Madison: Tommy Johnson preview

Victory will equal redemption at Gateway for rejuvenated Tommy Johnson, Blue Skoal Racing crew. ST. LOUIS, June 24, 2002 - A final-round loss has been chafing Tommy Johnson Jr. for almost a year now and it's time he remedies it. "I'm going...

Victory will equal redemption at Gateway for rejuvenated Tommy Johnson, Blue Skoal Racing crew.

ST. LOUIS, June 24, 2002 - A final-round loss has been chafing Tommy Johnson Jr. for almost a year now and it's time he remedies it.

"I'm going back to the St. Louis area to redeem myself," said the driver of Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Blue Skoal Racing Camaro Funny Car. "I'm still aggravated about our race there last year. I was beaten in the final round on a hole-shot. I didn't like it then . . . and I still don't."

Redemption may come this weekend (June 28-30) with the running of the fifth annual Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway, just across the Mississippi River in Madison, Ill.

Last June, Johnson was making his second trip to the title round since joining Prudhomme's team prior to the 2001 season and he'd run well during eliminations. Included was a 4.998-second victory over John Force in the semifinals, setting up a match against Force teammate Tony Pedregon for the title.

But Pedregon got a starting-line advantage that held up for a 5.006-4.989-second win.

"That final-round result has been bothering me all year," added Johnson, who's had two runner-up finishes in the first 11 NHRA Powerade Series events this season. "I'm very enthused about our chances this year because of the car's performance."

Crew chief Rob Flynn was added to the Blue crew five weeks ago and the car has responded to his tune-ups, thereby fueling Johnson's beliefs about making another final round.

"I think with the way the car is running now," Johnson continued, "that we should have a good chance of winning the race. We've made progress since Rob came on board."

After climbing as high as fourth place following back-to-back second-place finishes at Las Vegas and Houston, Johnson's consistency disappeared like the Tyrannosaurus rex. He did not qualify at two of the next four races, but Flynn was already at work making changes. The most notable was the one that produced a 4.915-second time in the first round at Joliet, Ill., June 2. It was Johnson's quickest run in eight races.

The trend continued at Columbus, Ohio, June 14-16, with consistent qualifying runs and an eventual drive into a semifinal match against Johnson's teammate, Ron Capps.

Capps won that round in a tire-smoking, throttle-pedaling duel (6.917 seconds at 154.51 to 7.851 at 197.51) and went on to win the race, but there were plenty of smiles on the Flynn-Johnson side of the team, too.

"We were extremely happy with the outcome," said Flynn. "We stayed at the track late Saturday night and made major changes to the car and to our tuning thought processes. It was a real confidence boost for all of Johnson is now eighth in points (526), 17 behind Capps.

Questions for Johnson:

Q - Do you feel like you're starting over even though we're 11 races into the season?

A - Yes, it's almost like we ran Pomona (Calif., site of the season-opening Winternationals) at Chicago (June 2), so our season is just beginning. We're getting data on every run with Rob's tune-up. It's odd about starting in mid-season, because, for me, that's kind of the way it was in 1999 and 2000 when I didn't really start racing until then.

Q - It's been said in this sport that a good elapsed time helps people forget about the difficult times. Is that true?

A - A good elapsed time hasn't cured all of our bad memories from earlier in the season because we really struggled for a while. There's nothing that can make up for those two DNQs (did not qualify), but at the same time, it makes them more livable now that we're going in the right direction.

Q - Do you feel the same way about racing your teammate as Capps does? (He doesn't like it.)

A - Yes. Racing my teammate is the absolute worst thing I've had to do. I don't like it at all. You hate to lose, but you really hate to lose to your own team. The rivalry inside the camp is probably bigger than the rivalry with any other team. It took us more than a year before we had to race each other and now we've already done it twice this year.

Q - What happened in your race against Capps?

A - We backed the car down and it still reacted more aggressively. We actually changed the entire tune-up for Sunday we aren't familiar enough with how it needs to be run. Making those changes hurt us because the car smoked the tires earlier than it would have. What happened was Ron smoked the tires farther down the track and I didn't have any momentum built up. The hardest thing for a Funny Car to do is get hooked up again if it smokes the tires early in the run.

It was frustrating seeing him smoking the tires as well, but I just couldn't do anything about it. I tried every technique I knew to try to find the traction.

-sr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Tommy Johnson