INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- As the 22-event Winston championship tour enters the final leg of the 1998 season, three-time Winston champion Warren Johnson is taking nothing for granted with his focus now directed towards winning a fifth U.S. Nationals...
INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- As the 22-event Winston championship tour enters the final leg of the 1998 season, three-time Winston champion Warren Johnson is taking nothing for granted with his focus now directed towards winning a fifth U.S. Nationals title.
After 15 races, the "Professor of Pro Stock" continues his pursuit of a fourth Winston championship, comfortably ahead in the points standings, but well aware that his lead could slip away with the blink of an eye.
"This lead could disappear in two or three races if we suffered some real ill fortune," explains Johnson. "We don't event think about the points lead. We think of how we got there, and then concentrate on what got us there. I've said it since I began racing that the only time the points lead means anything is after the last race of the year. If you have the lead then, you're in fine shape."
As Johnson prepares the GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird for another visit to Indianapolis Raceway Park, his season to this point has been nothing short of dominance, producing six wins, eight No. 1 and 12 top-two qualifying efforts.
For most of the decade, Johnson's car has also been the machine to beat at Indianapolis as well. Since his professional career began in 1975, he has won the U.S. Nationals five times (1984, 1992-95), and was runner-up once (1988). Another win at Indianapolis could very well be the final nail in the coffin for the rest of a Pro Stock pack whose ability to keep pace with him seems to fade with each passing week.
"At this point in time, the only real problem we've had this year is the inadvertent parts breakage at the wrong time," said Johnson. "That's really the only thing that's slowed us down. If other teams start picking up their programs and close the gap, and we're not able to expand our program, then we won't have that advantage anymore.
"Our focus has always been on winning the championship, and when you break it down into its basic elements, you have to win the rounds. If you win the rounds consistently, then you can win races, and then you can win a championship. With the parity in Pro Stock right now, there's no conceivable way that one car can not win a race all year and still win the championship. That possibility is no longer there, especially with the consistency of a majority of these cars and the closeness of the category."
The 44th Annual U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park is the 16th race on the 22-event NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour. Final round coverage of the Big Bud Shoot-out for Funny Cars will be telecast on TNN on Sunday, September 6 beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. Semi-final round and final round coverage of the U.S. Nationals can be seen on Monday, September 7, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.
"We're working on some new equipment that will hopefully increase the performance of both the GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird and Kurt's (Johnson) car," said Johnson. "If we don't suffer any parts breakage and concentrate on what's got us into this points position, then we should be fine. Our mission right now is to finish one-two in the championship, and I think we have the equipment to do that. We just need to keep our focus on what we've been doing, but we're extremely elated to be in the position we are."