Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals
Johnson scores dramatic win, retakes points lead
Chicago, Sunday: ACDelco Cavalier pilot Kurt Johnson scored a dramatic win today, capturing the Pro Stock title at the Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, IL. This was Johnson's fourth win of 2003, 27th of his career, and first at Route 66 Raceway. Today's performance also allowed Johnson to reclaim the POWERade points lead by just two points over Greg Anderson
"This was just a great day for the ACDelco team," stated an ecstatic Johnson. "Coming out of the fifteenth spot, we feel like we came back from the dead. I took all our notes from this year back to the hotel last night, and spent a few hours going over them to come up with a combination for today.
"Fortunately, Kevin (Horst), Joe (Cottle) and the entire crew did a fantastic job with our Cavalier, and we pulled together as a team to score a big win."
Only twenty-four hours earlier, a Johnson victory had seemed unlikely, as the team battled through qualifying to secure a position in Sunday's field, finally earning the fifteenth position with a 6.814-second, 202.24 mph pass.
However, facing good friend and former teammate Scott Geoffrion in the first round, KJ quickly returned to the impressive form he has shown throughout the 2003 season, combining an outstanding .012 second reaction time with a 6.791-second, 202.91 mph pass to earn the hole-shot win.
"I knew Scotty would be tough," explained Johnson. "When he ran that 6.76 yesterday afternoon, it put a little fire under me, because I knew I would have to run well. He's good on the tree, but I knew I had to get out on him. Fortunately, I drove well all weekend, and the .012 was what we needed to get the win."
However, the win was a costly one, as Johnson suffered engine damage, forcing the team to swap motors before the second round. Despite only having seventy-five minutes to complete the task, the ACDelco crew responded, getting to the line with time to spare. Johnson rewarded them for their effort with two strong runs to defeat defending event winner Bruce Allen and Greg Stanfield in the next two rounds to advance to his sixth championship round of the season, and first ever at Route 66 Raceway.
"We came here with an engine that we had never used in competition, and it threw us a bit of a curve, as evidenced by our performance in qualifying," stated Johnson. "We then swapped motors for the first round, and put a set-up in the car that we used to win in Budd's Creek (a non-points paying event in Maryland).
"We ran that 6.79 in the first round but hurt the engine, so we had to revert to the bullet we used in qualifying. It had only run a 6.81 on Saturday, but our ACDelco Cavalier came back on Sunday to run that 6.77 in the semis, so we obviously got the combination right today."
Standing between Johnson and the winner's circle was 2002 POWERade champion Jeg Coughlin Jr.. Although Coughlin was able to gain a slight advantage at the start, Johnson secured the win with yet another strong run, a 6.791-second, 203.40 mph blast.
"We had an outstanding race in the final. Jeggie was as tough as always on the tree, throwing that .009 reaction time out there, but I was able to get around him. Ironically, I did the same to Greg (Anderson) last week in Topeka, and was the runner-up," said Johnson. "It's certainly nice to be in the points leads, but it's too early in the season to make a big deal of it. Our competition never sleeps, and we never lift. There are only 24 hours in a day, and we try to work 25.
"Today was fun, but it was also an important win for the ACDelco crew. We not only won the race, but also learned a lot about fine-tuning our Cavalier for the conditions. I believe we should be in good shape for the rest of the year."
KJ survives mad dash to start 15th
Chicago, Saturday: The second day of qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals was held under markedly cooler temperatures. As a result, Friday's numbers were virtually negated, with the low elapsed time from the first day not quick enough to secure a position in Sunday's final eliminations.
Faced with the challenge of improving or going home, Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Racing team responded, lowering their best performance to 6.814 seconds with a top speed of 202.24 mph. This placed the ACDelco Cavalier fifteenth, with Johnson looking for ways to further increase their performance for race day.
"We're five hundredths and nearly two miles an hour off where we should be. We had changed engines at the start of the weekend, thinking there was something wrong with it. We put in a motor that had run 6.806 seconds at 203.65 mph in 2100 feet of altitude in Altanta, so we knew it was a good piece, and we couldn't wait to get here and let the clutch out.
"It ran fair on our first two runs yesterday, but when we came out in the better air today, it was definitely off. There's something going on, because Dad's (Warren Johnson) car is off as well. There's something wrong that we have to fix.
KJ places fourth on Friday
Chicago, Friday: Qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals got underway today, and Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Racing team continued to be among the top performers in the extremely competitive division. Based on his 6.848-second, 201.82 mph run on Friday afternoon, Johnson's ACDelco Cavalier sits in the fourth position heading into Saturday's final two time trials.
"Even though we're fourth, we really didn't run as fast as we should have. I believe we should have been a couple hundredths quicker than we were, so we'll change a few things around for tomorrow, trying to fine-tune it.
"Of our two runs today, we're more pleased with our second attempt, because we made a change to the suspension for the first time since Houston, and the ACDelco Cavalier responded the way we wanted it to, picking up the performance in the first sixty feet.
"The forecast is calling for cooler temperatures tomorrow, so we'll look to adapt to the conditions, because the field could be turned upside down, with the morning session being the one shot to make it in the show."
Johnson looks forward to celebrating at home with his family
Chicago, pre-race: This weekend, the NHRA's POWERade Drag Racing Series makes its way to Route 66 Raceway in Chicago for the Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals. This event will complete a period in which the straight-line contingent will have run three races in as many weeks. It is the first true test of a team's championship mettle, as both positive and negative results can easily multiply during this compacted part of the schedule.
Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco racing team continue to stake their claim for the 2003 title, as their Cavalier remains among the top performers in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock category, with three wins and five final round appearances in the first nine races. Fresh off a runner-up performance in Topeka, Johnson arrives in the Land of Lincoln aware of the demands created by this hectic racing trifecta, and both he and his crew are fully prepared to handle them.
"Any way you look at it, racing on three consecutive weekends is tough," said Johnson. "Fortunately, we're in a better position than most of our competitors. Our ACDelco Cavalier has been performing well, the crew is really clicking, and we're going rounds on a consistent basis, which certainly makes it easier.
"The hardest part of these back-to-back races is being away from your family. Between traveling and working on the car, you barely have time to go home, unpack and do the laundry before you're getting ready to leave again. It's the one part of racing that you never get used to, but you learn to live with it. For example, we have a weekend off after this race that we're all looking forward to, but our focus right now is on winning in Joliet."
One factor that may lessen the team's list of concerns is the site of this weekend's race. Route 66 Raceway has been hailed as one of the sport's top facilities since joining the NHRA tour in 1998. Located in Joliet, Ill., the unique horseshoe design of the tower and grandstands offers fans a distinctive view of the on-track action, while the racing surface draws praise from the competitors, including K.J., who currently holds the track elapsed time and top speed records.
"I've always enjoyed racing at Route 66 Raceway," said Johnson. "The racing surface is pretty good, and you can't say enough about the overall facility, which is one of the best on the circuit.
"Although we're still looking for our first win in Joliet, it's a track where we seem to run well. We had one of our better showings there last fall, advancing to the semi-finals. We actually felt like we could have won that race, as we lost by only a couple thousandths. The way our ACDelco Cavalier has been running this year, we're looking forward to going back. I'm ready for a win."
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