Phoenix: Kurt Johnson preview

Propelled by a three-race winning streak and buoyed by seven victories in the last 12 races, Kurt Johnson is riding a wave of success. Johnson took the early lead in the race for the 2001 NHRA Winston championship with a final-round victory...

Propelled by a three-race winning streak and buoyed by seven victories in the last 12 races, Kurt Johnson is riding a wave of success. Johnson took the early lead in the race for the 2001 NHRA Winston championship with a final-round victory over Darrell Alderman in the season-opening AutoZone Winternationals. Now he will try to maintain that momentum at Firebird International Raceway, the site of the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals on February 16-18.

"I hope that what happened at the Winternationals is an omen for the rest of the season," said Johnson, the 37-year-old driver of the ACDelco Pro Stock Cavalier. "It's great to start the year with a win in a brand-new car, but now we need to concentrate on winning in Phoenix."

Johnson is now undefeated in final rounds since August 1999; the last time he lost in the run for the money was 18 months ago ago at the Autolite Nationals when he was edged by Jim Yates. Since then Kurt has compiled a perfect 7-0 record in final-round matches, defeating Alderman twice, Jeg Coughlin Jr. three times, and Allen Johnson and Warren Johnson once each.

Johnson last celebrated in Firebird International Raceway's winner's circle in 1999 after he beat Troy Coughlin in the final round. He was the No. 1 qualifier at last year's event in Phoenix when he set the track e.t. record at 6.890 seconds and the speed standard at 200.38 mph - the only 200 mph Pro Stock run ever recorded on the Firebird quarter-mile. After that promising start, Johnson lost in the first round of eliminations.

"When I won in Phoenix in '99, we did everything right," Kurt recalled. "Last year we did absolutely everything wrong. We worked two weeks straight to rebuild the car after I hit the wall in Pomona, and it just wasn't the same. We're going to go back to our notes from '99 and do it right this time.

"I think the track conditions at Firebird will be similar to what we experienced when we tested last month in Bradenton, Fla.," he noted. "We had a good starting line and a few bumps downtrack, which is what we expect in Phoenix. If the temperature and humidity numbers are low, we'll see some good numbers on the scoreboard."

Johnson baptized his new "baby," a diminutive ACDelco Cavalier, at the Winternationals. Kurt notched the Bow Tie brigade's first victory for the Cavalier in the 31-year history of Pro Stock. Three years ago, he scored the first victory for the fourth-generation Camaro in Madison, Ill.

Kurt was fast right out of the box with the downsized body design. Preseason predictions that 200 mph runs would be routine proved to be accurate when K.J. topped 200 mph on eight straight runs in Pomona. He set a new career-best speed mark and established the Pomona Raceway track record at 202.18 mph.

Johnson won the Winternationals with a single-rail chassis built by Jerry Haas. He has a second car with stiffer double frame rails on the way from Don Ness.

"We've only scratched the surface with the Haas car," Kurt reported. "We'll test both cars and see which one is better, but for now we plan to concentrate on the single-rail car. It just won a race, so it would be crazy to go off in a different direction. We'll focus our attention on what's working, and right now that's the single-rail chassis."

<pre> KURT JOHNSON'S FIREBIRD INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY RESULTS

Year    Qual.    Result
1993    3        Semi-Final
1994    4        Semi-Final
1995    4        First Round
1996    13       First Round
1997    8        Second Round
1998    4        Second Round
1999    2        Winner (over T. Coughlin)
2000    1        First Round

-Rick Voegelin

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Darrell Alderman , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Allen Johnson , Jerry Haas