Coming into the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, the hottest driver in Pro Stock is Kurt Johnson, currently ranked second in the Pro Stock standings. After a rocky start in 2000, Kurt rebounded to win five of...
Coming into the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, the hottest driver in Pro Stock is Kurt Johnson, currently ranked second in the Pro Stock standings. After a rocky start in 2000, Kurt rebounded to win five of 11 races since the mid-season break in July - more victories in the second half than any other Pro Stock driver. Johnson is undefeated in final rounds this year (including two victories over newly crowned champion Jeg Coughlin Jr.). He vaulted from ninth in the Winston standings in May to second place coming into the season finale. Kurt is fresh from a victory in the rain-delayed O'Reilly Nationals in Dallas last weekend, and he was the No. 1 qualifier at the preceding race in Houston. "The car has been consistent, it's going straight, and it loves to run from the Christmas Tree to the finish line," said Johnson, who last celebrated in the Pomona Raceway winner's circle at the 1997 NHRA Finals. "The Pomona track may be a little loose on the first run because there won't be much rubber on surface, but my car usually doesn't have a problem with that. If I can get my driving dialed in, I can win the trophy." The only rough spot in Johnson's late-season surge was a surprising DNQ in Memphis. "It was just a glitch," he said. "The motor wasn't right, the car wasn't right, and we found some problems with the suspension. We bought a barrel of gas and a bag of sandwiches and went testing at Atlanta Dragway. We made 19 test runs after Memphis and qualified No. 1 in Houston. Hard work pays off!" Kurt is philosophic about his close-but-no-cigar season. "People only remember who won the championship," he conceded. "We'll be back in Pomona for the Winternationals in just a few weeks. We'll have new race cars and plenty of engines next season. If we adapt our chassis setup to the 2001 Cavalier project, we'll be contenders right off the bat. "We'll be ready," he promised.
With an 80-point advantage over his father Warren, Kurt can finish as runner-up in the championship for the second time in his career. But if Kurt looks over his shoulder, he'll see W.J. bearing down on him. The NHRA Finals could become another family affair for the Johnsons. Warren and Kurt squared off in the final round of the Finals in 1993, with W.J. taking the victory and Kurt winning the Winston Rookie of the Year honors. Father and son finished 1-2 in the championship standings that season, and Warren has finished ahead of Kurt in the championship every year since then. Now with a four-round lead in the points race, Kurt has his best chance to claim the bragging rights at the family's top-secret R&D center in Sugar Hill, Ga.
<pre> KURT JOHNSON POMONA RACEWAY RESULTS: Year Qualified Result 1993 Spring 15 Semi-Final 1993 Fall 2 Runner-up (to W. Johnson 1994 Spring 3 Semi-Final 1994 Fall 7 Second Round 1995 Spring 3 First Round 1995 Fall 4 Semi Final 1996 Spring 4 Second Round 1996 Fall 13 First Round 1997 Spring 5 Runner-up (to W. Johnson) 1997 Fall 6 Winner (over Martino) 1998 Spring 11 First Round 1998 Fall 3 Second Round 1999 Spring 2 Semi-Final 1999 Fall 7 First Round 2000 Spring 8 Second Round
Matco Tools SuperNationals, Houston, Oct. 29 Qualified: No. 1 Finished: Lost to Warren Johnson in semi-final round.
O'Reilly Fall Nationals, Dallas, Nov. 4 Qualified: No. 2 based on driver points Finished: Winner; defeated Jeg Coughlin Jr. in final round.
POINTS RACE: (After 22 of 23 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr. 10 1,956 2. Kurt Johnson 5 1,490 3. Warren Johnson 2 1,410 4. Ron Krisher 2 1,359 5. Mark Pawuk 1 1,180