Gainesville: Tommy Johnson, Jr finals preview

<pre> THE RACE: Completion of the Mac Tools Gatornationals, April 21, Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway GAINESVILLE RACEWAY HISTORY: Johnson qualified sixth (4.909 seconds at 309.42 mph) and races Jim Epler in the first round. STANDING: Third...

<pre> THE RACE:
Completion of the Mac Tools Gatornationals, April 21, Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway

GAINESVILLE RACEWAY HISTORY:
Johnson qualified sixth (4.909 seconds at 309.42 mph) and races Jim Epler in the first round.

STANDING:
Third place, 279 points, after four of 24 NHRA Winston Series events. </pre> Johnson returns to Gainesville on a win streak. He won the Summitracing.com Nationals (April 8) at Las Vegas in just his fourth race driving for Don Prudhomme's Snake Racing.

Ironically, he squared off against Epler in the first round at Vegas, winning with a 4.868-second time. The race victory was Johnson's third in Funny Car, fifth overall, and first in 18 races dating back to 1999. He won twice in four finals driving Joe Gibbs' Funny Car in the last 13 events that year. He drove in 11 races in 2000 for Helen Hofmann.

"I think the rainout at Gainesville (March 18) was the best thing that's happened to us," said Johnson. "At the time I wasn't looking forward to coming back, but now I can't wait because it's just a couple of races later but we've turned our performance around. We were running OK then but we didn't have a dominating car and weren't one of the favorites to win the race.

"I'd have to say now that we have to be one of the favorites. I know the team's confidence level is high. I don't think that was our last win, by any means. I think that was the first of many.

Going back to Gainesville, I don't think I'm a favorite, I think our team - with teammate Ron Capps driving the Skoal Racing Green Camaro -- is a favorite. Our next goal is to get both cars into the finals. Ron and I are on opposite sides of the ladder."

POINT OF INTEREST . . .
Johnson received more than 280 congratulatory e-mails from friends and fans in the 12 hours after his victory.

"I try to answer every e-mail, but this time it might take me a long time to get to them all," he said. "Thanks to everyone who sent me an e-mail."

WHAT THE LAS VEGAS WIN MEANT TO HIM:
"More than anything, I was happy to do it for the team and for Skoal Racing, because they went with two cars, showing them that it wasn't a mistake; and for Don Prudhomme, that he made the right choice for a driver," Johnson commented. "And also for Prudhomme, the satisfaction of proving to everybody the two-car team definitely was an advantage and that it was the right move . . . that everybody made the right choices.

"For me, I was glad to get back on track and show everybody that I can win, no matter what kind of car I drive, or who I drive for. We can get the job done. This also shows what kind of team this is."

LOOKING BACK AT THE LAS VEGAS VICTORY:
Johnson, the No. 3 qualifier with a 4.838-second run (tying his career best), beat Epler, Gary Densham (5.054), Dean Skuza (4.885) and Whit Bazemore (4.856).

There were six Funny Car reaction times in the .400 range in eliminations, and Johnson had the three quickest (.481, .466, .462). The last one came in the finals and gave him a lead he never lost.

"Winning in just my fourth race doesn't seem to me like it's any big deal, but then I step back and look at it, and it did come pretty quickly. You can always hope it will be like that, but realistically you have to think that it won't come quite that quickly," Johnson remarked.

He began the day in his 2000-model Skoal Racing Blue Camaro and Capps was in the 2001-model Skoal Racing Green Camaro (because the team didn't have time to prepare both bodies). Capps fell victim to mechanical problems in the first round and crew chief Ed "The Ace" McCulloch decided to use the Green Camaro on the Blue chassis because it had better down force.

"That was one of our keys to winning, too," Johnson said. "Switching the bodies was definitely a contributing factor in the win."

-Snake Racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , Dean Skuza , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , Tommy Johnson , Gary Densham , Don Prudhomme