Phoenix: Warren Johnson preview

WJ Works to Eliminate Errors in Phoenix GM Performance Parts crew targets defense of 2006 Firebird win Sugar Hill , Ga. -- Located in the northern reaches of the Sonoran desert, the city of Phoenix is one of the world's favorite vacation...

WJ Works to Eliminate Errors in Phoenix
GM Performance Parts crew targets defense of 2006 Firebird win

Sugar Hill , Ga. -- Located in the northern reaches of the Sonoran desert, the city of Phoenix is one of the world's favorite vacation spots, particularly in the winter months. Offering the enticing combination of crystal clear blue skies and year round summer temperatures without oppressive humidity, the Arizona capital draws visitors looking to play golf or get away from the annual snowstorms that blanket the northern parts of the country.

Although Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts GTO Racing team will most certainly welcome the balmy weather upon their arrival in the Valley of the Sun, the purpose of their trip will have little to do with sitting by the pool or hitting the fairways. Instead, the heat they will be most interested in is their competitive fire, as they look to successfully defend their Pro Stock title at this weekend's Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler. In order to reach this goal, Johnson realizes that all facets of his racing program must be at their best and error-free, something he has been working on since his return from Pomona ten days ago.

"We've gotten our GM Performance Parts GTO to the point where it's relatively consistent, making decent runs every time out," stated Johnson. "In Pomona, we kept working on the tune-up, adapting to what it would give us, and by the end of qualifying were among the fastest cars out there. In that respect, we were happy coming away from that race.

"However, we know we still have several areas that we need to shore up. For example, we thought we would be in good shape in the horsepower department at the start of the season, but we had a series of setbacks as far as certain materials were concerned, forcing us to leave the new design engines at the shop for these first two races, going back to the pieces we ran at the end of last year. We hope to have a few things ready for Phoenix, but we'll adapt to whatever we have and make the best of it.

"In addition, I obviously need to pick up the pace on the driving end, which is a combination of both myself and the car. This chassis is a different design from any other I've driven, and for some reason I've never been able to cut great lights with it, so we may have change its configuration in the driver's compartment to help my performance in that area. It's all part of the total package that we are constantly working on, trying to make it better."

One area in which Johnson and crew chief Terry Adams are well versed is the racing surface at Firebird Raceway, site of this weekend's event. 2007 marks the 23rd year the NHRA has come to the Arizona desert, and Johnson has been a part of every race, winning three times in seven final round appearances. While some competitors cringe at the prospect of pushing the envelope on this wind-swept, bumpy quarter-mile, the six-time champion relishes the challenge. Entering this year's edition as the defending champion, he is targeting a return trip to the winner's circle.

"Firebird Raceway is my kind of racetrack because it takes a driver to get it to the other end," stated Johnson. "At some tracks, once you get it off the line, all you have left to do is talk to the announcer at the top end, but here, with the wind and sand blowing across the track, you have to be on your game all the way down or you can end up on your roof. With that in mind, and based on what we learned in Pomona, we're really looking forward to going back to Phoenix.

"Naturally, the win in Phoenix last year was the highlight of our season. We had a good weekend, fighting our way to the winner's circle from the eleventh starting spot. Unfortunately, from that point on we proceeded to shoot ourselves in the foot. However, instead of dwelling on our mistakes, we prefer to see them as part of racing's learning curve, doing what we can to make our program stronger in the long run. This year, we're looking for a repeat performance as well as a strong showing for the rest of the year. We certainly have our work cut out for us, but we're pretty optimistic about our chances."

-credit: j2r

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