Center Line, Mich. -- Team MoparÂ® driver Allen Johnson can rest and reflect on a stellar 17-race effort. During the NHRA Countdown to 8, he secured his Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus R/T team the fourth spot in the Countdown to 4, the next...
Center Line, Mich. -- Team Mopar® driver Allen Johnson can rest and reflect on a stellar 17-race effort. During the NHRA Countdown to 8, he secured his Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus R/T team the fourth spot in the Countdown to 4, the next section of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Following that brief respite, Johnson will go back to work as the four-race Countdown to 4 shootout begins at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Aug. 29 -- Sept. 3.
Richie Stevens Jr., Johnson's teammate, saw his 2007 title aspirations run out at the previous race in Reading, Pa. Despite taking one round win at the event, Stevens was unable to catch another HEMI®-powered driver, Larry Morgan, for the eighth and final spot in the Countdown to 4. With his championship hopes gone, Stevens and his Team Mopar/Valspar Dodge Stratus R/T team will stay focused on wins and also look to play spoiler to the drivers still competing with his teammate Johnson for the NHRA Pro Stock title.
Allen Johnson is one of only eight NHRA Pro Stock drivers with title hopes still alive as the NHRA Countdown to 4 begins As a veteran, Johnson enters the NHRA Countdown to 4 [the four-race second section of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship that will whittle the eight-man field down to four remaining title finalists] just 30 points behind leader Greg Anderson. Johnson maintained his grip on the fourth position in the points standings entering the Countdown to 4. This feat may prove fortuitous as the Countdown continues.
"I feel like it's huge," said Johnson of holding onto the fourth spot in the standings. "We're all separated there by just a few points. I guess at the end of it we'll see how huge it is. I feel like ten points will be the difference in making the top four or not. Maybe one round or half a round will make the difference at the end of it."
Johnson and his J&J Racing team, including crew chief, Mark Ingersoll, and engine builder, Roy Johnson [Allen Johnson's father], qualified for the Countdown to 4 with races to spare. That gave the team the luxury to work on the setup of Johnson's Dodge Stratus R/T before the next section of the Countdown began.
"We had a new motor in [the Stratus R/T] at Reading, and tried some new things on the motor we had been running," Johnson said. "There's just four or five changes we're trying to incorporate into a new engine we hopefully will have at Indy." With eight drivers left to battle for the NHRA Pro Stock title, Johnson wants to start the Countdown to 4 on a positive note at Indy.
"Our strategy is going to be very simple," remarked Johnson. "We're going to follow the strategy we've had all year, to have lane choice and win first round, and then push it a little harder, so we can win lane choice for the second round. It's huge to do well at this first race to give you some momentum."
Richie Stevens Jr. is ready to assume the spoiler role at Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
Don Schumacher Racing's Stevens Jr. left it all on the race track in Reading in an effort to make the next section of the Countdown. Unfortunately, the gap between his 10th spot in the Pro Stock standings and the eighth and final spot in the Countdown to 4 was too large to close.
But the Louisiana native hasn't lost any of his fight. With nothing to lose, he may be even more dangerous. Stevens Jr. has a burning desire to play spoiler to the seven teams challenging teammate Johnson for the NHRA Pro Stock title (Stevens' Team/Mopar Valspar Dodge Stratus R/T is tuned by Johnson's J&J Racing team).
"We gave it a shot, we just came up a little bit short," said Stevens. "We're just going to go out there and try to win races. We've got nothing to lose as a team. We'll try a couple of things on the car and try to go for it all instead of being conservative. But it's really not going to change the approach of the team too much.
"The Countdown is over for me so I can go out there and try to be a spoiler and win races. I can try to hopefully help out A.J. a little bit and take some of his biggest competitors out."
Stevens has had an up-and-down ride recently at the U.S. Nationals. He hopes 2007 will see him reach the summit with a visit to victory lane. "The U.S. Nationals is always the best. Every one wants to win that one," said Stevens. "I came close two years ago and had a runner-up to Greg Anderson in the finals in '05. I had a terrible one last year. I went from having one of the best races to one of the worst races at Indy the last two years. I went from runner up to a DNQ, so now all that's left is to win it."
The runner-up finish at Indy in 2005 was especially meaningful for Stevens. It came after a grueling week that saw the New Orleans resident flee Hurricane Katrina by car and drive to the U.S. Nationals just in time to make qualifying. For a few days, he was unable to contact his parents and sister, who lived in the New Orleans area (they weathered the hurricane safely).
"This [weekend] will also be the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina," Stevens said. "It would be nice to go out there and win it, especially coming off of missing the Countdown to 4."