One year ago, Kurt Johnson arrived at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., for the Sears Craftsman Nationals with a brand-new race car and a ten-race winless streak. He left with his first victory of the season and the first Pro Stock...
One year ago, Kurt Johnson arrived at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., for the Sears Craftsman Nationals with a brand-new race car and a ten-race winless streak. He left with his first victory of the season and the first Pro Stock trophy won by a Camaro driver in a decade. Now K.J. is hoping that his return to the track just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis will again jump-start his season. Kurt is struggling to break out of a slump that has left him without a round win since the Pennzoil Nationals in Richmond, Va., on May 2. The Sears Craftsman Nationals will be run for the first time at night, with final eliminations scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 26. "Going to Gateway as the defending champion is a confidence booster," Kurt commented. "The racing should be better with the cooler temperatures we'll have at night. Last year I tested my new ACDelco Camaro in Madison after dark, so we have some basic information on the setup. Gateway is definitely a fast race track at night, with plenty of traction. I qualified No. 1 at Route 66 Raceway on Friday night, so I'm optimistic that I can repeat when we go back to St. Louis."
THIS TOO SHALL PASS
Kurt endured another "character building" race at the 35th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals at National Trail Raceway on June 13. K.J. qualified his ACDelco Camaro in the 12th spot, and then suffered a first-round loss to Mike Trumble when he encountered handling problems. "I think we made some big strides in Columbus even though I lost in the first round," Kurt declared. "The tires didn't shake, which is the problem we've been fighting since Richmond. This time the car made a right turn as soon as I let out the clutch. I was fighting it all the way down the track, and it was fighting back. "Before we went to Columbus, the rear tires were absolutely locked up at the starting line - and when they're locked up, the car has a tendency to steer to the left. Now that we have the tires freed up, we need to change the chassis preload to compensate. "We made some drastic changes in the rear springs and shock absorbers," Kurt revealed. "The problem was that the rear tires were so distorted at the starting line that they couldn't recover. "After the race in Columbus, my guys took the car to R.J. Race Cars to have some more tubing added to stiffen the chassis," Kurt reported. "We're basically back to the setup we ran last year when I was runner-up in Seattle. "And if all else fails, I still have the car I raced at the beginning of last season!"
THE SECOND SEASON
The Sears Craftsman Nationals marks the midpoint of the 1999 season. Here is Kurt Johnson's critique of the first half of his year: "We started out with an A+ grade after making three final rounds in the first four races and setting the national e.t. record in Richmond," he reports. "Now we're down to a C-. "This year has been like two different seasons. It's been a roller coaster ride, but it can only get better from here. "There are a lot of races left, and if we start winning rounds again, we'll be in good shape at end of season. I look at this year like a NASCAR race: You have to be a contender in the first 20 laps and the last 20 laps. We definitely intend to be around for the last 20 laps!"
KURT JOHNSON SEARS CRAFTSMAN NATIONALS RESULTS
Year Qualified Result 1997 3 Semi Final 1998 2 Winner (over Jeg Coughlin,.Jr.)
LAST RACE: Pontiac Excitement Nationals, Columbus, Ohio, June 13, 1999 Qualifying: Kurt Johnson qualified No. 12 at 7.075 196.70 mph. Eliminations: First Round: Mike Trumble defeated Kurt Johnson Final Round: Warren Johnson (7.008/197.57) defeated Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (7.061/197.97) Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.995 seconds (track record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 198.15 mph (track record)
POINTS RACE: (After 10 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Warren Johnson 5 878 2. Kurt Johnson 2 693 3. Richie Stevens 1 569 4. Jim Yates 0 532 5. Jeg Coughlin 1 528
TV: ABC, July 4, 3:00 p.m. EDT - check local listings