12th ANNUAL AUTOZONE NATIONALS POST RACE MEMPHIS MOTORSPORTS PARK MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE MEMPHIS, Tenn. (October 10, 1999) - After numerous rain delays that washed out Friday's, and most of Saturday's professional activities, final eliminations...
12th ANNUAL AUTOZONE NATIONALS POST RACE MEMPHIS MOTORSPORTS PARK MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (October 10, 1999) - After numerous rain delays that washed out Friday's, and most of Saturday's professional activities, final eliminations for the 12th annual AutoZone Nationals were completed today following an abbreviated qualifying format.
FUNNY CAR -- Winner
Tommy Johnson Jr. (Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird) "All the breaks that were going against us at first seem to be going our way now. We got a break in the first round that if this had been the West Coast swing, it would have gone against us. Right now everything is coming together. The consistency of the team, I'm giving them a lot of good feedback, my driving is coming around on race day, they're comfortable with my driving and what to expect from me - it's just all coming together at once. That was kind of our plan from the beginning. We decided that we weren't really a challenger for the points championship, decided to experiment a little here at the end of the season and then make a run at the championship next year. In my opinion it's coming together quicker than what we all thought it would." Is it any sweeter beating Team Castrol in the finals? "That's as good as it gets. When you can take out both of their cars in the same day it doesn't get any better than that. I tried to mentally prepare myself for the final round after we beat Force to not let down. Beating him was like winning the final round but you can't quit there. You have one more tough opponent after that. When I got to the final at Reading I backed up a little bit because I didn't want to try so hard that I would be making mistakes. Tonight there was no backing up. I ran as hard as I could. When it's your day you can do anything and win. Today was our day."
Do you feel that your lights are getting better? "Each race they keep getting better and better. I'm just more comfortable with the car, plus in the last three races I've made a lot of runs and the more you practice the better you get.
What are your goals now for the final three races of the year? "We want to finish in the top 10. The guys didn't think we would have a decent chance and I kept telling them, 'Oh yes we do!' As long as we get in the top 10 that would be a great goal to accomplish. Ninth place, eighth place, it doesn't really matter because that was the main goal when we started. Maybe we have a shot, but we missed quite a few races at the beginning of the season and if we could still make the top 10 that would be a great year. That would be a pretty good sign for next season."
You got your last Top Fuel win at Memphis, you must like this place. "I've waited a long time for an opportunity like this and to be a part of a program like Joe Gibbs Racing. The last race I won in Top Fuel was here in Memphis in 1994 so yeah, I kind of like Memphis. Two wins have been right here at this racetrack and I don't know what it is, I just like the place. It's been a great opportunity to get this caliber of a ride and to have a chance to win every race you go to. I like being a contender at every race. When we first got here I didn't see any reason why the Interstate Batteries Firebird shouldn't go to the final round. That's kind of what I've been waiting for. To have the budget, and the crew and to be able to be this competitive." Is the crew's confidence in you higher now? "They were very optimistic from the start that we would do well, and it took us some time to gel, but the chemistry between the crew and myself is very good. I can't even describe how good it is we blend together so well. We knew we could be good and that it was just a matter of getting over those hurdles. They never quit on me when I made a mistake. They just said not to worry about it that we would learn together, and now I think it's paying off."
How difficult a weekend was this? "It's hard to keep your momentum and your excitement sustained for the entire time when you do run into the kind of delays that we had. Last night I really didn't want to run. I would have been happier if it would have rained us out and we would have come back to do what we did today. I was glad to see it do what it did. It was getting awful late, my guys had worked extremely hard and were tired. Then we came out today and made five runs servicing the car one more time than we normally would. I have to give them a lot credit for working hard and putting the extra effort into it. It was definitely a team effort. In the first round we had the problem with the Christmas tree and I redeemed myself in the final."