JOHNSON JR. POWERS SKOAL RACING CHEVY TO RUNNER-UP FINISH AT TOPEKA TOPEKA, Kan. (May 29, 2005) -- Tommy Johnson Jr. and Don Prudhomme's Skoal RacingSM Funny Car team advanced to its second final round of the 2005 NHRA season Sunday at Heartland...
JOHNSON JR. POWERS SKOAL RACING CHEVY TO RUNNER-UP FINISH AT TOPEKA
TOPEKA, Kan. (May 29, 2005) -- Tommy Johnson Jr. and Don Prudhomme's Skoal RacingSM Funny Car team advanced to its second final round of the 2005 NHRA season Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka where Johnson posted a runner-up finish to drag racing legend John Force.
Johnson, who qualified fourth with a 4.796-second elapsed time, bested Phil Burkart, three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi and 2005 Rookie of the Year front-runner Robert Hight before falling to Force in the final round at Heartland Park.
"It was a great day, not totally the performance we wanted, but we had a really good day for our team," Johnson said. "We really need a day like this. This is probably the best day of driving that I've had in my career. As a driver, I covered all the aspects that they judge you on. I had great reaction times, kept the car in middle of the track, and won a pedal-fest. We had the entire package all day."
Johnson opened the day with his best pass of eliminations when he drove his blue Monte Carlo to a holeshot victory over Burkart. Johnson, who leads the Funny Car category in average reaction time this season, used a .078 of-a-second reaction time to take the wire-to-wire win with a pass of 4.949 seconds at 312.71 mph. It was the veteran driver's fifth career holeshot victory.
The Skoal Racing team used a consistent tune-up to race to a second-round win against Scelzi, who smoked the tires early in the run. Johnson posted another 4.9-second E.T., this time stopping the clocks in 4.987-seconds.
In the semifinals, the Iowa native took the early lead over No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight and in one of the wildest races of the day, Johnson pedaled his race car multiple times before the Skoal Racing car regained traction after nearly crossing the center line as Johnson powered to a performance of 8.773 at 196.64 to earn the victory. Hight's flopper suffered a mechanical failure and coasted down track.
"Robert (Hight) and Jimmy Prock are as tough as they come out here right now," Johnson said. "It smoked the tires when I hit the throttle. I saw Robert smoke the tires also, and pedaled the throttle. The car made a move to center line, so I knew I had to get away from the center line. I had to calm myself down and ease into the throttle again. I saw him with problems and eased into the throttle and after about five pedal-jobs it hooked up and we took the win."
Johnson used a significant starting line advantage in the final round to race to the early lead over drag racing's winningest all-time driver, but the Skoal Racing flopper lost traction and Johnson slowed to a pass of 8.167 at 107.62, while Force scored his 118th career NHRA win with a blistering run of 4.809 at 320.96
"We had nothing to lose, so I was ready to go for it," Johnson said. "We were the underdog. I had a good feeling that something would come out of it. Things were going our way all day, but it wasn't to be. They're the best and had a great car today.
"We needed a good points day after struggling at the pas few races. I was determined to get back into this points chase and not lose sight of the top five. Even though we didn't win, we come out of here with a lot of positives this weekend."
Johnson's runner-up finish moved him to seventh place in the Funny Car standings with 502 points. Johnson and company sit just 86 points from second place racer Hight. The next NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event is the Eighth annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals, June 9-12, at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill.