Richmond Pontiac Racing Preview

YATES LOOKING FOR FIRST WIN AT RICHMOND RICHMOND, Va. (April 22, 1999) The home-field advantage is usually worth at least a touchdown when two major rivals square off on the gridiron, but Splitfire/Peak Pontiac driver Jim Yates knows the...

YATES LOOKING FOR FIRST WIN AT RICHMOND

RICHMOND, Va. (April 22, 1999) The home-field advantage is usually worth at least a touchdown when two major rivals square off on the gridiron, but Splitfire/Peak Pontiac driver Jim Yates knows the game being played next week at Virginia Motorsports Park isn't football and any performance edge that his Firebird will have over the competition at the Fifth Annual Pennzoil Nationals on April 29-May 2 will have to come from hard work and exhaustive preparation. In Jim Yates way of thinking, it's been too long since his last win over a year ago at the Winternationals in Pomona. When he makes the two-hour drive this year from his home in Alexandria, Va., to Virginia Motorsports Park, there will be added incentive for success. It was at this event last season that the two-time Winston champion failed to qualify for the first time at a national event since October 1993 (84 straight events). After two additional uncharacteristic DNQ's at Chicago and Sonoma and four runner-up appearances at Phoenix, Gainesville, Columbus and Dallas, Yates ended his pursuit of a third consecutive Pro Stock championship fourth in the points standings. It's a long season and even though he feels that a win is overdue, Yates is gradually working his way back into title contention. Currently fifth in the standings after four races, he's less than two rounds of competition out of third place and only 100 points out of second. The four drivers ahead of him are a formidable quadrumvirate, but Yates is confident that it's just a matter of time before the Splitfire/Peak Firebird team blasts into the winner's circle and up the points ladder. "It's going to take us a little while to turn this engine program around into something that can compete with Warren (Johnson)," said Yates. "He's had a lot of time with this DRCE engine and we're just getting started with it, so we can't expect to run as good as he runs. But give us two or three more races and maybe we can close that gap and make a run at him for the championship. We just can't give up too much spread at this stage of the season. We have to stay as close to him as we can. He's the man to beat and you can't take anything away from him. He's top speed and top qualifier at every race and every round. Hopefully we won't give up too many rounds before we catch up with him performance-wise. "We just have to go to every race and run just a little bit faster each time out. We've got to keep pushing the envelope! We have to know where the edge is. Once we find out where that limit is, then we can back up a little bit and stay safe." During a Pro Stock career that has spanned 11 years, Jim Yates has come a long way in a short amount of time. A graduate of the University of Maryland where he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, he made his debut in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1989. Since then, Yates has won 20 national events, competed in 41 final rounds and won two Winston championships (1996-97). He has also finished in the top 10 of the Winston standings seven times and in the top four of the points standings the last five years in a row. Four races into the 1999 campaign, crew chief Rich Purdy and engine builder Bob Ingles have provided Yates with a Firebird competitive enough to win races. But Yates will also be the first one to tell you that in order to get that first victory of the year he'll have to improve his performance on the starting line. "From a performance standpoint the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird is doing great, it's just that the driver needs to work a little bit on launching a little quicker," explained Yates. "At Houston, the team gave me a fast car, put me out there to race and I just didn't let the clutch out on time. A better reaction time of just seven thousandths and we would have been able to win round two and go on to the semifinals.

"I think we have now demonstrated that we have consistency and that we're back on top of our program. This new DRCE has given us a real curve ball as far as coming up with the right combination - especially on a great racetrack. I believe that we now have enough power that even on a bad run, if we're doing everything else right we can get qualified and go rounds. But we can't get cocky or complacent. There are a lot of tough cars right now in Pro Stock trying to get qualified, and all you have to do is look at the good cars that don't get qualified on any particular weekend to get an idea of how competitive this class is. If you don't pay attention to your program for just one week, you can be outside looking in and we have no desire to be there. Our No. 1 priority is to get qualified. Once we do that then our focus turns to winning a race."

Four-time Winston champion (1992-93, 1995, 1998) Warren Johnson looks to continue his winning streak at the Pennzoil Nationals. The GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird driver is the only Pro Stock competitor to win since the event's inception back in 1995. Currently second in the Winston standings, Johnson became the first Pro Stock driver to exceed the 200 mph barrier at this event in 1997. So far in 1999, he has one victory at the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., where he set both ends of the national record with an elapsed time of 6.866 seconds at 201.37 mph. He's also been the No. 1 qualifier at each of the first four races on the tour. "Overall we're real happy with the car," said Johnson. "We're running this Firebird differently than we've ever run a car before and obviously it's been decent - especially in qualifying. So we have to get more confidence in running a car that way. You always back up to where you had success in the past. Unfortunately that success wasn't derived with the same type of chassis setup that we have right now, so we just have to trust what we have and go with it."

The Fifth Annual Pennzoil Nationals on April 29 - May 2 at Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie, Va., is the sixth race on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Event highlights can be seen on TNN on Sunday, May 9, beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson