Johnson Jr. Wins All-Mopar Funny Car Final at Dodge NHRA Nationals
- Mopar claims victory at Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in eighth all-Mopar Funny Car final of 2016
- Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T pilot Tommy Johnson takes top honors in third consecutive final
- Johnson defeats DSR teammate and fellow Dodge Charger Funny Car driver Ron Capps in final
- Capps retains Funny Car points lead, No. 2 Johnson moves to within 24 marks of top spot
- Mopar drivers now 1-2-3-4 in Funny Car standings
- Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger Funny Car driver Matt Hagan moves up from No. 6 to No. 4 in points
- Jack Beckman wheels Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T to Maple Grove Raceway track record
- No. 1 qualifier Leah Pritchett breaks career-best numbers DSR’s Mopar-branded Top Fuel dragster
- NHRA Fall Nationals in Dallas next on NHRA tour, fourth race of six in 2016 Countdown to the Championship
October 2, 2016 , Reading, Pennsylvania – The third race of NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship concluded with yet another victory for Mopar in the eighth all-Mopar final round of the season and second in a row. When it was all said and done, Tommy Johnson Jr., driver of the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T, was celebrating in the Dodge NHRA Nationals winner’s circle with his Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) team after defeating teammate and points leader Ron Capps at Maple Grove Raceway.
The victory came in Johnson’s third consecutive final round and brought him to within 24 marks of the top spot.
“Congratulations on behalf of everyone at Mopar to Tommy Johnson Jr. on winning his second trophy of the season with the Dodge NHRA Nationals title,” said Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA – Global. “We are all pleased to see a Mopar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car claim this victory, and we look forward to continued success for the team.”
The Dodge NHRA Nationals trophy was the 14th of Johnson’s career in his 38th final round, and it was his second win of the season in his fifth final round of the year. Johnson’s first nitro trophy came in Top Fuel in 1993, but his very first Funny Car victory was at Maple Grove Raceway – and it also came with a final-round defeat of Capps.
In this season’s final round, Johnson used a cool .036-second reaction time to take the lead and finished the job with a brisk 3.895-second pass at a large 330.63 mph in his Mopar Dodge Charger. Capps left the starting line with a .051 and raced to a 3.911/324.12.
On the way to the final, Johnson knocked out Cruz Pedregon, 3.909/327.27 to 4.159/257.58, Mike Smith with a 4.025/325.37 to 5.608/129.58, and then DSR teammate Jack Beckman in a very close match with a remarkable .029 reaction and 3.892/330.63 that edged his opponent’s .050 start and 3.899/327.51.
“It was a tough track because the conditions were so good,” said Johnson. “The track is so tight, you have to be perfect or it doesn’t make it. You get to the semifinals and you think, man this is going to be tough. I know what those guys have for equipment and parts. I know them too well. But if you’re going to win it, you have to go through the best. We pulled into the waterbox for the semis and I thought, oh I bet the boss is happy. This is good, this is what we planned to do. We all work together really well. We all share information, and if you ask the right question, they will tell you. If you’re struggling, they’ll be there to help you. That’s all great until you get to the semifinals and then it’s every team for themselves. Nobody is cutting you any slack. I knew it was going to be tough. I watched all of them run second round and they were really good – but we had to pedal it. I knew we were behind a little bit, but I had faith in the guys. I knew we got too conservative in the second round, and that’s what bit us – but I knew they wouldn’t be in the semifinals, so I felt pretty confident.”
For Johnson, who is led by crew chief John Collins and assistant crew chief Rip Reynolds, the victory was even more satisfying after falling just short at the facility in 2014 – the first season he raced with the Make-A-Wish team funded by Terry Chandler. The fact that it came with positive points implications at this late date in the season certainly didn’t hurt.
“You want to have a strong start, and we knew that going into Charlotte [the first race of the playoffs],” said Johnson. “We needed a strong start to the Countdown. We started 7th in points, unfortunately, and would have liked to have started a little bit higher. But we went from seventh to fourth. A runner-up is good, and we went to St. Louis and went to another final round, and I said I’d be happy with four more runner-ups. If we could do that the rest of the way, I figured we could win the championship. But when you look in the other lane in the final like we did here, and you’ve got Capps, who’s leading it, it’s a must-win. You can’t have another runner-up. You have to gain some ground. I’m really happy. I couldn’t be any happier than this start to the Countdown. That’s getting it done, and we have to keep doing it to get it done. I said it at the other end, neither one of us has won the championship, and I think you can see how bad we both want it. It’s going to be a fight, I can tell that right now. It’s not going to be easy, but if we can continue this consistency, we’ll be alright. ”
The final round was the ninth of the year for Capps – the second-winningest Funny Car driver of all time – and the 99th of his career as a nitro driver. It also marked the third time in which he was runner-up in Reading.
