Not only will Mopar® take on the 25th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals as the defending winner in both Pro Stock and Funny Car categories, but last year’s two title victors also went on to earn their first career NHRA Championships, so you’ll have to forgive Allen Johnson and Jack Beckman for hoping that their defense of those victories might have a similar ending this season as well.
“Every single title the J&J racing team won last year was very important in our chances to become number one at the start of the Countdown and take a run at the championship but Topeka win gave us the confidence that we were headed down the right path,” said Johnson who had a near perfect weekend at the 2012 edition of the Kansas Nationals by securing the top qualifier position, taking almost every bonus point and working his way through the elimination rounds to post his second win of the season on his way to his first world championship title with a total of seven wins and 11 final-round appearances.
“We need a little bit of that right now as our focus has been a bit off in the last three weeks,” admitted Johnson who after posting wins at the Gainesville and Las Vegas, hasn’t made it past the second round of eliminations in the last three events. “We’re shooting to bounce back in Topeka and doing everything we can to get back to fine form. It’s an altitude track at which the HEMI®-powered Mopar Dodge Avenger normally does really well at, just like Vegas and Denver. The key to doing well at here is having the tune-up correct at altitude.”
Both he and Mopar teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. tested at Tulsa Raceway Park in Oklahoma as preparation for this weekend’s event to try and close the gap to rival Mike Edwards in the both the points battle and on the track.
“We’re working on getting more consistent and getting a better combination for our Mopars,” said Johnson who has two ‘Wallys’ at Topeka in the last three years and would like to add another as quickly as possible. “I think we’ve gained a little on Mike (Edwards) in the past few weeks, cutting his advantage a bit at a time. He’s been quickest qualifier every weekend but Atlanta, when Jeg got it. He’s the front runner right now but I think we cut the deficit in half on what he was leading on everybody since the start of the year.”
For his part, Don Schumacher Racing’s Jack Beckman is looking forward to returning to the place where his own drive for the 2012 Funny Car world title began and getting back to winning more elimination rounds to move up from his seventh spot in the points standings.
“We haven’t been horrible; we have six round wins but we expected much bigger things by now,” said Beckman. “This could be a big shot in the arm for us, emotionally going back to the place where our run to the championship kind of officially took off last year.”
Meanwhile two other Mopar drivers have a bit of momentum and good results both finding themselves in second place in their respective classes; Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Matt Hagan.
Hagan has the ‘Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar’ Dodge Charger R/T second in the Funny Car points standings on the strength of a title win at Charlotte, one No. 1 qualifier position, two runner-ups and a semifinal finish in seven events.
Coughlin for his part jumped into second place in the Pro Stock points with a No. 1 qualifier position at Houston and two final round appearances and posting three semifinal finishes in the first seven events of the season. He now has his sights set on taking the Jegs.com Mopar Dodge Avenger to a semifinal appearance in Kansas to help mark his 500th round win in NHRA Pro Stock competition. Only 11 other drivers have achieved that milestone; Joe Amato, Greg Anderson, Kenny Bernstein, Larry Dixon, John Force, Bob Glidden, Kurt Johnson, Warren Johnson, Cory McClenathan, Tony Schumacher and Tony Pedregon.
ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will provide coverage of this weekend’s 25th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals, the seventh of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, with two hours of qualifying highlights on Saturday, May 18, at 5:30 p.m. (ET) and then a three hour broadcast of elimination rounds coverage on Sunday, May 19, starting at 8 p.m. (ET) from Heartland Park near Topeka.
2013 NHRA Championship Points Standings (after 7 races):
PRO STOCK (season wins in parentheses)
1. Mike Edwards (2) – 656
2. Jeg Coughlin Jr. – Dodge Avenger – 530
3. Allen Johnson (2) – Dodge Avenger – 501
3. Erica Enders-Stevens (1) – 482
5. Jason Line (1) – 472
6. Shane Gray – 421
7. Vincent Nobile (1) – Dodge Avenger – 393
8. Greg Anderson – 380
9. V. Gaines- Dodge Avenger – 370
10. Greg Stanfield – 322
FUNNY CAR (season wins in parentheses)
1. Cruz Pedregon (2) – 547
2. Matt Hagan (1) – Dodge Charger R/T – 534
3. Johnny Gray (2) – Dodge Charger R/T – 474
4. Ron Capps (1) – Dodge Charger R/T – 440
5. Tim Wilkerson – 423
6. Courtney Force (1) – 421
7. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger R/T – 372
8. Robert Hight – 343
9. Del Worsham – 342
10. Alexis DeJoria – 326
Categorized in: NHRA