BRAINERD, Minn., August 7, 2007 - The next two races promise to be a make-or-break situation for a number of NHRA competitors looking to clinch one of the few remaining spots in the Countdown to the Championship. Some drivers are currently ...
BRAINERD, Minn., August 7, 2007 - The next two races promise to be a make-or-break situation for a number of NHRA competitors looking to clinch one of the few remaining spots in the Countdown to the Championship. Some drivers are currently positioned inside the field of eight and are hanging on by only a thin thread of points. Skoal Racing Chevy Impala Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. is outside the elite field of eight, and he's hoping that a pair of strong weekends will garner him and his teammates one of the final coveted slots in the Countdown.
"After six races in six weeks, the biggest toll has been on the guys," said Johnson. "You can replace parts with new ones, but at some point you have to let the guys recharge their batteries a little. With two more weeks in a row of racing coming up, I think coming into Brainerd with a little rest will help our team more than anything.
"We're out of it right now by 104 points so we basically need to go rounds and win. We could also use some help from the guys in seventh to 10th place, but there's not much we can do about that. As long as we can go out, win, and maybe put a little pressure on the rest of the field, then maybe we can still get ourselves in that eighth position. We'll just see where it stacks up after Reading."
Following a weekend off from racing after a six-straight weekend run of national events, the NHRA POWERade tour will make its way into Northern Minnesota for the 26th annual Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway on Aug. 10-12 where Johnson is the defending Funny Car champion.
"I think we're carrying a lot of momentum into Brainerd," said Johnson. "Our Chevy Impala is really starting to run well right now, and I think that puts us in a great position to defend our '06 win there. Last year at Brainerd, our car's performance seemed to pick up and it continued on that track for the remainder of the season. I can see the same thing happening again this year.
"At Sonoma, we made some big changes to our car, and basically, we took the combination from our teammate Larry Dixon's dragster and put it in our Impala. It was a big gamble not being able to test before Sonoma, but the car performed very well. We made three very good runs in qualifying and three good runs on Sunday. It's a different way of doing things with the engine - different camshaft, timing, fuel system and blower speeds. It seemed to turn our team around, and I think it will get better with the more runs we make and the more opportunities we have to gather data."
The performance of the Skoal Racing Chevrolet was markedly improved at Sonoma with Johnson qualifying in the No. 3 spot and advancing to the semifinal round. Johnson is hoping that the improvement trend continues in Minnesota.
"I almost feel like we're in a similar position to last year when we came on strong at the end," said Johnson. "I've had mixed emotions all year on the points system, but right now, if we can crack the top eight before Indy, I will be a big fan of it. It gives a team like ours, one that has struggled to find a consistent tune-up, a chance to make up for some lost time. As long as you can make the top eight and get you car figured out like we have, then the championship is still a possibility.
"I don't think we've yet been able to utilize the full performance of the new bodies this year, but now that the car as a complete unit is running better, you're going to see just how good the Impala SS is. We've noticed that our halftrack speeds have been better and that's a direct result of the body. You need all the downforce you can get combined with minimum drag. The Impala provides us with a nice combination of both."
After a slow start to the 2007 campaign, Johnson picked up a much-needed shot in the arm at Englishtown (N.J.) by qualifying No. 1 and winning his first race of the year. It was an inspiring victory that followed a devastating round-one fire that completely destroyed the team's primary racecar. The win put Skoal Racing team inside the top eight, and although some early-round losses since then has Johnson back down into 11th place in the standings, he's confident that he can battle his way back.
"I feel a lot better now that we have worked out some of the problems we were having," said Johnson. "It hasn't been the type of season that you would want, but if we can finish out the year with a few more wins and build our momentum for 08', I will be happy. I have a lot of goals that we haven't obtained yet for this year, so we have some unfinished business to attend to yet in 2007."
Following last year's win at Brainerd, Johnson finished out the season strong, qualifying No. 3 at Indy, No. 2 at Dallas, No. 1 at Reading, and he was runner-up at Las Vegas. With the Countdown to the Championship still to be determined, and the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals less than a month away, the Skoal Racing Chevy Impala driver is hoping that this year's Lucas Oil Nationals provides the impetus for another late-season push.
"There's a lot riding on these next couple of weeks," said Johnson. "We're currently fourth in the Skoal Showdown and only 20 points out of second. I would love nothing more than to get Skoal and Chevrolet a win on Sunday at Indy. Qualifying plays an important role on raceday and with the way are car is performing right now, it puts us in a much better position to go rounds on Sunday.
"The Funny Car class as a whole this year has been more competitive than ever, and I think we have seen great parity. We haven't performed to the level we are capable of and are still in the middle of it. Now with the car running the way it is, I think we can work our way to the top of the pack and maybe be one of those teams that can win multiple races before the year is over."
-credit: gm racing