Gateway: Pontiac Racing finals report

ST. LOUIS, June 24, 2001 - In the 50th anniversary season of the National Hot Rod Association, Warren Johnson reached an historic milestone of his own today by recording his 85th career Pro Stock victory at the 5th annual Sears Craftsman ...

ST. LOUIS, June 24, 2001 - In the 50th anniversary season of the National Hot Rod Association, Warren Johnson reached an historic milestone of his own today by recording his 85th career Pro Stock victory at the 5th annual Sears Craftsman Nationals. The win ties the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac driver with Bob Glidden for most victories by a Pro Stock driver, second on the NHRA list for all-time wins behind John Force.

Johnson came into the race qualified in the No. 1 position after recording a track-record elapsed time of 6.865 seconds during the third session of time trials on Saturday morning. He defeated John Nobile in round one of eliminations, Mike Edwards in round two, and Brad Jeter in round three before squaring off against Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am driver Jim Yates in the finals.

The "Professor's" Grand Am launched first and drove away to the finish stripe with a 6.908 elapsed time at 200.74 mph. Yates' Pontiac followed in 6.930 seconds at 200.62 mph.

"We're after the championship first and foremost," said Johnson. "If we tie or break the record along the way, then so be it. This is a brand new racecar and only our second race with it. We made only 11 passes on it testing in Bradenton, Fla., in December and just before the Columbus race in Atlanta. That's when we felt it was a better hot weather car than what we had. We really don't have a fingerprint on what this car wants yet under changing conditions. We're getting better but the car makes us look awful smart.

"Today we were conservative. In the first round and third round, we shook the tires pretty aggressively. When we looked at what we did we realized we hadn't made a big enough change. The first round wasn't pretty, and the third round wasn't pretty, but the net result is that we won and that's the bottom line."

Johnson's fourth win of the season, and his second at this event, enabled him to widen his points lead over second-place Jim Yates. It is also the second time in just over a week that Johnson has claimed victory at a national event. He was the winner at last week's Pontiac Excitement Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his monumental victory here today, Johnson registered career-round win No. 700 in the third session of eliminations.

"I went from third place to first place in one race at Columbus," said Johnson. "If you're not on your game every round you can go from hero to zero in a hurry. You have to look at this points race as trying to maximize the number of rounds that you go and that's what we're trying to do. We'd certainly like to win the races, but the rounds are what count."

Jim Yates was racing in his fifth final round of the season and looking to narrow the margin with the Pro Stock points leader. But after failing to qualify at this race a year ago, the Splitfire Pontiac Grand Am driver was far from being disappointed with his runner up performance.

"We've been really consistent this year," said Yates. "The problem is that there is so much parity in Pro Stock. There are so many good cars out here that we have to take advantage of every round if we're going to win the championship. If you get past first round, you're having a good day.

"We went out in the final round and made a good run. I'm real proud of what we accomplished. The Splitfire Grand Am is running good, and we've made a lot of laps here, but we've never seen this track like it was both yesterday and today. I think the best from this team is yet to come."

In Funny Car, Del Worsham made another run at the winner's circle today, driving the Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird to round three before losing to eventual race winner Tony Pedregon.

"I couldn't believe it when the tires broke loose," Worsham said. "As soon as they did I pedaled it, I saw him lose traction too and it was a war. The key for him was that extra couple of hundred feet he got under power. He was that far ahead and I couldn't quite catch him. I thought I was making up ground, but we were both smoking the tires down there like it was 1970 and I just couldn't reel him in."

Marc White of Glendale Heights, Ill., took home the winner's trophy in Federal Mogul Funny Car by defeating Kim Fritts in a final-round battle of Pontiac Firebirds. White pulled away with a 5.786 elapsed time at 250.04 seconds to Fitts' 5.860 elapsed time at 231.71 mph. Ricky Ray of Savannah, Mo., won in Super Stock in a '98 Firebird.

The next stop on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour is the Pep Boys 50th Anniversary NHRA Nationals at Pomona Raceway in Pomona, Calif., on July 5 -7.

-GM Racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Nobile , Brad Jeter , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , John Force , Bob Glidden , Mike Edwards