Thursday, August 16, 2007

With Season on the Line at NHRA Nationals; Stevens is Primed, Johnson Strives to Hold Countdown Position

by Darren Jacobs, Don Schumacher Racing

CENTER LINE, Mich. -- Team Mopar NHRA POWERade Pro Stock driver Richie Stevens Jr. has one more shot to qualify for the next phase of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship at this weekend’s Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa. One thing is certain: when the smoke clears, the New Orleans native will have laid it all on the line at Maple Grove Raceway in a battle to keep his Pro Stock title hopes alive.

To keep his title dreams alive, round wins are a must at Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals for Richie Stevens Jr.
Allen Johnson looks to maintain fourth spot in the Countdown this weekend
Richie Stevens Jr. stats
Allen Johnson stats
Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals event details

Stevens is behind the wheel of the Don Schumacher Racing-owned Team Mopar/Valspar Dodge Stratus R/T. He trails another Mopar HEMI–powered driver, Larry Morgan, by 56 markers for the eighth and final spot in the Countdown to Four, the first phase of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship. Stevens must reel off some round wins this weekend, and also hope Morgan falters, if he is to continue on in the Countdown battle.

Allen Johnson, driver of the Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus R/T, suffered a rare first-round exit at last week’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Although Johnson has already earned a berth in the Countdown, a solid outing at Reading is crucial if he is to hold on to his fourth spot in the Countdown.

To keep his title dreams alive, round wins are a must at Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals for Richie Stevens Jr. Stevens Jr. is well aware of the importance of the race this weekend. He just refuses to let the pressure affect him.

“I’m just going to treat it like any other race and just go there and try to win it, just like our goal is for every other race,” said Stevens, who took part in test sessions at Chicago in both his and Johnson’s Dodge Stratus R/Ts earlier this week. Stevens’ car is tuned by Johnson’s J&J Racing team, with power plants supplied by Roy Johnson [Allen Johnson’s father].

A top spot in qualifying is a key to advancing rounds. According to Stevens:

“I need to try and qualify as high as possible to gain every point I can to get into the Countdown deal. The No. 1, 2, or 3 qualifying spot would be ideal, so we could get somebody in the bottom half who we could maybe outrun. We’ll just try to go rounds on Sunday. We’re going to probably have to make it all the way to the finals to out do Larry. It’s down to the last one, and the pressure’s up. We just have to go there, and try not to think about it, and just do the best we can, and hopefully the outcome will be good for us.”

Allen Johnson looks to maintain fourth spot in the Countdown this weekend The watchword for Johnson this week at the Toyo Tire NHRA Nationals is balance. The Greenville, Tenn., native, already in the Countdown, is experimenting with set ups on his Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus R/T before the playoffs begin. He must also have a strong outing at Reading to maintain his fourth spot in the Countdown. It’s a critical tightrope act: Johnson must put together runs that allow him to try new things on his car while not sacrificing results.

“We are sort of in a testing mode in my car, getting the engines and some other parts dialed in,” said Johnson. “We had some new parts on the car [at Brainerd], trying some things. The team is testing at Chicago with Richie, trying to get things sorted out. But I’m not solidified in my spot yet. We can’t have another first-round loss at Reading, or Jason [Line, currently fifth in points] could get around us.”

The test-and-trial approach has paid off for Johnson and his J&J Racing team.

“I think we learned some things [at Brainerd] that will help us in the Countdown,” Johnson said. “A better way to state it is that we learned something that will not help us.”

Richie Stevens Jr. stats

Trailed Larry Morgan by 56 points for the eighth and final spot in the new NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoff system following the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals
Recorded a career best ET and speed of 6.598/209.20 in qualifying second at Englishtown in June
Has seven quarterfinals and two semifinals appearances in 2007 (to date)
Had two wins (Dallas, Las Vegas) in the final five events of 2006
Finished in the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock top 10 for the fifth time in his career in 2006
Has six career wins and 11 career final round appearances

Allen Johnson stats

Has a 21-14 round record in 2007
Has clinched a spot in the NHRA POWERade Countdown playoffs
Captured his fifth career win at the 28th Annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals in July
Took his third career No. 1 qualifier spot at the Mile-High Nationals and set the Bandimere Speedway track record
Has 11 quarterfinals, six semifinals, and three finals appearance in 2007 (to date)
Finished sixth in the 2006 NHRA Pro Stock points standings

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