomorrow. “It’s great having the chance to spend time with her and all the Mopar folks. We’re hoping to give them a big reason to cheer tomorrow.”
The Mopar faithful will be cheering on Busch as well, who silenced critics of his first attempts at qualifying yesterday by posting two strong runs today, a 6.532/211.46 in his first run and a 6.554/211.06 in his final pass. The memory of making his first Pro Stock field—in his very first Pro Stock event— is one Busch said he’ll cherish forever.
“To be able to do this with my group of guys, that self-satisfaction, it’s high up there on the list,” said Busch, who will face Erica Enders in the opening round tomorrow. “I qualified for my first Cup race, that was neat, winning my first Cup race, and now here making my first Pro Stock race, it’s right up there. It’s one of those special moments. I’ve got the printout of the Top 16, and that’s something I’ll put in a frame and put it on the wall.
“It was just an overall good day. You’ve got to go through those tough days to make you appreciate what a good day can be. And today was that. We’re really excited. My guys are a group of volunteers, with only one full-time employee. To lean on Allen Johnson and Roy Johnson, and have those guys helping us from the Mopar side, I felt like that was the best opportunity to work my way into the Gainesville field, and we did.”
On rumors he may compete at Mopar’s headline event, the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals in July, Busch said, “One step at a time; we’ll see how tomorrow goes, but that weekend does lineup for us (as to being an off-weekend from Cup competition). Obviously, the Mopar Mile-High Nationals would be a perfect fit for me. Allen Johnson’s won the race three out of the last four years. I’d like to see how tomorrow goes, and we’ll go from there.”
Vincent Nobile, powered by Mopar/J&J Racing HEMI engines, qualified No. 13 and will face Jason Line in round one. Final eliminations for the NHRA Gatornationals begin tomorrow at 11 a.m. EDT.