Phoenix: Team Mopar preview

ALLEN JOHNSON AND RICHIE STEVENS JR., PRIMED TO TAKE HEMI POWER TO THE TOP AT PHOENIX *JOHNSON HEADS INTO PHOENIX OPTIMISTIC, EYES COUNTDOWN *STEVENS JR. LOOKS TO BEGIN STRONG FIRST HALF AT PHOENIX Center Line, Mich. -- Team Mopar's Pro...

ALLEN JOHNSON AND RICHIE STEVENS JR., PRIMED TO TAKE HEMI POWER TO THE TOP AT PHOENIX

*JOHNSON HEADS INTO PHOENIX OPTIMISTIC, EYES COUNTDOWN

*STEVENS JR. LOOKS TO BEGIN STRONG FIRST HALF AT PHOENIX

Center Line, Mich. -- Team Mopar's Pro Stock duo of Allen Johnson and Richie Stevens Jr. head to this weekend's Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals in Phoenix with their eyes on the big prize--victory lane.

The two Pro Stock drivers both exited early at the season-opening Pomona, Calif., event on Feb. 11. They feel confident they'll post better results at Firebird Int'l Raceway, based on their productive track record at the facility. Johnson, driver of the Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus R/T, recorded his third career victory at Phoenix in 2005. Teammate Stevens Jr., driver of the Team Mopar/Valspar Dodge Stratus R/T owned by Don Schumacher Racing, took the No. 1 qualifier spot at the same event.

JOHNSON HEADS INTO PHOENIX OPTIMISTIC, EYES COUNTDOWN

Johnson is upbeat as the Mopar/J&J Racing team motors to Phoenix, and he believes he will benefit from a testing session in Tucson, Ariz., on Wednesday. Johnson proved at Pomona that his Dodge Stratus R/T can be the car to beat, as he qualified second at the event. He also posted a career-best speed of 207.85 mph during qualifying. In fact, Johnson believes the car may have had a bit too much power heading into the first round at Pomona.

"It's sort of like hitting with a 6-iron when you needed a pitching wedge," Johnson observed. "We were just a little bit aggressive, and on race day you just have to maybe not live on the edge all the time. I feel positive [heading into Phoenix], because we sort of got a kick in the you-know-where, early, to get our attention. I think that will get everybody's game face on."

The most important key to success at the track, according to Johnson, is simple: qualify high.

"We kept lane choice all day [during his 2005 Phoenix win], which is more important than anywhere else," Johnson said. "If you qualify in the top half and you keep lane choice, you can win the race there."

Currently ninth in the Pro Stock points battle after Pomona, Johnson is already acutely aware of his place in the NHRA POWERade Countdown to the Championship. The series' new format for determining a champion will narrow the field down to the top eight drivers after 17 events, and down to the top four after 21 events. Point totals will be adjusted in 10-point increments. Following Pomona, Johnson is on the bubble -- 14 points out of the eighth spot. He's looking to move up the ladder at Phoenix.

"You had better start thinking about [the Countdown] from the first race," said Johnson. "There are 10 or 12 great cars out there, and if you want to get in that top eight, you're going to have to take it from day one. You don't concentrate on it, but you don't want to lag behind early in the season. You want to do well early."

STEVENS JR. LOOKS TO BEGIN STRONG FIRST HALF AT PHOENIX

Although he made an early exit in the Pomona opener, Stevens Jr., emerged from the event with all-important championship points by making the 16-car field on his final qualifying run.

"It's a race in itself just to get qualified," said Stevens Jr. "Sometimes you feel like you've won the race just by qualifying. Last year, I think only four drivers qualified for every race, so it's a definite bonus for the points. If you qualify for all 23 events, those points add up at the end. You don't want to start the season with a DNQ. We were happy to pull it off and get in on our last run, so we were there Sunday for the big show."

After a slow first half, Stevens Jr., won two of the final four Pro Stock events last year. In his quest for the Pro Stock title, the Louisiana native is aware he needs consistent performances throughout the entire season to make the NHRA POWERade Countdown to the Championship.

"If we can go out there and go some rounds, that's what we need," said Stevens Jr., who is tied for 13th in the points standings. "The more rounds you go consistently is where you build the points up. If you can go to races and have a semifinals finish or a runner-up or a win, as long as you keep going rounds and qualify in the top half, that's where the points roll in. It seems more times than not that the consistent car is the one that is winning races."

For Stevens Jr., Phoenix offers the perfect venue to start a string of solid early-season outings.

"Both of us [Stevens Jr. and Johnson] have a pretty good record [at Phoenix]," said the Don Schumacher Racing driver. "We've got some luck on our side out there. We're going to head out and try to win it."

-credit: team mopar

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Richie Stevens Jr. , Allen Johnson , Don Schumacher