Indianapolis: Kurt Johnson preview

K.J. adopts his own version of points racing for the U.S. Nationals SUGAR HILL, GA., August 24, 2003 - As the season winds down for the various racing series across the country, much of the pre-race attention will center on the chase for the ...

K.J. adopts his own version of points racing for the U.S. Nationals

SUGAR HILL, GA., August 24, 2003 - As the season winds down for the various racing series across the country, much of the pre-race attention will center on the chase for the championship, with some teams adopting a strategy known as "points racing". In the stock car and open-wheel ranks, this translates into a more conservative approach to the remaining events, reducing the risk of mechanical failure while trying to ensure a solid finishing position.

However, as Pro Stock championship contender Kurt Johnson explains, this practice takes on a complete different meaning in the world of NHRA POWERade Drag Racing. In fact, heading into this weekend's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, IN, Johnson and his ACDelco Cavalier racing team are steeling themselves to raise the competitive bar even further.

"In NASCAR, drivers battling for the championship have the luxury of finding a hole during the race, so they can ride around and score an average points finish," said Johnson. "In drag racing, you have to be at your absolute best every time you take to the track. Whether you're ahead or behind, you have to treat every round as if it were the final.

"Neither Greg (Anderson), nor I can afford a first-round loss right now. He's trying to maintain the points lead, while I'm looking to make up ground. You work throughout the year to put yourself and your team in this type of situation, and this ACDelco crew is ready to fight all the way to the end."

Johnson's performance to this point of the season is the envy of virtually everyone in the pit area, with four wins in seven final round appearances. He remains in prime contention for his first POWERade championship, and maintains the proper perspective in his chase of current points leader Greg Anderson.

"Right now, we are less than eight rounds out of the lead, and we have seven races left," detailed Johnson. "To use an extreme example, if I win them all, which is our goal, I automatically gain 140 points, and with a little help, we'll make up the final difference. After all, you only have to be in the points lead for the last run of the last race."

Should Johnson's championship surge gain strength this weekend, it will come at drag racing's biggest event. Next to the series championship, the U.S. Nationals title is the one accomplishment every competitor wants on his or her racing resume. With two prior wins in 1996 and 1997, Johnson and crew come to Indianapolis Raceway Park well prepared, despite not having participated in last week's test session.

"Although we didn't test last week, we're not really concerned heading into Indy," stated Johnson. "For one thing, the track conditions during the race usually change from what they were in testing. In addition, we have a good database to work from, covering virtually every situation and track type.

"We'll also have the notes from Dad's test to look over, which should give us a good idea of what set-up to use for the first qualifying session on Friday. Finally, our ACDelco Cavalier has been strong and consistent the last two races, and we're going to take that momentum and build on it.

"Despite the prestige of the U.S. Nationals and the pressure of the championship battle, our game plan remains the same as it was at the first sixteen races. We will take this weekend one run at a time, working to avoid mistakes and make good decisions.

"With only a handful of races left, every point becomes even more valuable. It is extremely important that we start winning races, and there would be no better place to do it than in Indianapolis."

Kurt's Quotes:

On Racing at the U.S. Nationals:

"When you race at the U.S. Nationals, all the eyes are on you. From your sponsors to the fans, the center of the drag racing world is in Indianapolis. It's one of the most satisfying races to win, because you know everyone brings their best equipment. Our goal is to go there, out power and out think everyone and leave with the most points."

His Favorite U.S. Nationals Memory:

"My most vivid memories at Indy deal with my two wins. My favorite is 1996, when I raced Rickie Smith in the final round and won by two thousandths. I had tested the week before, flying in that morning, made nine runs, and returned home that night.

"During the Friday night qualifying session, which it typically has the best conditions, a water fitting came off, and I had to shut off. Even so, we came back to qualify fifth, and on Monday made it all the way to the final. When I let the clutch out against Rickie, the car immediately hooked a left, so I had to pull it back in the groove and motored down the track. That was my first U.S. Nationals win, and it was memorable for more than one reason."

Facts on Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Racing Team entering The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals:

* Kurt knows how to win the U.S. Nationals: This will be Kurt's eleventh appearance at Brainerd Indianapolis Raceway Park, where he has two wins (in 1996 & 1997) in two final round appearances. In his ten previous starts, he has compiled a 15-8 elimination round record, for a .652 winning percentage.

* KJ's Qualifying Record at IRP: KJ has qualified in the top half of the field in six of his previous 10 attempts in Indianapolis, with one No. 1 qualifying performance in 1997 and an overall average of 6.9.

* One year ago: Kurt qualified thirteenth at IRP with an elapsed time of 6.860 seconds and a top speed of 200.74 mph, but fell in the first round.

* Traveling in Elite Company: Kurt's 27 national event victories tie him with Cory McClenethan for 15th on the all-time NHRA professional win list, and give him sole possession of fifth in the Pro Stock Career Victories, breaking a tie with legendary Pro Stock driver Lee Shepherd. Kurt's most recent win came at the Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, IL.

* POWERade Points standings: After the sixteenth of 23 events, Kurt sits second in the 2003 POWERade Championship standings with 1296 points, 158 behind current leader Greg Anderson, and 239 ahead of Jeg Coughlin, who is in third. Kurt finished sixth in 2002, his tenth consecutive Top 10 finish.

* Winning percentage: Kurt's .643 elimination round winning percentage (333-186) ranks 11th among all active NHRA professional drivers.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.716 seconds, Englishtown, NJ, 2003

* Career best top speed: 206.61 mph, Englishtown, NJ, 2003


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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Greg Anderson , Rickie Smith