Pomona Tommy Johnson Jr. Preview

Johnson's numbers make strong impression POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 6, 1999) - Drag racing is all about numbers. The most important, of course, is 1, as in first place. Tommy Johnson Jr. won't finish first in the NHRA Funny Car standings this year...

Johnson's numbers make strong impression

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 6, 1999) - Drag racing is all about numbers. The most important, of course, is 1, as in first place.

Tommy Johnson Jr. won't finish first in the NHRA Funny Car standings this year because he's only competed in 12 races since stepping into the Interstate Batteries Hot Rod Pontiac in mid-June, nine races into the schedule. He has made quite an impression in that short amount of time.

As Johnson and the rest of the Joe Gibbs-owned Funny Car team prepare for the Auto Club Finals at Pomona Raceway, Nov. 11-14, here are some numbers of note. During his brief stint, Johnson has:

1. Won two races and finished second twice;

2. Gone from zero points to 850, good enough for eighth place;

3. Earned more points than every other Funny Car driver except nine-time champion John Force;

4. An opportunity to realistically finish as high as sixth in the final standings.

Johnson's record in the last five races includes two victories, two runner-ups and a semifinal appearance. His wins came at Reading, Pa., and Memphis. And the Ottumwa, Iowa, driver is the only one other than Force to have won during that time. Force defeated Johnson in the finals at Topeka, Kan., and Dallas.

"Things flowed pretty smoothly during the first four races," Johnson commented after dropping out in the semis at Houston (Oct. 31). "We struggled pretty good there, but to struggle and still go to the semifinals says a lot about this team. If we can go one or two rounds at Pomona we'll be guaranteed a top-10 finish. The funny thing is that all year we haven't even worried about the points. All of the sudden all I can do is count the points.

"What am I doing?" he asked. "I'm counting points for ninth and eighth place, but it's something we'd like to accomplish. It shows how the team was able to come together and make it to the top 10."

Johnson's 850-point total finds him 33 behind seventh-place Jim Epler and 46 behind sixth-place Del Worsham. Conversely, he is 17 points ahead of Ron Capps (No. 9) and 28 in front of Cory Lee (No. 10). In the last 12 races, Force has picked up 1000 points, Whit Bazemore 841 at Tony Pedregon 818.

Johnson, who drove family-owned Top Fuel dragsters from 1990 until switching to the Funny Car in June, has been impressive from his first race. He qualified third at Columbus, Ohio, and hasn't been lower than eighth at any time. Coincidentally, he was No. 8 at Reading where he went on to beat Capps in the finals.

His Memphis victory was impressive because he defeated both Force (in the semifinals) and Pedregon, Force's teammate, in the title round.

At Houston, Johnson qualified third (4.935 seconds) but didn't come back with the winning times that he'd been expecting on race day. Instead, engine problems slowed him to runs of 6.022 and 5.071 seconds while he advanced to the semis. Tire smoke - triggered by a mechanical malfunction - against Epler ended his day.

Johnson, who takes Funny Car career bests of 4.841 seconds and 320.05 mph into the Finals, where he wants to do well because this will be his last ride in the Interstate Batteries Hot Rod Pontiac. Gibbs is dissolving the team due to lack of a primary sponsor, so Johnson's number is one, as in races remaining.

"There couldn't be anything sweeter than to go to Pomona and end this with a win," Johnson said. "I'm sure we'll be doing whatever it takes to get that done."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Cory Lee , Tommy Johnson Jr.