Brainerd: Team Mopar preview

Johnson Warms Up While Stevens Ramps Up for Battle for Countdown at Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Center Line, Mich. -- Team Mopar® Pro Stock teammates Allen Johnson and Richie Stevens Jr. head into the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at ...

Johnson Warms Up While Stevens Ramps Up for Battle for Countdown at Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals

Center Line, Mich. -- Team Mopar® Pro Stock teammates Allen Johnson and Richie Stevens Jr. head into the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, Minn. this weekend. Though focused on the same destination -- the NHRA Countdown to the Championship -- they have decidedly different strategies.

Johnson, fourth in the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock points standings, has already qualified for the Countdown to 4, which will cut the NHRA Pro Stock field down to the top eight drivers before the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals on Aug. 29. The Greenville, Tenn.-native who has one win this year at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver, will fine tune the setup on his Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus R/T before the start of the Countdown.

That luxury doesn't await Stevens, driver of the Don Schumacher Racing-owned Team Mopar/Valspar Dodge Stratus R/T, at the Brainerd event. Currently 10th in the Pro Stock standings, he's 16 points out of the eighth and final Countdown spot held by Larry Morgan and his HEMI®-powered Dodge Stratus R/T team. Stevens is also one point behind another HEMI-powered pilot, V. Gaines, who holds the ninth position, making every single round in the next two races critical for Stevens in his quest to qualify for the Countdown.

Countdown spot wrapped up, Allen Johnson looks to fine tune at Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Johnson has been a proponent of the plan that solid and consistent performances--qualifying in the top half and winning one or two rounds at most of the events--during the 17-race lead up to the Countdown to 4 would result in a berth in the playoff. The approach paid off for Johnson with an early berth in the Countdown. With only two races remaining before the Countdown begins, the Team Mopar veteran will concentrate on finding the right setup on his Dodge Stratus R/T before the Countdown to 4 kicks off.

"Any time you can call the shots and have it happen as you thought it would, it feels pretty good, because that doesn't happen a lot," said Johnson of having his strategy pay off. "I think our goals we're very realistic. We stuck to them, we didn't get greedy, and we achieved our goal of qualifying for the Countdown.

"The next two races we're going to be testing some engine modifications on my car. That hopefully will pay dividends for the Countdown. Dad [Roy Johnson, engine builder for J&J Racing] is bringing a few things on board, and hopefully we will have it all set by Indy. We'll incorporate two or three new things in the engines at these next two races, just to see what works and what doesn't."

Although some experimentation will take place in the J&J Racing pits, the goal for Johnson and his team remains a visit to winners' circle at Brainerd International Raceway.

"The next two races, we don't want to give up that fourth spot to Jason," said Johnson of Jason Line, currently fifth in the NHRA Pro Stock standings. "We want to maintain our competitiveness, because that spot is worth ten points in the Countdown."

When the Countdown playoffs begin, Johnson and his team will tweak the strategy that has earned them recognition as one of the top NHRA Pro Stock teams this season.

"When the Countdown gets here, we'll just modify our strategy and add one more round to it," Johnson remarked. "Now, our strategy will be to qualify in the top half, get lane choice for the first round, but then in the first round we've got to run good enough to get lane choice for the second round. We just have to do the best that we can do."

Richie Stevens Jr. is ready for two week battle for final Countdown position

After 15 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock events, the season has come down to the next two races, beginning at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend, for Stevens Jr.

If Stevens can qualify in the top half of the field and grab a few round wins at the two events, he will more than likely earn a spot in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoff. The alternative is an early end to the New Orleans native's 2007 Pro Stock title dreams.

"This is going to be a big one," said Stevens of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. "We have two races left to make it into the top eight for the Countdown. I'm currently tenth and only a couple of points out. We're fighting with Larry Morgan and V. Gaines for that last spot. Actually, Warren [Johnson, currently seventh in the Pro Stock points] is still in the fight as well. So that's four of us right there challenging for the last two Countdown spots. Basically, there's only one round win between all four of us. We're all just kind of jockeying for position, and we have been for the last couple of races. It's going to be a great battle."

Aside from the Countdown battle, Stevens would like to do well at the Brainerd stop for sponsor Valspar, one of the largest coatings manufacturers in the world, which maintains its headquarters in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. Valspar supplies the distinct Mopar Blue paint used on Stevens' and teammate Allen Johnson's Dodge Stratus R/Ts. With his sponsor in attendance and his title shot on the line, a successful outing at Brainerd would be a welcome tonic for Stevens.

"This is going to be an important race for me," Stevens said. "The car has been running really good. We definitely have the power end of it handled. We did some testing in St. Louis this week and I practiced on some things I need to work on. Hopefully we'll go up to Brainerd, go some rounds, and win the race, and walk out of there with a solid spot in the Countdown."

-credit: dsr/mopar

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Richie Stevens Jr. , Larry Morgan , Allen Johnson , Jason Line , Don Schumacher , Roy Johnson