NHRA Sears Craftsman Nationals MADISON, Ill., June 26, 2003 - As the NHRA drag racing schedule takes the plunge into the second half of the season, Chevrolet's Kurt Johnson continues to battle toward his first Pro Stock championship. The ACDelco...
NHRA Sears Craftsman Nationals
MADISON, Ill., June 26, 2003 - As the NHRA drag racing schedule takes the plunge into the second half of the season, Chevrolet's Kurt Johnson continues to battle toward his first Pro Stock championship. The ACDelco Cavalier driver sits just 64 points behind first-place Greg Anderson, and a strong run this weekend at the Sears Craftsman Nationals could catapult the 40-year-old Johnson back to the top of the points ladder.
"We had a pretty good idea right from the start on how competitive this season would be," said Johnson. "When you look at the number of lead changes we've had so far, it looks like a championship prize fight between two heavyweights. Greg (Anderson) wins a couple of rounds and then we'll come back and win a couple. For the fans who follow our sport, you really couldn't ask for anything more."
"To be honest though, it's really too early to even be thinking about the championship. There's still a lot of racing left and anything could happen. But I won't lie to you, it would be great to win it, for all the guys on the team and at the shop who put in the hard work, and for ACDelco and Chevrolet."
During the first 11 races of the year, Johnson has driven his red and blue 2003 Chevy Cavalier to the winner's circle four times, posted two runner-up finishes and scored 28 round wins. But down the stretch, what may be the ace in the hole for the likeable K.J. is his ability to win rounds on race day regardless of where in the 16-car field his Cavalier is qualified.
Johnson has yet to claim a No. 1 starting spot this season, and at Chicago last month, the ACDelco Chevrolet pilot won from the No. 15 starting position. But since April 28, at the Mac Tools Nationals in Bristol, Tenn., Johnson is the only Pro Stock driver left this year to advance past the first round at every race. It's an impressive statistic given the tenacity of the class, and a leading indicator of the consistency and high performance level of his Chevy Cavalier racing program.
"The competition level brings out the best in everybody," said Johnson.
"Then it comes down to experience. I've been driving now for 10 years and it seems that you learn something new every day, every run. I look at stuff from two or three years ago and ask myself, 'why did I do that? Why do I make different decisions today than I did yesterday?' Things keep changing and that's what makes it fun."
"In the near term, our goal is to maintain the consistency and performance in our Chevrolet that we've seen through the first half of the year," said Johnson. "We'll also continue to do what's been working for us. If we need to change, and things aren't going right, then we'll make a change. We're not going to keep doing the same thing just because it worked once. We'll adjust with whatever the racetrack and the air conditions throw at us."
Johnson is a former winner of the Sears Craftsman Nationals, defeating Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the final round in 1998. Johnson also drove a Chevrolet to the No. 1 qualifying position at this event in 1999. This year though, the entire race, including all four rounds of qualifying and final eliminations, will be contested after 4:30 p.m. The change in the schedule means cooler temperatures for the racers, but it could pose some serious challenges for those teams not prepared to make the evening adjustments.
"Even though we run later in the day, we're at that time of year where it will still be light for the early sessions, so the track will still have substantial heat in it," said Johnson. "Therefore, the Pro Stock cars will have the best chance of making the show during the two later sessions on Friday and Saturday."
"Once we get to eliminations, the first round will be the toughest, since we'll be facing different conditions on Sunday from what we've experienced all weekend. By the semifinals, the track should cool enough, requiring a completely different set-up. The bottom line is that, just like every other race on the schedule, whoever makes the right calls will win the race, and it's our job to make sure our ACDelco Chevrolet is the car in the winner's circle."
Chevrolet Pre-Race Facts:
Of the 11 races already contested this season, Kurt Johnson's Chevrolet Cavalier has recorded the top speed at five events.
The last time Kurt Johnson lost in the first round of an NHRA Pro Stock eliminator was at last year's U.S. Nationals - a streak of 17 consecutive races and the longest in the category.
Chevrolet's Jeg Coughlin is the defending champion of the Sears Craftsman Nationals. Coughlin defeated Greg Anderson in an all Cavalier final.
In addition to last year's win, Jeg Coughlin was runner-up to Kurt Johnson in 1998.
Chevy Streak Comes Alive! - It was at this event last year that Chevrolet's Jeg Coughlin jumped on the championship freight train and rode it all the way to his second NHRA title. Coughlin's victory at the Sears Craftsman Nationals was the first of eight victories in 2002. He went on to win eight of the last 12 races on the schedule and helped Chevrolet claim its first NHRA Manufacturer's Cup since 1983.
Second Half Contender - Of Kurt Johnson's 27 career victories, 19 have occurred during the second half of the season, and four of those 27 career wins took place during the first half of this year.
Current Chevy Cavalier drivers who are former winners of the Sears Craftsman Nationals include Jeg Coughlin (2002), Ron Krisher (2000) and Kurt Johnson (1998).
Current Chevy Cavalier drivers who have been No. 1 qualifier at the Sears Craftsman Nationals include Ron Krisher (2000) and Kurt Johnson (1999).
Chevrolet's Ron Krisher holds the top-speed record at Gateway International Raceway at 201.01 mph. Jim Yates holds the elapsed-time track record at 6.848 seconds. Both performance marks were set at last year's event.
There have been six points lead changes in the Pro Stock category during the first 11 races of the season. Chevrolet's Kurt Johnson took the points lead after the O'Reilly NHRA Nationals in Houston, Tex., on April 13 and held the top spot until the NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J., on May 18. Johnson took the points lead once again following his victory at Chicago on June 1, but after the last event in Columbus Ohio, now trails first-place Greg Anderson by 64 points.
The Pro Stock driver who has led the standings after this event has gone on to win the NHRA championship in five of the last six seasons. The lone exception was last year when Jim Yates took the points lead after this race. Jeg Coughlin Jr. grabbed the lead for good in Chicago on Sept. 29.