NHRA: Tommy Johnson Jr. looks to keep consistency streak going in Phoenix

Photo: Tommy Johnson Jr. official Twitter page
0 Comments

For NHRA Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr., in a way, 50 is the new 20.

It was 30 years ago this weekend that the Ottumwa, Iowa native made his first appearance in a Top Fuel dragster in a NHRA national event at the former Firebird Raceway in Chandler, Arizona (suburban Phoenix), now known as Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

The now-50-year-old Johnson returns to the Grand Canyon State for this weekend’s Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals, the second race on the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event schedule. And even though he now drives a Funny Car, he’s still looking to make it a momentous anniversary, indeed.

You can definitely see where being a veteran and having experience pays off,” said Johnson, who has 17 career wins across both Top Fuel and Funny Car. “I want to use that now.

“I think it’s all about maintaining focus throughout the year. It’s a long season and you can’t let the lows get you down or let the highs distract you. That comes from years of experience. When you’ve been there and done that, it helps keep you on track. Being a veteran, it gives you a whole different mindset on racing.”

Johnson, who now lives in suburban Indianapolis, has had a noteworthy racing career. He comes into this weekend having made over 400 national event starts. That includes stints driving for NHRA legends Kenny Bernstein, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, NFL coach and NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs and current boss, Don Schumacher.

Johnson hopes to go one step further than he did in last year’s early-season race in Phoenix, when he finished runner-up. He also won there earlier in his career.

Now, after finishing third in the Funny Car final standings last season (and did so despite going winless in 24 races) and ending up runner-up in the final race of the 2018 season, Johnson picked up where he left off with a strong start already in 2019, reaching the semifinals in the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals two weeks ago.

His team made very few changes during the offseason and it showed in the season-opener. Now, Johnson is ready to claim his first win since the final race of 2017.

It speaks well to the consistency of our tune-up and we’re racing better earlier in the year than we ever have,” Johnson said. “We made minimal changes as far as what we did in the off-season and came out and ran well.

“For our confidence level, that’s tremendous. We ended the season on a really high note and to continue that after a long break, that’s pretty important.”

Having qualified No. 3 two weeks ago in Pomona, California, Johnson understands how significant it is to have as strong of a start to the season as possible – and to continue moving forward with equally strong showings or better in the next several races.

Because it’s a long 24-race season, the more ground he gain can early on, the more it may ultimately help him heading into the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

History shows it’s hard to keep your performance all season, but it’s definitely easier if you have it right away than it is to try and find it,” Johnson said. “I’m sure there will be a point in the season where we have to get back on track, but our focus is trying to maintain this.

“To get into a flow right off the bat is big, and to have a car that runs well no matter the conditions is super encouraging.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
0 Comments

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III