Photo: Tommy Johnson Jr. official Twitter page

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

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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.”

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Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen finish 1-2 at High Point, tie for points lead

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
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Time was running off the clock and Eli Tomac was going to give up the overall win to Ken Roczen, until the Colorado native dug deep and made the pass for second in Moto 2 at High Point Raceway at Mount Morris, Penn. Roczen would win his third Moto of the season, but Tomac won the war.

With a third-place finish in Moto 1 and his second in Moto 2, Tomac grabbed the overall victory for the second time this season in Round 4 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship.

For Tomac, it was another difficult start to the race. He tipped his bike over in Moto 1 and fell back to fifth while battling two seconds behind the leader Blake Baggett. Tomac had to battle his way back toward the front again after barely cracking the top five in the first Motos in two of the first three rounds.

Roczen fared even worse in Moto 1. He finished sixth in that race – more than 34 seconds behind the leader Baggett. Determined to make up for his bad start, Roczen charged through the field in Moto 2 and took the lead from Cooper Webb on Lap 9.

“I was just going to charge,” Roczen told NBC Sports after his Moto win. “Do the best I can. I went back to my Colorado (last week) settings because the first race was awful; I couldn’t even ride.”

Tomac entered the round two points behind Roczen and was able to make up only those two points. The battle continues onto Florida next week with a tie for the top spot.

With a 2-5, Jason Anderson grabbed third overall.

Battling back from injury, Anderson faded in the closing laps of Moto 2, but is regaining strength each week.

Webb (third) and Zach Osborne (fourth) rounded out the top five in Moto 2 and finished fourth and fifth respectively overall.

Moto 1 featured a rider searching for his first Moto win in two years. Baggett earned the holeshot and held off an early advantage by Tomac. When Tomac fell, it handed second to Anderson, who finished nearly 10 seconds behind the leader.

“Every time I get out front here, I have that weird sensation of trying to keep it on two wheels,” Baggett said on NBC Sports Gold following his win.

Tomac was not the only rider to go down in Moto 1. Webb lost his pegs on Lap 9 and became the cape to his KTM motorcycle as he flew along holding tight to the handlebars. He recovered in that race to finish seventh.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

Adam Cianciarulo remains perfect in the 250 class. Winning Moto 2 in each round so far this season, Cianciarulo has capitalized on his late event surges to sweep Victory Lane in the first four weeks.

It wasn’t an easy run for Cianciarulo, nonetheless. He was only fifth at the end of Lap 1 in Moto 1 and was forced to slice through the field to get to second at the checkers of that race.

“Just coming to the races now – coming to outdoor nationals now – compared to the past, it’s just an entirely different vibe,” Cianciarulo said on NBCSN after the race. “It’s like I’m experiencing it for the first time because for the first time in my whole pro career I believe in myself.

“It’s a process when you hit rock bottom and start coming back.”

Hunter Lawrence stole the show in Moto 1. Earning his first career win handily, he came out in Moto 2 and proved it was not a fluke by finishing third in the race and taking second overall.

“It’s awesome,” Lawrence said on NBC Sports Gold following his Moto 1 victory. “It’s just a Moto win, but it’s a big milestone in our trip and campaign.”

Chase Sexton earned the holeshot in Moto 1, but faded to fourth at the end. Sexton kept Cianciarulo in sight in the back half of Moto 2 to finish second in the race and third overall.

With a 3-4, Dylan Ferrandis finished fourth overall with Colt Nichols (5-5) finishing fifth.

After losing the overall at Thunder Valley amidst controversy, Justin Cooper wanted to make a statement. He barely raised his voice with a sixth in Moto 1 and a ninth in Moto 2 to finish ninth overall.  He lost another 20 points to the points leader as Cianciarulo starts to edge away from the pack. Cooper remains second in the points, but is now 26 back.

Garrett Marchbanks went down hard on Lap 4 of Moto 1 and had the bike land on his head. He did not start Moto 2, but there have been no report of injury yet.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[4] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II)
[3] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)

250MX
[4] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[1] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I)

Next race: WW Ranch Motocross Park, Jacksonville, Fla. June 22

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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