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NHRA: Alan Johnson, Brittany Force’s crew chief/team join Mike Salinas’ squad for 2019

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It may be premature to anoint Mike Salinas as the 2019 Top Fuel champion, but he’ll certainly have a lot of championship-winning help to get him there.

Entering just his second full-time season in NHRA Top Fuel competition, the 57-year-old San Jose, California native will have noted engine tuner and 16-time championship team owner, crew chief and consultant Alan Johnson serving as a consultant and tuner in 2019.

But that’s not all.

Also joining Salinas’ Scrappers Racing team will be crew chief Brian Husen, who served as crew chief for Brittany Force the past two seasons.

With Husen working alongside Johnson, the duo led Force to win the 2017 NHRA Top Fuel championship, but Force slipped to a fifth-place showing in 2018.

Husen and Johnson also collaborated on leading Shawn Langdon to the 2013 Top Fuel title, as well as Del Worsham’s Top Fuel crown in 2011.

We’ve worked together for 15 years now,” Husen said of his relationship with Johnson to Fox Sports. “Throughout that, I’ve learned a lot and Alan has taught me pretty much everything I know. So, we both go into the day and runs with the same mindset with a common goal. It works pretty well.”

Husen is also bringing several members of his crew from the John Force Racing camp along with him into the Salinas fold.

“They decided to take a different direction at JFR, which I understand,” Husen told Fox Sports. “They have to make the decisions that they make, and so the opportunity became available with Mike Salinas to come over here and work.

I started talking to Mike and seeing the direction that he wanted to go, a lot of the guys from Brittany’s force team showed interest, so we knew we had a good group of people. The best case for us was to stick together and try to build on what we had. … It’s not that normal low-key winter for us. We have our plate full with work we’ve got to do.”

NHRA Top Fuel driver Mike Salinas. (Photo: NHRA)

Bringing Johnson and Husen onboard is a huge step up for Salinas and his Scrappers Racing team. To date, he’s yet to win a race in Top Fuel and has only reached one final round in 31 races over 1 1/3 seasons (7 in 2017, 24 in 2018) on the NHRA national event circuit.

Mike’s a great driver and we have the championship team from Brittany’s team and we have all the right parts,” Husen told Fox Sports. “It’s just going to come down to decision making on Alan’s and my part, Mike doing a good job driving and these doing the great job they’ve always done.”

In his first full season in Top Fuel in 2018, Salinas qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs and finished the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season tied for seventh in the points standings with veteran driver Doug Kalitta.

It’s believed that much of the crew from Funny Car driver and Brittany’s sister, Courtney Force’s team will move to Brittany’s team, while several members of an unnamed Top Fuel team are reportedly headed to join Courtney Force’s team.

However, a JFR source told NBC Sports Friday afternoon, “I can’t confirm anything about our team lineup yet but I will say those rumors are not quite correct and we still have some things moving around.”

NOTES: Steve Torrence, who Alan Johnson also worked as a consultant for in the 2017 season, laying the groundwork for Torrence’s 2018 Top Fuel championship, will have company on the drag strip more frequently in 2019. His father, Billy, who won his first career NHRA race at Brainerd, Minnesota last August, is expected to run in between 12 and 14 NHRA national events in 2019.

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Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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