“It may not look this way to the fans looking in the pit area, but this was a huge victory for [crew chief] Rahn Tobler,” said Capps, who is seeking his first world championship. “This track has been an Achilles heel for our team the past few years. We haven’t gotten past a couple rounds and just haven’t run well here. This race has always been pivotal in the points. Those races all day were so close. John Collins and Tommy Johnson Jr. are going to be tough the rest of the year. They’re not going anywhere – they’re in second place for a reason. But this is a huge, huge victory for us at this track. I would have loved to get my first win here, but getting to the final round was big. Now, we’re heading to warm conditions in Dallas and Vegas and Pomona and those are going to be a lot of fun. I’m pretty pumped about these last few races.”
Beckman, who wheels the Infinite Hero Dodge Charger out of the DSR camp, stayed No. 3 in the points and made an outstanding 3.850-second pass at 332.26 mph in the second round to break the Maple Grove Raceway track record for elapsed time and clock one of the fastest speeds of the weekend.
“Our Dodge Charger was a phenomenal race car today, and we lost a close race,” said Beckman. “But that is one of those must-win situations. You had four Mopar Funny Cars in the semifinals, and now we’re No. 1, 2, 3, 4 cars in the points. We needed to win this race. They’re not going to give us a re-run. We’re going to have to tighten our belts a little bit. We have three chances left, so here’s the deal. We need to make it to all three of these final rounds and there probably can’t be one of the top two cars in the other lane for us to have a legitimate chance at the championship. To some extent, we control our fate. But we’re going to have to rely on the other guys stumbling, somewhat, and they’re not showing signs of that. There is no reason for us to be beating ourselves up about our performance this weekend. We set the track record, we went one of the fastest speeds of all time here, and we beat some tough cars.”
Matt Hagan, driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T, came into the event in the No. 6 position in the Funny Car points but made much progress over the course of the weekend. After qualifying No. 1 in his charging Mopar, Hagan won a first-round match with Jim Campbell and then sent John Bojec home with the second-quickest pass of the round paired with a big 332.75 mph speed. In the semifinals, Hagan fell to Capps – but only just barely. Capps got a starting line advantage and used it to turn Hagan away on a small holeshot. Both lanes reflected a 3.893 on the scoreboard, and Hagan had a very fast 333.58 speed that nearly matched his track-record setting 333.99 from qualifying. Hagan leaves Maple Grove Raceway No. 4 in the points.
Mopar’s Pritchett Improves on No. 1 Performance
DSR Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett raced to the first No. 1 of her career during qualifying for the Dodge NHRA Nationals, and she improved upon her career best numbers on raceday with an impressive 3.701-second pass at 325.45 mph in her Mopar Top Fuel Dragster. Pritchett reached the semifinals for the fourth time this season.
“We said coming into the Countdown that it is like the sprinting part of the race,” said Pritchett. “The marathon has happened to get here, and now we’re in the sprint – and this car and this team have definitely stepped up. I couldn’t be happier or more proud of this team. The reason we’re so fast and quick and successful right now is because of the last couple of months that it’s taken to get consistent inventory of this race car. The results are showing. We’ve said it for a long time, and now it’s finally happening because of the hard work that this crew is putting in. I know that we’re capable of running a 3.68 or 3.69 with our Mopar dragster, and that’s powerful for me as a driver.”
Pritchett moved up to the No. 7 position in the Top Fuel points, while DSR teammate and driver of the HEMI®-powered U.S. Army Top Fuel rail moved into the No. 5 spot.
Next Event in NHRA Countdown to the Championship
The fourth race of NHRA’s 2016 Countdown to the Championship will take place in two weeks. The NHRA Fallnationals at Texas Motorplex will take place in Dallas, Oct. 13-16, 2016. The playoffs are run in a six-race format that pits the top 10 drivers in each professional category against one another for the season title.
2016 NHRA Championship Point Standings
(season wins in parentheses)
1. Jason Line (8) – 2,389
2. Greg Anderson (7) – 2,344
3. Vincent Nobile (1) – 2,306
4. Bo Butner – 2,256
5. Shane Gray – 2,242
6. Chris McGaha (1) – 2,189
7. Allen Johnson (1), Mopar Dodge Dart – 2,160
8. Drew Skillman (1) – 2,157
9. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dodge Dart – 2,115
10. Erica Enders, Mopar Performance Dodge Dart – 2,104
1. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger R/T (5) – 2,368
2. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger R/T (2) – 2,344
3. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger R/T (2) – 2,275
4. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger R/T (3) – 2,258
5. Del Worsham (1) – 2,246
6. John Force (3) – 2,230
7. Tim Wilkerson (2) – 2,196
8. Robert Hight (1) – 2,193
9. Courtney Force (1) – 2,182
10. Alexis DeJoria (1) – 2,099
1. Antron Brown (6) – 2,258
2. Doug Kalitta (3) – 2,245
3. Brittany Force (3) – 2,167
4. Shawn Langdon (3) – 2,181
5. Tony Schumacher, Mopar HEMI (1) – 2,204
6. Steve Torrence (2) – 2,161
7. Leah Pritchett, Mopar HEMI (1) – 2,107
8. J.R. Todd (1) – 2,152
9. Richie Crampton – 2,127
10. Clay Millican – 2,084