The four-time season winner Johnny Gray and his solid team ticked off a couple of major accomplishments at the conclusion of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend at Brainerd International Raceway.
BRAINERD, Minn. – Pitch Energy Funny Car driver Johnny Gray wasn't the guy hoisting the trophy at the conclusion of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend at Brainerd International Raceway, but the four-time season winner and his solid team ticked off a couple of major accomplishments.
Gray, of Artesia, N.M., secured a position in NHRA's Countdown to the Championship and regained his footing in the points chase, moving up from fifth place in the Funny Car standings to a tie for third with Cruz Pedregon.
With the win, Gray's right to race for the trophy in the Countdown to the Championship was officially locked in.
"Sure, it felt good to qualify for the Countdown," said Gray, who has toyed with the No. 1 spot this year and held it briefly for the first time in his career on the basis of his accumulation of victories.
"We knew we had a really good shot of making it, and it was going to take something really big to knock us out. But to get that done was an accomplishment for this whole team. Now we're working on making our program as good as we can before the Countdown starts in Charlotte after Indy. That's the focus."
In the second round in Brainerd and with his position in the standings on the line once again, Gray made another important move to oust veteran driver John Force and skirted around him in the points. Gray was a quick .066-second at the tree and paired it with a consistent 4.099 at 308.57 mph to top Force's quicker 4.061 and score a holeshot win.
Although Gray looked to be on a path to repeat his 2011 win in Brainerd, the first nitro Funny Car victory of his career, a dropped cylinder down-track ended his day in the semifinals, and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan got the win light and the ticket to the final round, 4.097 to 4.119.
"There is no disappointment for this team today," said Gray. "I'm very pleased that we were able to turn this thing around and make progress here in Brainerd. Heading into Indy, we feel like the Pitch Energy Dodge is a racecar that has a real good chance of upsetting the guy in the other lane, no matter who it is. To say that we're excited is probably an understatement. We're going to finish the year strong, and I'm real proud of this team."
"It's so nice to have the car repeating what we're putting into it," said crew chief Rob Wendland. "We came here with the thought process that we're racing like the Countdown has already started. We aren't trying new things – our testing is done. Now is the time to fine-line any little quirks in our car, and it's responding. It was a good weekend."