Gainesville Warren Johnson repeats history

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 19, 2000) - Just when the rest of the Pro Stock class thought it was safe to go back to the Gatornationals, Warren Johnson rallied once again at Gainesville Raceway demonstrating the excellence that has made him...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 19, 2000) - Just when the rest of the Pro Stock class thought it was safe to go back to the Gatornationals, Warren Johnson rallied once again at Gainesville Raceway demonstrating the excellence that has made him one of the all-time great drivers of NHRA Drag Racing. After an early season two-race struggle, the five-time Winston Pro Stock champion won his 80th career race in front of a four-day crowd of 146,700 fans, driving the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird past Troy Coughlin in the final round of eliminations. It capped an outstanding weekend at this fabled Florida drag strip in which Johnson qualified No. 1, set a new track record and recorded the top speed of the event. "We really aren't at 100 percent right now and I'm sure you get tired of hearing that," Johnson said. "But it's one of these things where we've had some manufacturing glitches since October of last year. Hopefully the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird will be at full power by Las Vegas. "Kurt (Johnson) broke a motor testing on Wednesday prior to this race so we're going to have to patch another one together. But we should have enough fresh parts where we should be, maybe not any faster, but at least more consistent with both Kurt, and my program as well as Richie's (Stevens) program." Johnson took the pole position on Friday with a track-record elapsed time of 6.849 seconds and an event top speed of 200.83 mph making him the favorite heading into today's race. He defeated Geroge Marnell in round one, Jim Yates in round two, and Ron Krisher in round three before facing Coughlin in the final. Johnson won rounds from both lanes today recording performance numbers of 6.879ET/ 199.67MPH, 6.935ET/197.80MPH and 6.927ET/199.52. In the final session against Coughlin, the outcome was never in doubt with Johnson's Por Stock Pontiac Firebird eclipsing the quarter mile in 6.900 seconds at 199.35 mph, while Coughlin's Oldsmobile slowed to a 8.865 elapsed time at 106.59 mph. It was the first win in two final rounds this year for the 56-year-old Buford, Ga., resident. Johnson was runner up at the season-opening AutoZone Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., and has now won at least one race every season since 1982 - the longest active streak among professional competitors. It was also the eighth time that Johnson has won the Gatornationals. "I've never claimed to be a great driver," Johnson said. "That just went along with the job. My forte has been trying to make these cars run quicker and faster than everybody else and we were able to do that this weekend. All we can do is the very best we can with our program and I feel fortunate to be in the position we're in." Johnson's win today moves him back into second place in the Pro Stock standings with 264 points, less than two round wins behind Jeg Coughlin who has 290 points. "It's not going to be a two-car race," Johnson explained. "I guarantee that there will be another three or four cars in that mix by the end of the season. If you look at how strong the category is with the 16 cars that qualify, the people that do a good job driving and as a team maintaining these cars between rounds, there's enough intelligence out here to give us a very interesting season. If someone does a better job, then so be it. That just means we didn't do a good enough job. We'll just try and shore up our weak spots and try to keep the strong points where they are." Richie Stevens in the Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird had a strong showing on raceday advancing to round three before losing to Troy Coughlin. Jim Yates, and Bruce Allen lost in the second round; Yates to Warren Johnson and Allen to Troy Coughlin. "I thought we came along pretty well this weekend in the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird after taking the reins back over from Rickie (Smith)," Yates said. "I felt pretty confident coming in here this morning after the run we made in the final session yesterday, and I thought we ran pretty well in the first round out of the bad lane. We ran a 6.94 in the second session in the bad lane which I though was pretty good considering Warren (Johnson) only ran a 6.93 in the right lane. "We made a pretty good showing today. We ran as good as we could have expected to run and the car has a lot of potential left in it. It's a long season, but I'm looking forward to being more productive