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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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F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.