Tommy Johnson Jr. Standing: Eighth place, 952 points after 20 of 24 NHRA Winston Series events. In the last two years, Tommy Johnson Jr. was approaching the mid-point of his Funny Car season. Â In 1999, he won his first race in the category ...
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Standing: Eighth place, 952 points after 20 of 24 NHRA Winston Series events.
In the last two years, Tommy Johnson Jr. was approaching the mid-point of his Funny Car season. In 1999, he won his first race in the category at Maple Grove. It was his first of four straight final rounds while driving for Joe Gibbs.
He didn't win the race a year ago but he did something special. Johnson qualified 16th, then knocked out reigning champion - and No. 1 qualifier - John Force in the first round. That was one of his 2000 highlights.
"Maple Grove is a good track for me so everything's positive," Johnson said. "Our confidence level is pretty good going into Reading because we won there two years ago and I beat Force in the first round when I wasn't supposed to. I'll be going back to a track where I'm comfortable at and have a good history at (driving Funny Cars)."
His 1999 victory came against Ron Capps, his Skoal Racing teammate. He's also had more success at this track while at the controls of a Funny Car than he did during his five races driving in Top Fuel at the Reading-area track. He won just two rounds in a dragster.
Johnson's Blue Skoal Racing Camaro has already won once this year and he's finished second once.
Now, as the schedule shows only four races to go, Johnson believes it is time he returns to the winner's circle. Maple Grove, obviously, would be the first place to start. Rounding out the schedule are stops at Ennis, Texas (near Dallas), Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif.
Johnson's '01 victory came at Las Vegas, so he's partial to that one, but he believes his chances are good this weekend.
"The car is running excellent," he said. "There are plenty of opportunities for the car to pick up and win at least one more race. The Blue crew is too good not to win another race. We are running competitive times and ran very well in Joliet (Ill.) last weekend."
So well, in fact, that Johnson improved his career-best elapsed time to 4.817 seconds while qualifying No. 6 in a very quick field. Only one car in the top 16 ran slower than 4.900 and the 15th qualifier was at 4.868. First was a record setting 4.750 seconds.
"Funny Car has been a very tough category," Johnson remarked.
"We are winning rounds now and we're heading in the right direction," he added. "It's not as quick or as fast as we'd like it to be but every race is an improvement. The Blue Skoal Racing Camaro stumbled through the middle of the year and now we're headed back in the right direction."
And, Johnson hopes, a happy ending.
Seeking A Higher Place
Johnson is not happy with his current eighth place in NHRA Winston Series standings, and one of his goals is to do something about it.
"We want to move up as high as we can," he said. "When we started the season, our realistic goal was to be in the top five. We're close. We're in the top 10, but not the top five."
Now at 952 points, Johnson trails seventh place Frank Pedregon by 30, Bruce Sarver by 161 and fifth place Tony Pedregon by 252. Only four races and 16 rounds of racing remain. Each round is worth 20 points.