and winning a few more rounds. Right now I feel like we had a great opportunity to win this race but it just didn't happen." Tom Martino, Mark Pawuk, Steve Schmidt and George Marnell lost in round one; Martino to Richie Stevens, Pawuk to Kurt Johnson, Schmidt to Jim Yates and Marnell to Warren Johnson. After three events, the Pro Stock standings have tightened up behind Jeg Coughlin and Warren Johnson. Ron Krisher is in third place in a Firebird with 180 points, Troy Coughlin is fifth in an Oldsmobile with 163, Mark Pawuk is fifth in a Firebird with 162, Richie Stevens is sixth in a Firebird with 156, Jim Yates is seventh in a Firebird with 147, Kurt Johnson is eighth in a Camaro with 143 and Bruce Allen and Tom Martino are tied for 10th place in Firebirds with 142 points. In Funny Car, Todd Paton made an auspicious professional debut in the Nitrofish Pontiac Firebird, qualifying in the No. 7 position and advancing to round three before losing to eventual race winner Jerry Toliver. Checker Schuck's Kragen driver Del Worsham advanced to the second round of eliminations in his 2000 Pontiac Firebird Funny Car before losing to Ron Capps. "There's a pretty good chance we weren't going to beat Capps' 4.83 elapsed time," Worsham said. "We just ran 4.93 in the first round, and we're getting quicker, but stepping up a full tenth of a second might have been a bit much. We didn't make that many changes from round one, but the clutch just wore differently on this run. It was more aggressive and it was enough to overpower the track out there. It surprised me really. The Checkers Schuck's Kragen Firebird hasn't been on edge all weekend, or all year for that matter. "I'm happy we've been to the second round of each race so far. That's really our overall goal this year - to win as many rounds as we lose. But once you win that first one it's really tough to accept a loss. You just want to keep winning." Gary Densham, Al Hofmann, Tim Wilkerson and Frank Pedregon lost in round one; Densham to Scotty Cannon, Hofmann to Ron Capps, Wilkerson to Todd Paton and Frank Pedregon to younger brother Tony Pedregon. "We were having our problems trying to get the Mooneyes Firebird to run better," said crew chief and team owner Jim Dunn. "We tried a lot of stuff that I think will help us in Las Vegas, but we couldn't get our clutch to react the way we wanted it to, and if the clutch doesn't work, your car doesn't work. That is the primary ingredient in making these cars run. We have enough power - and if it will go 300 mph it will run in the 4.80s. "We were stuck on 4.99 and five-ohs and that's not good enough anymore. We tried to improve and we smoked the tires. It was good at Phoenix but now it slips too far. If we were going to Houston next we would put our five-disc in. But we're going to Las Vegas where it might be pretty loose, so we're staying with the four-disc. At Phoenix the track was a little marginal, the tires slipped and the clutch did it's job. Here the track was so good that we could never get the clutch to hook up hard enough to get the tires going the way we wanted. This track was too good for the combination we had in it." After his win today, Jerry Toliver leads the Funny Car standings in a Camaro with 307 points. John Force is second in a Mustang with 233 points, Ron Capps is third in a Camaro with 217, Tony Pedregon is fourth in a Mustang with 214 and Del Worsham is fifth in a Firebird with 158. Gary Densham in a Firebird is tied for sixth place with Scotty Cannon with 135 points. Al Hofmann is 10th in a Firebird with 116 points. In Top Fuel, Team Pontiac driver Cory McClenathan came into today's race qualified in the No. 8 position but lost in round one to Mike Smith. The race was won by Doug Kalitta who defeated Tony Schumacher in the final round. Kalitta ran a 4.614 elapsed time at 313.58 mph to Schumacher's 4.679 second run at 314.97 mph. Schumacher still leads the Winston Top Fuel standings with 304 points. Gary Scelzi is in second place with 273 points, Larry Dixon is third with 206, Joe Amato is fourth with 190 and Kenny Bernstein is fifth with 183. Cory McClenathan is ninth with 118 points. In the Sportsman categories, Lee Bannister of Crosby, Tex., won in Stock Eliminator in a 1972 Pontiac Firebird. The next stop on the schedule is the Inaugural Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nev., on April 6 - 9. It is the fourth race on the 23-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Television coverage of the Summit Racing Nationals can be seen on TNN on Sunday, April 9 beginning at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Ron Krisher , Gary Densham , Scotty Cannon , Todd Paton , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , Tim Wilkerson , George Marnell , Steve Schmidt , Jerry Toliver , Mike Smit