Mopar Racing

Tommy Johnson Jr. Takes Mopar-powered Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to No. 1 Qualifier Spot at Vegas

· After two track-record Friday runs, Johnson keeps grip on top spot and grabs three additional bonus points to wrap up qualifying in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T
· Johnson’s pole at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is his third of season and 12th of year for 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) drivers
· DSR Mopar-powered Dodge driver Jack Beckman qualifies No. 4, earns two bonus points in final qualifying session to keep pace in the championship hunt
· Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver and No. 11 qualifier Matt Hagan can keep championship hopes alive with first round win over points leader Del Worsham
· Total of six Mopar-powered Dodge Charger Funny Cars fill eliminations field on Sunday
· Allen Johnson runs “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart Pro Stock car with special 20-year “Thank You” graphics to No. 10 starting position
· Trio of Mopar-powered Dodge Dart Pro Stock drivers target Sunday win at Vegas

Las Vegas, Nevada (Oct. 31, 2015) – Mopar-powered Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T NHRA Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. celebrated Halloween by earning his third pole of the season and 13th of his career on Saturday at the NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But his most welcomed treat of all was continuing to put the two drivers above him in the NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs on notice that there’s another player in the mix for the 2015 championship battle.

Johnson collected 17 crucial bonus markers in his chase of current NHRA Funny Car points leader Del Worsham and teammate and second-place driver Jack Beckman from his third place spot in the standings. The No. 1 qualifier spot was Johnson’s second of the six-race “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs (his other came at the Charlotte event), and also marked the 12th pole of the year for the new 2015 Dodge Charger R/T body.

After setting the track record in the first qualifying session on Friday with a 3.967-second elapsed time at 317.79 mph, and then resetting that mark in Q2 with a 3.931/320.43, Johnson entered Saturday six bonus points richer and possessing the provisional pole. His pass in Q2 also marked the 75th in the three second range by a 2015 Dodge Charger R/T this season — after just 12 such runs were recorded between 2011 and 2014 by Mopar-powered Dodge machines.

Johnson struck the tires in his first attempt on Saturday, but in Q4 the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver once again banked three bonus points for being quickest of the round, reeling off a 3.937 secons pass. By earning the pole Johnson scored another eight points; he’ll open eliminations against Bob Bode, with an event win crucial if he’s to have any chance at his first Funny Car World Championship.

“We would’ve run better if it hadn’t come loose at the top end and spun, and we dropped some cylinders pretty early,” said Johnson of his final qualifying run. “Probably around 800 feet, it started spinning and dropping the holes so it was definitely a .92 or .91. We only had one three-second pass up until Brainerd and since then we started swinging them out like they’re going out of style.”

In regards to his approach to the championship fight, Johnson said, “I think it’s kind of twofold. I think first round, there is a lot of focus on what everybody else is doing. You know, go out and do your job, try to win your round but pay attention to maybe what is happening to the other cars. The ‘have fun’ attitude might go out the window if they (Beckman and Worsham) both lost first round. It would be certainly ‘go get it’, because that’s our chance. The door is open.”

Beckman, Johnson’s DSR teammate, ended Friday qualifying on a less than desired note, ranked ninth after a quickest lap of 4.011/316.30. Unable to make a full pull down the quarter-mile in Q3, the 2012 Funny Car champ had just one more chance to move up the charts and gain valuable qualifying points — and he took advantage of it.

Beckman uncorked a 3.940 mark in his DSR Infinite Hero Mopar Dodge Charger R/T, earning two bonus points and moving to No. 4 in final Vegas qualifying. The pass was the 200th three-second Funny Car run in history; Beckman has the most of any Funny Car driver, with 35. He will match up with No. 13 qualifier Tony Pedregon in round one, hoping to close the gap between himself and points leader Worsham.

“I’m not displeased with qualifying at all,” said Beckman, who has earned seven wins thus far this season. “We kept pace with Del, and I know that you always want to gain, but the way the points are right now, we can’t let them gain two qualifying points because that changes the round structure completely, so we did exactly what we needed to do on that last run.

“There’s a lot more diehard Mopar fans out here and that gives us an instant fan base. That team is running fantastic. We struggled a little bit this weekend. The conditions that we just ran so well in we won’t see tomorrow. But I’m really confident. This is one of those Saturday nights where the crew chief digs into data. You just pour through the notes and you figure out what you think the track is going to like first round tomorrow. If it does everything right, you know how much the track typically changes, now you can massage the tune-up and get it down there on the second run. So it’s about coming out with a big number for first round and turning the win light on.”

Not qualified after the first two runs, Ron Capps quickly remedied that situation in his first shot on Saturday, using a 4.016/319.45 to crack the charts at No. 11. That was just a prelude to Capps’ qualifying finale in which he ran in the three second range with a 3.967/323.12 to jump to fifth on the charts and earn an extra bonus point. Capps will face No. 12 starter Cruz Pedregon in the opening round on Sunday.

Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Matt Hagan had a quickest effort on Friday of 4.010/322.58 and looked to be on another solid run in Q3 on Saturday but slowed to a 4.719/174.55 after striking the tires at approximately the 500 ft. mark. Hagan was unable to improve in Q4; slotted in the No. 11 spot, his round one battle against current leader and No. 6 qualifier Worsham could have major implications in the championship fight — one in which Hagan is still very much alive even from his fifth place standing in the points.

“Racing Del (Worsham) in the first round tomorrow puts things in perspective,” said Hagan, the defending Funny Car champ. “If we beat him and win the race, we’re only 80 points back and have a real shot at defending our championship. First round could really change the entire dynamic. We have two races to make something happen and mathematically we still have a shot at it. I’m not a quitter, so we just keep digging, working hard and hopefully put our Mopar car in the winner’s circle.”

Gary Densham (14th, 4.050) will lineup his Dodge against No. 3 Robert Hight, while Paul Lee (15th, 4.076) will face No. 2 Courtney Force. John Hale was unable to qualify his Dodge Charger for the Sunday field.

In Pro Stock action, Allen Johnson’s first shot in Saturday qualifying nearly mirrored his attempt in Friday’s first session. The “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart NHRA Pro Stock driver motored to a 6.608 ET (at 208.88 mph), almost identical to his 6.607 on Friday, and remained in the provisional No. 9 position. In Q4, Johnson ran a 6.610/208.81, falling one spot to wrap up qualifying tenth.

The 2012 NHRA Pro Stock World Champion and three-time winner at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will meet No. 7 starter Vincent Nobile in the first round of eliminations tomorrow.

“We made a really good first run and then broke a valve spring on the second run so we missed the good session,” said Johnson, who sported special “Thank You” graphics on his Mopar Dart in recognition of the 20 years he and his father and engine builder, Roy Johnson, have spent competing in Mopar Dodge NHRA Pro Stock cars. “The runs today weren’t stellar by any means, but we’re getting down the track and we have something to work with tomorrow.

“I’ll just have to get up on the wheel tomorrow and earn it. We’ve always done well here but we’re just not making as good a run down low and it seems like we’re still just a little bit off, but tomorrow will be a new day.”

V. Gaines posted his Mopar-powered Dodge Dart 14th with a 6.647/207.50 run on Friday and will race No. 3 Bo Butner in round one on Sunday. Deric Kramer (6.678) kicks off Sunday in his Dodge Dart from the No. 16th spot. His mission: take out No. 1 qualifier and defending (and near-certain repeat) Pro Stock champ Erica Enders. Alan Prusiensky failed to qualify his 2012 Dodge Avenger.