Johnson and Hagan Lock Up Top Spots at NHRA Midwest Nationals
Madison, Ill. (Saturday, September 28, 2013) – Mopar Express Lane Dodge Avenger driver Allen Johnson, the defending series champion, made sure the rest of the NHRA Pro Stock field didn’t forget that fact, firing up his title defense by earning his third No. 1 qualifier spot of the season and 31st of his career today at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, held at Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis. Matt Hagan will also lead the NHRA Funny Car field into eliminations, thanks to a track-record run on Friday in his Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar Dodge Charger R/T.
Johnson locked down the No. 1 qualifier spot on Friday with a 6.512-second elapsed time at 212.29 mph in a night session that offered favorable track conditions. The qualifying charts didn’t see much shake-up on Saturday with Johnson keeping his grip on the top position, although the defending champ did take full advantage of the opportunity to score extra bonus points. Johnson was third-quickest in Saturday’s first qualifying round (6.555/211.93), banking one extra marker, and second-quickest (6.572/210.60) in his final effort, scoring two more points and bringing his grand total to nine bonus points for the weekend. The Greeneville, Tenn., native will face Larry Morgan in the opening round tomorrow.
“We gained at least ten points on the frontrunners, including little (qualifying bonus) points and (our) qualifying position, so we made up a little ground there,” said Johnson, who will look to make his second-straight final round appearance at Gateway Motorsports Park tomorrow and score his first career win at the venue. “Hopefully tomorrow we can take the Mopar Express Lane Dodge to the final and make up some more.
“We’ve got a real good combination now with all three cars. We’ve got all three of the (J&J Racing) Mopars in the top six, and then V. (Gaines) is there, so four of the top six positions are Mopars.”
Gaines (6.526/211.96) will start tomorrow from the No. 2 spot and draw another Dodge, No. 15 qualifier Matt Hartford, in the first stanza. Johnson’s J&J Racing teammate, Jeg Coughlin Jr., who qualified No. 3 in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger based on his 6.527/211.20 pass from Friday, also earned three bonus points with the low elapsed time (6.545/211.49) of the first qualifying session on Saturday, and is now tied for the overall Pro Stock points lead with Jason Line. Coughlin will square off with Greg Stanfield to begin his Sunday, while fellow J&J Racing stable mate and No. 6 qualifier Vincent Nobile (6.535/211.46) will meet former Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson. Mopar-powered driver Deric Kramer (6.603/209.30) will start No. 13 and meet Erica Enders-Stevens in round one tomorrow.
Hagan roared to his fifth pole of the year and 15th of his career thanks to his Friday night run in his Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar Dodge Charger R/T, unleashing a 4.001/320.20 number to set the elapsed time and speed track records at Gateway Motorsports Park. No driver could better that mark on Saturday, including Hagan, who posted a solid 4.092/315.64 pass in his final qualifying attempt. The 2011 NHRA Funny Car champ will battle Daniel Wilkerson first on Sunday as he seeks to pad his points lead and secure his fifth victory of the season.
“It’s tough to lead,” said Hagan. “It’s easy to chase, but tough to lead. Anybody that’s ever led will tell you the same thing. Everybody is after you, their gunning for you, and you know that you have to bring your ‘A’ game. But what’s great about this team is they bring their ‘A’ game every weekend, and it always seems to work out really well. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in (crew chief) Dickie Venables.”
Hagan will be joined by his three Mopar-powered Don Schumacher Racing teammates in the elimination rounds, with each of the trio making their best qualifying runs and improving positions in their final attempts. Ron Capps (4.058/310.05) jumped to No. 6 and will duke it out with Bob Tasca III in the opening stanza. Defending Funny Car champ Jack Beckman (4.070/313.66) moved to eighth and will race Alexis DeJoria, while No. 12 Johnny Gray (4.098/311.77) will meet Del Worsham. Dodge Charger R/T racer Jeff Arend (4.196/280.95) will start 15th and go heads up with John Force Racing’s Robert Hight.
Elimination rounds are scheduled to begin tomorrow starting at 11:00 a.m. (CT). Qualifying highlights from the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis are scheduled to be televised from 3:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 29, on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD. Three hours of eliminations coverage will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD starting at 8:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 29.