Denver: Kurt Johnson preview

DENVER, July 8, 2009 -- The upcoming NHRA Western Swing, a challenging series of three races held on consecutive weekends in July, marks the beginning of the second half of the 2009 Full Throttle season. In what may be the most challenging stretch...

DENVER, July 8, 2009 -- The upcoming NHRA Western Swing, a challenging series of three races held on consecutive weekends in July, marks the beginning of the second half of the 2009 Full Throttle season. In what may be the most challenging stretch of the schedule, the Western Swing will take the ACDelco team and fellow Pro Stock competitors to Denver (July 10 -12), Seattle (July 17 -- 19) and Sonoma, Calif. (July 24 -- 26), before the race transporter returns east to its headquarters in Sugar Hill, Ga.

"These three races are going to be huge," said ACDelco Chevrolet Pro Stock driver Kurt Johnson. "With only six races left before the Countdown, everyone is looking at the points and battling to be solidly in the top 10. It's time for us to get going. We want to get some wins and move up in the points to establish ourselves for the last six races of the season. We're at the halfway point and it's time to get with the program."

At this weekend's 30th annual Mile-High Nationals, racing will take place in a hot, summer environment at an altitude of approximately 5900 feet and with adjusted altitudes close to 10,000 feet. These kinds of conditions will leave the naturally aspirated Pro Stock engines screaming for air at the end of their quarter-mile run.

"Compared to how we race the car at the other 23 races, it's pretty strange running up there," Johnson said. "We make a big gearing change, carburetion change, clutch change -- you're still turning the same rpm up there but you're spending a longer time on the race track. Instead of running 6.60s we're closer to 7.05 seconds. You have to look at your notes from years past, and more so this year for the Denver race since we didn't test out there. The goal is to be faster than everybody else, and that's what we'll be shooting for."

Add in some Pacific clouds, cooler temperatures, and a mature grove of shade trees, then lower the racing surface elevation 5600 feet, and you have the more manageable characteristics the ACDelco team will face the following weekend at Seattle. The Western Swing then comes to a conclusion on July 24 - 26 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., where competition will take place at sea level, and in air temperatures more similar to those in Denver than in Seattle.

"When you get back to Seattle and Sonoma, it's back to fundamentals as far as applying the basics," Johnson said. "It's obviously not nearly as difficult finding power at the two final races of the Western Swing as it is at Denver. The key is making sure that your parts inventory is good and ours is pretty good right now."

Johnson enters this crucial stretch of the season looking to solidify his position in the NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock standings. With only six contests remaining before the Countdown to 1 (when the professional categories lock in the top 10 drivers in the standings for the final six races that will determine the 2009 Full Throttle champion), the ACDelco driver is currently in eighth place in the standings with every intent of advancing up the Pro Stock leader board.

"We tested a bunch of stuff during the first part of the year," Johnson said. "We're going to have to sort through that and pinpoint what we want to run for the last half of the season, and then try to keep the changes to a minimum."

Historically speaking, this has been a prolific time of the season for the Lawrenceville, Ga., resident. Of Johnson's 39 career victories, 23 have occurred after July 1 including six national-event wins on the Western Swing and two at Bandimere Speedway. His most recent win at the Mile-High Nationals was in 2000 when he defeated Darrell Alderman in the championship round, and in 1995 he narrowly defeated Jim Yates in the finals on a holeshot. Johnson also has two runners-up at Denver; in 1997 to Jim Yates and in 2001 to Warren Johnson. He was also No. 1 qualifier at Bandimere Speedway in 2000.

Heading into this year's Mile-High Nationals, Johnson is confident about the tune-up on his ACDelco Chevrolet and he has a powerful reference book of materials to help him adapt his car to the Bandimere racing surface. Johnson qualified No. 5 here at last year's race and advanced to the semifinals before losing to Greg Anderson, and in 2007 he entered race day qualified in the No. 4 spot. That's a strong point to start from as he gets ready for this year's Mile-High Nationals.

"We were in pretty good shape when we got back from Norwalk as far as fresh pieces -- we built two new motors and freshened up four more for the Western Swing," Johnson said. "We had plenty of time to get ready, but now we have to push it to the end."

The 30th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals on July 10 -- 12 at Bandimere Speedway in Denver, Col., is the 13th race on the 24-event NHRA Full Throttle Series tour. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights beginning at 10 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, July 11. NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, will air at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 12, on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will feature three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 12.

"We're close," Johnson said. "We've made some gains this last week that I think are going to pan out and put us much closer to the top -- closer than we've been all season."

-credit: j2r

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Series NHRA
Drivers Darrell Alderman , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Greg Anderson