Warren Johnson's Pontiac Grand Am No. 1 qualifier at Mid-South Nationals MEMPHIS, Tenn., Sept. 21, 2002 - Warren Johnson drove his GM Performance Parts Pontiac to the No. 1 qualifying position today at the Mid-South NHRA Nationals at Memphis ...
Warren Johnson's Pontiac Grand Am
No. 1 qualifier at Mid-South Nationals
MEMPHIS, Tenn., Sept. 21, 2002 - Warren Johnson drove his GM Performance Parts Pontiac to the No. 1 qualifying position today at the Mid-South NHRA Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park. It is the first time this season, and the 126th time in his career that that the 59-year-old Johnson has started race day from the top starting position. Johnson has posted four career victories in five final rounds at this race and was No. 1 qualifier in 1998 and '99.
"Being the best qualifier is obviously something we had gotten quite used to in the past," said Johnson. "It's not that we'd gotten that far off base, it's that others have caught up. It was just a matter of us picking up our program and getting it back to speed. We've had a chance to work on our own stuff finally for a change, we feel that we've made some performance gains and it's just a matter of continuing that trend.
"Without a question, we've definitely picked up our power. Since about Indy we've had more time to work on research and development. Just looking at the numbers on the dyno from where we were before Indy to where we are now, we feel like we should be able to pick up by a solid two-hundredths. It's not that we've gotten ahead of anybody, it's that we've caught up to the people who were in the lead before. We're pleased with the position we're in but we can't get complacent about it. Now it's a matter of continuing the trend we've started to get back into the position we've been accustomed to."
En route to Memphis Motorsports Park on Thursday, Johnson's Pontiac Grand Am came loose in the transporter and suffered serious damage to the front end. The car was repaired just in time for the first session of time trials on Friday. WJ then ran the quickest pass during the Friday-night session at 6.865 seconds, and then came out and improved this morning with a 6.840 e.t. at 201.31 mph. It is the first time Johnson has won a qualifying pole since Brainerd of 2001, an uncharacteristic drought for the six-time NHRA champion.
"The damage to the front of the car was just a flesh wound," said Johnson. "There wasn't any structural damage to the car so it didn't affect our runs. This wasn't something dramatic enough to hamper our performance - we didn't have to cut or move anything. We'll get it repainted and it will be fine.
"We stayed late in the engine shop on Thursday to fix a small glitch in our engine. We found where the error was, fixed it, and it came right back so we put it in. It's the same engine (Shark) we used in Reading and you'll remember we were as fast as anybody on race day."
Jeg Coughlin Jr. has the quickest Chevrolet Cavalier so far this weekend, qualified in the No. 2 position. Coughlin improved this morning with a run of 6.842 seconds at 200.23 mph. He'll face Greg Anderson in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. Coughlin is third in the points standings while Anderson is in second place.
"We've made three solid runs through qualifying and we are ready for battle tomorrow," explained Coughlin. "The match up with Greg Anderson in the first round is an important one and everyone knows how important it is for either of us to win. It will be a great race for everyone at Memphis Motorsports Park and everyone at home watching on ESPN."
Points leader Jim Yates is qualified in the No. 4 spot. Yates SC/T Grand Am ran 6.848 seconds at 199.91 mph. Kurt Johnson is qualified seventh in a Cavalier, Tom Hammonds is eighth in a Cavalier and Mike Edwards is ninth in a Cavalier. Edwards's Chevy ran 6.864 seconds at 199.14 mph, the quickest e.t. of the final qualifying session.
"You really worry about not qualifying because you don't want to give the other guys any kind of jump on you," said Yates. "Luckily we made a good run this morning and that was enough to get us in strong. It looks like tomorrow that conditions are going to be hotter and the track's going to be slicker. I have to give the crew a lot of credit, Jamie's (Yates) done a great job and the Splitfire Pontiac Grand Am seems to be responding really well.
"I think the run we made tonight, for being in the right lane, was pretty darn good. Every time we roll up there we know we have to make a good run. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we don't want to make a bad run, especially in the last session because then we'll be lost during first round on Sunday.
"We're racing for the championship and right now we have Jeg (Coughlin) and Greg (Anderson) right behind us. We can't afford to give up a round. We know one of them is going to win first round so we have to win a round - and then we have to win second round. We have to go round for round with those guys and maybe pick up one tomorrow. We have to come in here with the attitude that we can win this race and I think we're good enough to do just that. We can run as fast as anybody out here and hopefully that's fast enough to win first round and get lane choice or second round. I like our chances. This Pontiac Grand Am is a fast car and we have some momentum coming off our win last weekend."
Mike Edwards (Young Life Chevrolet Cavalier) - "I don't know if the run we made tonight was that good, but we made a horrendous run this morning. To come back and make that kind of run when you're not in the field, that shows a lot of character for this team. Terry Adams came on board and will help me out the rest of the year and it's been a tremendous lift to this program. I have a lot of confidence in him and Terry knows what to do when the pressure's on. He made a good call there. We have good power, and this Chevy Cavalier is a good race car. We only had 22 runs on it coming into this race so e learned a little bit more about it. I'm just thankful and happy - thank the Lord for this opportunity he's given me, Young Life, Mac Tools, Chevrolet all the people involved with this team. I believe the left lanes is a little bit better and will have an affect tomorrow. Maybe not the first round, but if the sun stays out you'll probably see the faster cars take the left lane. Anything can happen though. Tomorrow is a different day. We'll just go out and hope for the best. After our runner-up finish last weekend at Reading, we came in here feeling pretty good. After that run right there, that made us feel a whole lot better. We'll put this Chevy up there tomorrow and drive it like we stole it. We just wanted to get in that last round. Anything can happen once you're in. We were in when the session started but when it came our turn to run we were several spots back. This Pro Stock is a tough game"
Bruce Allen (Speedco Pontiac SC/T Grand Am) - "We're going down the track every session good enough to be in no matter what the conditions are. We didn't make a real good run this morning, which put us in the bottom half of the field, but with everyone as close as they are, it's just a matter of whoever lets the clutch out first."