O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals
KJ steps up, will defend his Houston title from fifth
Houston, Saturday: Sitting in the provisional seventh spot following the first day of qualifying at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals, Kurt Johnson set his sights on improving his starting position during Saturday's final two sessions at Houston Raceway Park. Although the increased temperatures and humidity precluded any major changes in the line-up, Johnson was among the few drivers to make an improvement.
Running in the left lane on Saturday morning, Johnson posted the third quickest pass of the session at 6.749 seconds with a top speed of 204.57 mph to pick up two positions, placing the ACDelco Cavalier fifth for Sunday's final eliminations, as he looks to score his second consecutive victory at Houston Raceway Park.
"Although I felt we should have run a little quicker, we're satisfied with this morning's 6.74," Johnson said. "The dyno is telling us we should be running quicker than we are, so we know we're not yet getting the full potential out of our ACDelco Cavalier. It's at least two hundredths off.
"However, it has been very consistent, with a 6.74, 6.75 and 6.76 on its last three runs, and made its nicest pass so far on our last qualifying attempt on Saturday afternoon. We've made changes throughout the weekend and the car is responding, doing everything we expect it to.
"We'll work on the engine portion tonight and see if we can make it a little happier, and if we hit it at the right time, we can squeeze the extra performance out of it. The bottom line is that if we can make four runs as good as that last one, and leave the starting line first, we should have something for them tomorrow."
Experience pays for K.J.
Houston, Friday: In the opening session for the O'Reilly Spring Nationals, Kurt Johnson had to call on his years of driving experience to maintain control of his car as it launched towards the wall, eventually forcing him to shut off early. This left him in the unenviable position of entering the crucial nighttime qualifying session with no current tuning information. In addition, running in the third pair of cars out of sixteen, he would have little opportunity to watch and learn from his competitor's runs.
Even so, the ACDelco crew responded with a solid 6.757-second, 204.11 mph pass, which placed their Cavalier in the seventh position heading into Saturday's final qualifying sessions. With a morning session scheduled, Johnson will look to further improve his starting position for Sunday.
"We had never raced in these types of conditions with this particular car before, and it was also the first time we carried an in-car camera, which takes away 10 pounds of adjustable ballast," Johnson said. "That all added up to make it an animal this afternoon. It stood up on the back bumper, wheel stood and then hooked towards the wall.
"We made some adjustments for tonight, moving some weight around to compensate, which settled it down. Our biggest priority was getting in the show, so we were pretty conservative with the set-up. I shifted into second a little early, trying to make sure it wouldn't shake the tires, and it went right down the track with a 6.75.
"The good news is that our ACDelco Cavalier should be able to run even quicker, and the conditions tomorrow morning should cooperate. We'll tweak it a little, walking that fine line of making sure we stay in the show, while also trying to move up."
K.J. looks for a powerful return
Houston, pre-race: There are two rather inconspicuous rooms in the back corner of the Warren Johnson Enterprises shop in Sugar Hill, GA. One has long counters and walls full of cabinets, while the other, smaller area has a frame in the middle surrounded by various hoses and pipes. Although to the casual observer there is nothing special about this space, it could hold the key to Kurt Johnson's chances for the 2004 NHRA POWERade championship, for it is here in the engine department that the legendary Johnson horsepower is developed.
In addition to his responsibilities as the driver and tuner of the ACDelco Cavalier, Johnson is the main engine builder for both his and his father's race cars. When not at the track competing or testing, he will spend long hours alternating between the two rooms, first building the 500 cubic inch powerplants and then testing them on the dynamometer. It is this never-ending search for horsepower that has monopolized the second-generation racer's time as he prepares for this weekend's O'Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston, TX.
"Although we're pretty pleased with our ACDelco Cavalier's performance, the biggest thing the last two races have shown us that we need more power" said Johnson. "Therefore, I've spent quite a bit of time back in my corner of the shop, burning fuel on the dyno, doing whatever I can to squeeze some more out of our engines.
"But our focus isn't any different than if we were the ones in the points lead. We're here to win races, and as close as the competition is in Pro Stock, that means long hours and hard work. We don't worry about what other people are doing, we just work on doing the best we can with what we have."
Johnson enters this event as the defending champion, having recorded the fastest top speed in Pro Stock history to that point at 205.57 mph in qualifying and powering through a veteran field to score his second career win at Houston Raceway Park. Naturally, it is an accomplishment that he would like to duplicate this year.
"We had a great day in Houston last year," recalled Johnson. "We rolled the dice, completely changing the suspension before eliminations and then made it to the finish line first four times.
"To be honest, I like our chances this year. We've worked on our engines, getting them back up to full power after Las Vegas, and we seem to have gotten a pretty good handle on what this Cavalier needs to run. With the changes we've made, I think we'll be right back in the hunt this weekend.
"The weather is going to be a big factor, as well as the new racing surface. It could be anything from extremely hot to very cold this weekend, all of which produce great changes in the racetrack. As long as we avoid rain and tornados, we'll just have to adapt to what Mother Nature throws at us, finding the right set-up to get down the racetrack. We did a great job of doing that one year ago, and I'm confident this ACDelco crew has what it takes to do it again."
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