NHRA Texas: Johnson Jr., Millican, Coughlin Jr. and Smith early No. 1 qualifiers

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NHRA media release

ENNIS, Texas – Tommy Johnson Jr. raced to the provisional qualifying lead in Funny Car on Friday night at the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.

Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also provisional No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the third of six playoff events during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

Johnson Jr. is aiming for his first No. 1 qualifier of the 2018 season after his second qualifying run of 3.958-seconds at 323.66 mph in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T.

“We ran well first round and went down the race track” John Jr. stated. “John (Collins, crew chief) got after it pretty good. It’s always fun to watch him when cars start to run better out there, and he comes back to lift the box and twist some knobs. So, I knew the car was going to run pretty good.”

Tim Wilkerson is second after the second round of qualifying, going 3.958 at 315.64 in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang, while J.R. Todd’s run of 3.962 at 320.05 has him in third.

Points leader Robert Hight went 4.013 at 318.99 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro.

Top Fuel’s Millican will look to secure his 9th No. 1 qualifier of 2018 following his 3.726 at 328.54 in his Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster. It would also mark the 19th career No. 1 qualifier for Millican, who is currently second in the points standings.

“To be honest, we typically have a good idea of what the car is going to run,” Millican said. “That has all gone out the window since the Countdown started. I really didn’t think we were going to go .72 tonight. What David Grubnick (crew chief) is doing right now is totally impressive and the kids putting this together are unbelievable.”

Points leader Steve Torrence moved to the No. 2 spot during the second round of qualifying with his pass of 5.793 at 255.82 in his Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing dragster.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin Jr. took the lead during the second qualifying session with his pass of 6.599 at 207.53 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro. It would mark his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and 27th of career, who is currently seeded No. 4 in the points.

“Our goal coming into the Countdown was definitely to be much more aggressive,” Coughlin Jr. said. “I was trying to see if we could earn a couple of small points along the way. The team has done a fantastic job of that and darn near leading the pack with qualifying points.”

Greg Anderson is second with his pass of 6.600 at 208.42 in his Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro and teammate Jason Line rounds out the top three with his run of 6.601 at 207.75.

Matt Smith, current points leaders, finished atop the qualifying order in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a 6.876 at 197.65 on his Elite Motorsports DENSO Auto Parts EBR. He is chasing his fifth No. 1 qualifier of the season and second of his career at Texas Motorplex.

“The conditions are pretty hot today,” Smith stated. “The track seemed good for how hot it was. We were low first round by a hundredth and we will go to that set up tomorrow. We’ve been to two finals in a row and hopefully we can just keep that momentum going.”

Hector Arana Jr. is second after going 6.882 at 195.45 on his Lucas Oil Racing TV EBR and defending world champion Eddie Krawiec follows in third with a run of 6.892 at 192.25.

Qualifying continues at the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at 2:15 PM (ET) on Saturday. 

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ENNIS, Texas — Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, 21st of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

TOP FUEL: 1. Clay Millican, 3.726 seconds, 328.54 mph; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.781, 328.14; 3. Brittany Force, 3.781, 326.71; 4. Blake Alexander, 3.797, 325.69; 5. Terry McMillen, 3.800, 321.12; 6. Leah Pritchett, 3.808, 324.51; 7. Antron Brown, 3.817, 321.27; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.854, 321.65; 9. Doug Kalitta, 3.862, 316.38; 10. Tony Schumacher, 3.873, 311.99; 11. Shawn Reed, 3.882, 283.01; 12. Kebin Kinsley, 3.883, 317.19; 13. Billy Torrence, 3.921, 283.13; 14. Richie Crampton, 3.942, 303.71; 15. Bill Litton, 4.076, 235.47; 16. Terry Brian, 4.121, 237.75. Not Qualified: 17. Cory McClenathan, 4.186, 268.22; 18. Mike Salinas, 4.220, 205.66; 19. Terry Totten, 4.683, 170.30.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.958, 323.66; 2. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.958, 315.64; 3. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.962, 320.05; 4. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.981, 319.82; 5. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.986, 312.57; 6. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.012, 317.05; 7. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.013, 318.99; 8. John Force, Camaro, 4.045, 319.67; 9. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.047, 317.05; 10. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.051, 310.63; 11. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.080, 266.58; 12. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.140, 257.38; 13. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.557, 181.57; 14. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.867, 160.73; 15. Todd Simpson, Charger, 6.011, 121.84; 16. John Hale, Chevy Impala, 8.161, 75.13.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.599, 207.53; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.600, 208.42; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.601, 207.75; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.609, 208.10; 5. Alex Laughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.613, 206.48; 6. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.615, 208.55; 7. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.615, 208.04; 8. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.615, 207.75; 9. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.621, 208.36; 10. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.623, 208.49; 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.626, 208.52; 12. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.627, 206.86; 13. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.647, 207.66; 14. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.661, 207.59; 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.666, 205.41; 16. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.753, 205.98. Not Qualified: 17. Shane Tucker, 6.824, 202.61; 18. Robert River, 6.927, 198.79.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.876, 197.65; 2. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.882, 195.45; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.892, 195.25; 4. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.906, 194.86; 5. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.915, 194.83; 6. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.922, 194.41; 7. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.930, 195.22; 8. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.938, 193.02; 9. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.938, 189.84; 10. Joey Gladstone, Buell, 6.943, 193.65; 11. Hector Arana, EBR, 6.946, 195.45; 12. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.950, 194.97; 13. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.950, 193.93; 14. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.982, 191.95; 15. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.066, 188.07; 16. Anthony Vanetti, Buell, 7.855, 182.85.

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
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Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”