Mopar Racing–Semifinal Finish by Mopar Driver Tommy Johnson Jr. at Texas NHRA FallNationals Funny Car Eliminations

Semifinal Finish by Mopar Driver Tommy Johnson Jr. at Texas NHRA FallNationals Funny Car Eliminations

· Semifinal performance by Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Mopar Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. at AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex
· Matt Hagan is top Mopar in the NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” after two of six playoffs event in the battle for the Funny Car world title
· No.2 seed in Pro Stock eliminations, Allen Johnson drove his Magneti Marelli/ Mopar Dodge Dart to quarterfinals at FallNationals eliminations

Ennis, Texas (Sept. 21, 2014) – The second of six National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) “Countdown to the Championship” playoff events took place this weekend at Texas Motorplex near Dallas, Texas, with Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver Tommy Johnson Jr. carrying the Mopar banner through to the semifinals in the Funny Car eliminations.

After a strong qualifying effort put the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T fourth on the eliminations ladder, Johnson made his way past Cruz Pedregon, who fouled out with a red-light start, to be paired up with Funny Car points leader John Force in the quarterfinals. Johnson won that match-up with a 4.192 elapsed time run at 302.08 mile per hour that was unchallenged by Force who hazed his tires on his pass.

That set up a semifinal showdown between the HEMI-powered DSR driver and Courtney Force, but Johnson’s 4.254/268.54 run was not quite enough to beat the eventual FallNationals title winner’s 4.218/299.06 run. Force went on to beat Del Worsham in the final elimination to win her third race of the season.

While Johnson had hoped to emulate the success his DSR teammate Matt Hagan had just 24 hours earlier in the rescheduled NHRA Carolina Nationals with a title victory at Texas Motorplex, his semifinal appearance put him seventh in the standings with four playoff events remaining and kept his hopes to challenge for the Funny Car championship very much alive.

“It was a good points day,” said Johnson who sits 96 points or less than five rounds from first place. “After going out first round of Charlotte, it was nice to go some rounds. It definitely gives you a confidence boost knowing you’re still in the hunt. We just need to buckle down and do better. We just need to keep going rounds.”

Leading the DSR team in the championship hunt is Hagan who sits in third place, 49 points behind from the top spot. Seeded sixth after qualifying, the Mopar driver defeated Bob Tasca III in the opening round to meet up with Tim Wilkerson. While Hagan’s Dodge Charger R/T fell short of advancing to the next round after losing traction, he couldn’t be disappointed with his team’s efforts throughout the weekend.

“We just pushed it a little hard and it didn’t stick,” Hagan said. “Yesterday was a great day. We had a great weekend overall. You can afford a second-round loss after going rounds and getting the (Carolina Nationals) win (on Saturday).We made a lot of headway. We are leaving here a lot stronger than we came here so we’ll just keep moving forward to St. Louis next weekend.”

Ron Capps, who was the top DSR qualifier going into the FallNationals when he put his Dodge Charger R/T in the No.3 spot, was upset in the first round by Wilkerson. Capps (4.223/295.72) led early in a close drag race that was won by his opponent (4.173/304.25) with half a car-length advantage at the stripe.

Mopar teammate Jack Beckman has had strong qualifying runs as of late in his Dodge Charger R/T. Unfortunately those haven’t translated well to eliminations and he endured his 11th first round loss of the year on Sunday after losing traction against Robert Hight who added insult to injury when he crossed the finish line with the worst winning time (4.501/271.57) of Sunday’s Funny Car eliminations.

In Pro Stock competition, the No.2 qualifier for eliminations Allen Johnson saw his “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart endure some initial tire chatter in his first round win over fellow HEMI-powered Matt Hartford to advance to a quarterfinal pairing against Dave Connolly. After some solid qualifying runs had Johnson and the Mopar team feeling confident about making strides in the Countdown, their efforts came to a premature end with a .041-second reaction time and a 6.607-second e.t. with the top speed of the round at 210.47 mph in a second round loss to Connolly’s .005-second light and 6.603/209.33 run. Connolly went on to win the FallNationals title by defeating Shane Gray in the final.

“We really have a package now, with both Mopar team cars actually, to work on,” Johnson said. “I didn’t feel that way coming into this weekend but the last three runs we were the fastest cars. I gave up a little on that last one but a .005 light (reaction time by his opponent) was going to be hard to beat. I really feel confident going forward into the next three or four races. We should be the two fastest cars and be able to go win some races.”

Johnson’s quarterfinal appearance followed a first round loss in the first playoff race. Those results unfortunately dropped him to seventh place in the standings just ahead of teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. and fellow Dodge driver V. Gaines. However, the good news for the HEMI-powered contingent is that their competitors atop the Countdown points heading into the weekend, Erica Enders Stevens and Jason Line, also lost their quarterfinal match-ups allowing the Pro Stock battle to tighten up.

“As close as the competition is in Pro Stock and these playoffs, even with the setbacks we’ve had in the first two Countdown eliminations, it’s not out of reach by any means,” Johnson said. “We just have to go to St. Louis and win the race.”

Coughlin echoed his teammates sentiments after seeing his day shortened due to a transmission break in the first round against Greg Anderson.

“Not quite the weekend we had drawn up,” said the Mopar driver. “Here in Dallas, with the finishing up of the Charlotte race and then rolling into this event, we had high hopes. The car just wasn’t where we needed it to be. Probably our best run was in Q4, which gave us a ton of confidence going into today. It just didn’t work out this time.

“We’ve got four races left, so we’ll certainly make a strong effort,” said Coughlin who sits eighth in points. “The whole team is extremely capable. It just wasn’t in the cards, as you say, so we’ll move on to St. Louis next weekend.”

V. Gaines also saw his day come to a premature end with a first round loss to Jonathon Gray.

Mopar teams now pack up and head to the third stop of the six-event NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs, the 3rd annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis, Missouri, scheduled for Sept. 26-28. Three Team Mopar Pro Stock drivers — Allen Johnson, Coughlin and Gaines — will attempt to bring home Mopar the brand’s third consecutive Pro Stock crown with four events left in the playoffs. Nitro drivers Hagan, Capps, and Tommy Johnson Jr. will continue their fight to capture the third Funny Car championship for Mopar in the last four years.