NCRA: C.J. Johnson tops NCRA 360 sprints field in Kansas

SALINA, Kan. (Aug. 17, 2002) - It was wild 'n' wooly from the get-go and it didn't let up until the final checker as the O'Reilly Auto Parts/NCRA 360 Sprint Car series rolled into the Salina (Kan.) Speedway August 17 for the second and final time...

SALINA, Kan. (Aug. 17, 2002) - It was wild 'n' wooly from the get-go and it didn't let up until the final checker as the O'Reilly Auto Parts/NCRA 360 Sprint Car series rolled into the Salina (Kan.) Speedway August 17 for the second and final time this season.

It was wild in a hurry as A.J. Selenke got airborne on the first lap of the first heat race. After a few flips, Selenke returned to earth in turn three. He was OK, getting out of the racecar under his own power and riding on the back of a four-wheeler to the pits.

Much later in the evening, C.J. Johnson withstood four yellow flag restarts, including two within the final 10 laps of the 30-lap feature, to capture his third A feature win in the last four races.

Johnson's win in the second heat race put him outside of Allan Unruh on the first row in the A feature. Johnson tucked in behind Unruh at the green before swapping places on the second lap. Johnson stayed in front the rest of the race, but it wasn't easy.

Early on, it was a three-way battle up front with Johnson, Unruh and Mike Peters as they quickly pulled away from the rest of the pack, as Johnson enjoyed a slight cushion over the other two. Peters, who started third, slipped around Unruh into second place going into turn one on lap seven. Peters was able to quickly reel in Johnson, pressuring him for the point.

Behind the leaders, Unruh now had his hands full as J.D. Johnson and Edd French moved up to challenge for third. J.D. started fifth while French had moved up from seventh on the grid. Lap 10 saw J.D. get around Unruh for third as series points leader Steve King moved into sixth.

The first of four caution flags came on lap 11 for Tony Bruce Jr., who stopped on the backstretch, ending his night. With C.J. Johnson still up front, the rest of the challengers bunched behind him for the restart.

As racing resumed, C.J. showed the power in his racecar as he stayed in front and again moved away from his nearest challengers. However, another yellow came out just a couple of laps later for Unruh's blown engine. On the restart, the top five were C.J. Johnson, Peters, J.D. Johnson, King and French.

On the restart, C.J. was again too much for the others but the action continued behind him. J.D. moved around Peters on the backstretch for second place. By the halfway point, C.J. Johnson had opened up a lead of about one-half of a straightaway over Peters, who had retaken second from J.D. Johnson.

On lap 17, J.D. Johnson went high out of turn two, which opened the door for King to slide low around him into third. King and J.D. quickly closed the gap on Peters as the three of the battled for second place behind the high-flying C.J. Johnson.

A spin by local driver Jon Freeman on lap 22 brought out the third caution of the race with the top five still C.J., Peters, King, J.D. and French. Lurking just outside the top five was Clay Bontrager, now sixth after starting 17th.

Leader C.J. Johnson continued to dominate the others as he pulled away from them within a couple of laps. Action behind the leader didn't let up as Peters and King fought for second, while J.D. and French scrapped for fourth.

Freeman also brought out the final caution of the race on lap 25. The restart showed about the same up front as it had been for the past few laps: C.J. first, followed by Peters, King, French, J.D. Johnson and Bontrager.

C.J. Johnson pulled away from the field over the final six laps and easily took the checker; however, the never-ending battle ensued behind him. On lap 27, King slipped around Peters for second, while French was fourth ahead of J.D. Johnson, who had his hands full with Bontrager. The next lap, Peters passed King for second and Bontrager took fifth from J.D.

Although they continued to battle, there wasn't any change in the running order of the top spots over the last couple of laps. As C.J. Johnson took the checker, the rest of the top five were Peters, King, French and Bontrager. J.D. Johnson, who had run in the top five for most of the race, was sixth. Seventh went to Jon Johnson, followed by Andy Shouse, Scott Lehman and Mike Woodruff to round out the top 10.

Following Selenke's flip, Abe Sherwood settled in to win the first heat from the pole. Bontrager started this heat on the outside of the first row, but an engine fire ended his heat race early. C.J. Johnson started fourth and finished first in the second heat, while Jake Martens took the third heat from the pole.

Bontrager changed engines in his machine and came back to win the B feature in a hard battle with Scott Lehman, who grabbed the early lead from the pole with Bontrager second. Leighton Crouch brought out a yellow as he flipped his car on lap four. Crouch was OK and Lehman maintained his lead on the restart. Bontrager took over the point with a lap five pass in turn two but it was disallowed as another yellow came out, this time for Chris Morgan.

Again, Lehman kept the lead on the restart with Bontrager right on his tail. Clay stayed in pursuit until he finally got around Scott for good on lap nine. From there, Bontrager pulled away to take the checker and the first of four transfer spots into the A feature. Bontrager and Lehman both finished in the top 10 in the A feature.

Although King still has a comfortable points lead after this race, the battle for second has really heated up. Prior to Salina, Jon Johnson was second in points, followed by Clay Bontrager and C.J. Johnson. After the race, C.J. Johnson moved into a second place tie with Bontrager, while Jon Johnson is only five points behind them in fourth. This should set the stage for a great season finale on September 20 at State Fair Speedway in Oklahoma City, Okla.

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Series Sprint
Drivers Leighton Crouch , Mike Woodruff , C.J. Johnson , Chris Morgan , Tony Bruce Jr. , Andy Shouse