TOMMY JOHNSON JR. 2005 MIDSEASON RECAP VISTA, Calif. (June 29, 2005) & ...
TOMMY JOHNSON JR. 2005 MIDSEASON RECAP
VISTA, Calif. (June 29, 2005) Veteran nitro pilot Tommy Johnson Jr. started the 2005 NHRA POWERade Series season off with at bang this February when he drove his Skoal RacingSM Monte Carlo to the win at the season-opening Winternationals (Pomona, Calif.), claiming his sixth career NHRA victory. After a sub par effort last season, the veteran dr! iver has surprised many with a fifth place showing through the first half of the 2005 NHRA campaign. In just nine races (Topeka, Kan.), Johnson has amassed more round wins than he racked up in 23 races a year ago. With two final round appearances (Pomona and Topeka) and a career-best E.T. (4.741 seconds) and speed (328.22 mph) to his credit, the Iowa native has put himself in a position to contend for the Funny Car championship with 11 events remaining on the 23-race schedule. In this midseason Q&A, the fifth year Don Prudhomme Racing driver discusses the importance of winning the Winternationals and building team chemistry. He also provides a look back on the first half of '05.
Q: What are you thoughts on the first half of the 2005 NHRA season for the Skoal RacingSM team?
JOHNSON JR.: I feel great about how we've improved our performance this season. I'm really happy with the way the team has performed to this point. It's great to see us turn things around after a lousy season last year. It's nice to have a competitive car again.
Q: How important was the team's win at the season-opening Winternationals?
JOHNSON JR.: I think it was important for us to start the season off on the right foot. More importantly, it was crucial for the confidence of the race team. Also, we've been able to capitalize on that win and improve our showing in the points chase this season. Now, I'm ready to add a few more to go with it. Semifinals are nice, but you want wins.
Q: After 12 races last season, you were in 12th place in the Funny Car standings, this season you sit fifth. Why the drastic improvement?
JOHNSON JR.: I think we're a better team. From a personnel standpoint, we're more experienced because of all the time together. We've pretty much had the same group of people for three years now. It takes awhile to build that chemistry and you're seeing it come together and gel now.
Q: Can you compete for the championship this season?
JOHNSON JR.: It's not going to be easy to gain 158 points and pass guys like (John) Force and (Gary) Scelzi, but it's definitely doable. I think midway through the season we're at a better position to do that than at the beginning of the year because we've improved as a team and we've developed the confidence we need to win races.
Q: Have you had to adjust to being a contender each week?
JOHNSON JR.: It takes some getting used to. The guys have had to get used to working harder and longer on Sundays. When I won Pomona, at the end of the day I was wiped out. I was both mentally and physically drained. After Englishtown in June, where we had gone to the semifinals in three straight races, I wasn't tired at all. The more you win, the better you get.
Q: You have an excellent shot to compete in the Skoal Showdown at Indianapolis this Labor Day Weekend. How important is that to the team?
JOHNSON JR.: It's really important. It was frustrating last year to not partake in that race. That was one of our biggest goals when we started the season, to put ourselves in the Skoal Showdown and have a shot to win it. Our qualifying has accomplished that. The key has been our consistency. Now that we've got that down, we're able to take the opportunity to be more aggressive. If you get the car qualified early, you can take advantage and go after the big numbers at night.
Q: How much more enjoyable is it going rounds on race day?
JOHNSON JR.: It is a lot more fun going to the track these days. Last year I would go to the next race just hoping to qualify and now I feel we have a good shot at winning each race. It has taken a lot of pressure off me and the whole team by being competitive. That, in turn, just makes you more relaxed and able to do a better job.
Q: What's your outlook for the second half of the 2005 NHRA season?
JOHNSON JR.: I really want to make sure that we continue our success now that we've had a taste of it. We need to make sure we don't get lazy and take things for granted. We need to continue the pace that we're on. If you're in the top five half way through season and you play your cards right, you can be a contender at the end of the season.