Sears Point Warren Johnson Preview

JOHNSON HOPES TO END STORM OF BAD LUCK AT SEARS POINT RACEWAY SONOMA, Calif. -- At one point this season the NHRA Pro Stock category was looking like a runaway freight train, and three-time NHRA Winston champion Warren Johnson was in the...

JOHNSON HOPES TO END STORM OF BAD LUCK AT SEARS POINT RACEWAY

SONOMA, Calif. -- At one point this season the NHRA Pro Stock category was looking like a runaway freight train, and three-time NHRA Winston champion Warren Johnson was in the driver's seat, blowing the train's whistle all the way to another title.

All challengers were stepping aside as Johnson powered his GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird to four victories, including wins at Phoenix's ATSCO Nationals, Florida's Mac Tools Gatornationals, and a pair of Pennzoil Nationals wins in Houston and Richmond, Va.

But since his incredible performance in Virginia, Johnson's best outings have been runner-up finishes at Chicago's Route 66 Nationals and the recent Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals at Denver. His train has lost some steam, as first and second round losses have allowed young Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Jim Yates -- who has suffered two DNQ's -- to tighten the Winston championship race.

Johnson, from Duluth, Ga., hopes to add a fifth victory to his 1998 racing resume and more breathing room to his championship lead at the 11th annual Autolite Nationals, July 24-26 at Sears Point Raceway. The $1.4 million race is the 13th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

With many different winners emerging and the task of qualifying becoming tough for defending champions, Johnson says a common Pro Stock theme is emerging: nothing is absolute.

"The only thing that's been consistent this year is inconsistency," Johnson said. "Everybody, including me, has been up and down this season. There's a little more than 100 points between No. 2 and No. 5 in the standings, and a driver can earn that many points in a single event. There could be a real scramble for the championship this year."

Johnson, often referred to as the 'Professor of Pro Stock' by his peers, gives his GM Goodwrench Service Pontiac team a good grade at the midseason break.

"So far it's been a decent season," Johnson said. "I just hope we've weathered the storm of bad luck and parts breakage we've had in the last month. You're going to have good days and bad days at the track. You just have to continue to try and qualify well and win races on Sunday."

With five No. 1 qualifying efforts and four wins in five final rounds during the first 11 races of the season, Johnson feels like it's only a matter of time before his team gets on another roll. He knows as long as his car is the quickest and fastest and he's hanging around for trophy presentations on Sunday evenings, the Winston championship trophy can be his. The formula worked for him in 1992, 1993 and 1995.

"If you approach racing the way we do, this is our vocation, our business," Johnson said. "We have to look at the big picture. We have to look at the number of wins we can possibly get during the year, maximize that and hopefully, that will result in a championship."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson