CHANDLER, Ariz. - Jeg Coughlin Jr. won seven of the first eight races in 2000 and jumped out to such an enormous lead, not even Kurt Johnson's spectacular late-season charge could deny Coughlin his first NHRA Winston Pro Stock ...
CHANDLER, Ariz. - Jeg Coughlin Jr. won seven of the first eight races in 2000 and jumped out to such an enormous lead, not even Kurt Johnson's spectacular late-season charge could deny Coughlin his first NHRA Winston Pro Stock championship.
Johnson, still sizzling with momentum from a red-hot second-half last year, is poised to be the driver that jumps out in front of the competition in 2001.
The Lawrenceville, Ga., driver closed out 2000 with five victories in the final nine events, and then continued his winning ways by driving his new AC Delco Chevy Cavalier to the winner's circle at the 2001 season-opening event in Pomona, Calif.
"It's been quite a run over the last six months," said Johnson, one of the early Pro Stock favorites for the 17th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Feb. 15-18, at Firebird International Raceway. The $1.8 million event is the second of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"Consistency always bit us in the past," Johnson explained. "We knew we had the horsepower, but the cars were good one run, and bad the next. Finally, we have had two chassis in a row that have been consistent every time I let out the clutch. As long as I hit some OK lights I can win some rounds."
With his overall performance, Johnson established himself as the frontrunner for the Winston championship. His new aerodynamic Cavalier made eight straight passes over 200 mph en route to his 22nd career victory in the ultra-competitive category.
"We're exceptionally happy about the new car," said Johnson. "My hat's off to GM for putting this project together. You never know what to expect out of a brand new car. We got this car at the end of December and three of my guys beat on it for 15 days to get it ready for testing. Then we had some problems in testing and before you know it the season starts and there was only 15-20 runs on the car. We were extremely happy to get a win."
Johnson realizes how close the competition is in Pro Stock. Every event will feature a battle between Johnson, his father Warren, the Coughlin brothers, three-time Winston champ Darrell Alderman, Bruce Allen, Rickie Smith, and a slew of other skilled drivers. All fighting it out, by thousandths of a second, for Pro Stock supremacy.
"This season is going to be the toughest ever," said the 37-year-old Johnson. "Whoever works the hardest is going to be ahead when November rolls around."
Johnson has finished in the top five in the Winston point every year of his eight-year career. The series crown has eluded the younger Johnson, while Warren has five championship trophies on his mantle. With a new car and a serious outlook, 2001 could be the year 'the professor' slides his accolades over to make room for his son's first Winston championship trophy.