15th ANNUAL TRUE VALUE KEYSTONE NATIONALS MAPLE GROVE RACEWAY PARK MOHNTON, PENNSYLVANIA FUNNY CAR - race winner Tommy Johnson Jr. (Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird)-"I told the guys this morning that I like the underdog role a lot...
15th ANNUAL TRUE VALUE KEYSTONE NATIONALS MAPLE GROVE RACEWAY PARK MOHNTON, PENNSYLVANIA
FUNNY CAR - race winner
Tommy Johnson Jr. (Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird)-"I told the guys this morning that I like the underdog role a lot better than being the favorite. There's a whole lot less pressure when you're not running very well, but I just kept telling the crew not to worry about it. We've let a lot of close races slip away from us when we were the favored car, and today, even though we didn't run stellar, we ran consistent. The Interstate Batteries Firebird had good runs in each round and didn't smoke the tires once. It was a little loose on the top end but we weren't spinning the tires like everyone else. Wes Cerny made some nice calls today that helped us to come around after our disappointing qualifying performance, but that's the best I've ever driven the Funny Car. I guess maybe I was trying a little harder today because we were the underdog. It all finally came together today. We should have won some other races and didn't, so this kind of makes up for it a little bit."
Does this take a little of the pressure off? "It was starting to get to us and it's frustrating at times. At Indy we felt that we let one get by us. We thought we were getting pretty close, we qualified No. 1, ran really well and everyone expected us to win. Now I feel like there's a huge monkey off my back. We got that win out of the way. I knew we could do it because these guys are a great team and Joe Gibbs gives us everything we need to get the job done. Everything was there but we just weren't getting it done. This definitely helps to take the pressure off. With Tony Stewart winning last week and Cory (McClenathan) winning Indy, I felt that we needed to step it up a notch. It definitely helps and it was a great day - you couldn't ask for anything better. The crew is much more at ease now, I'm sure that Wes has more confidence in my abilities and things should get easier from here on out."
How well have you and the crew worked together? "The chemistry was great on the first day right from the start. They're all about my age and we just gelled really well. Now this just brought us closer together. I couldn't have asked for a better situation to get into with a team as far as crew-wise. They're just like me; we're all the same. We eat dinner together and we do everything together. We communicate well with each other and that's really nice. I can have personal relationships with all of the guys on different interests and this just brought us closer together yet. I don't see us slowing down from here. This was the big hurdle that we needed to get over and now we're going straight forward from here on out. Wes kept saying that things may not be going our way but when they do they had better look out. "
Did anything carry over from when you raced Top Fuel dragsters here? "No it didn't. I think the second round was the farthest I ever got here in a Top Fuel car. It's been since 1995 since I last raced here and the track's totally different from when it was then. Up until today I didn't care for this place much because we were struggling pretty hard. It just kind of came together. I don't know what happened, but when things are going your way you can't do too much wrong and today we just kind of did everything right. Nothing really fell in our favor, things were just working."
What's the difference between the two classes? "Night and day; there's an unbelievable amount of difference. Even at Indy we got out of the groove and lost because it smoked the tires. Even here we got out of the groove in the first qualifying run and that got me down mentally. We found a problem in the steering, fixed that and ever since then it hasn't been easy to drive, but more like it should be. The difference between the dragster and the Funny Car are amazing. The only similarity is that you start them both the same way. But the way the car drives, and the way you leave, you can't see as well, everything is different. I had to get used to it, but now I kind of like the body because it gives you a false sense of security. I'm not claustrophobic. I kind of like being in there."
Don't you think that both drivers in the Funny Car final did well today? "Ron (Capps) hasn't had the best of seasons so it's nice to see those guys do well. They've really struggled, and as far as being a driver, you can really get down. It can get to you and the crew after a while. But we're tickled to death to win and this was a good morale booster for both teams."
PRO STOCK - runner up
Mark Pawuk (Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird) - "I left on him by over five-hundredth's of a second and you don't leave on Jeggie that way. I really thought it was our race but in about the middle of the third gear the Summit Racing Firebird got into trouble. I hit that bump and it threw me to the centerline. Normally I would have lifted, but because I didn't see him I just stayed in it. The car was so upset that I couldn't get it back and it fell way off. The worst we ran all weekend was a 6.95 and we go out tonight and run a 7-flat. Hey, we got here and now we can get back. I'm driving better, everything is coming together and you'll see more of this Summit Racing Pontiac team in the future."
So you knew you were out in front of him? "He caught me right there at the traps. Right at a thousand feet I saw his nose and then he started to come up on me. But my race car was so upset that it didn't settle back down. It was a really tricky race track. We made a pretty decent pass against Warren (Johnson) in the semi-finals but it just went left, got out of the groove and I fought it all the way down the race track."
Is this a nice boost going into Topeka? "Our tendency in the last 10 years has been to fall off in the last third of the season. This year we're accelerating our program. We're running better, we're running consistent, we're going more and more rounds, I'm driving better and I think this will give us nice momentum going into next year. We talked about trying to get back into the top five and that's still our goal. We gained two more rounds on it today putting some margin between us and seventh place and we're definitely headed the right way. With a young team like this the karma is beginning to come together. It was great effort by the whole group."