ENNIS, Texas --
But when he heads to the Texas Motorplex for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Sept. 19-22, Johnson will go with the same mindset he had in 2012. The AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals is the second of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs and it is where Johnson put a definitive stamp on his banner championship season.
He won the race and used that momentum to help gain his first career Pro Stock title. Other event winners from a year ago were defending world champion Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
This season, Johnson enters the Countdown in second place behind Mike Edwards but the points reset for the Countdown puts him within striking distance. With another strong showing in Dallas the Greeneville, Tenn. native could be right back in line for another world title.
"We're 30 points behind instead of 150, so it will help me this year," Johnson said. "We just have to go be consistent and make good runs. Hopefully we'll have a set-up that's pretty bad to the bone when we get there."
A strong set-up in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger has been apparent for most of the year, as Johnson has powered his way to four victories (Gainesville, Las Vegas, Epping and Denver) and seven final round appearances.
"Our last run in Indy, we might have hit on something that we've been fighting for a few races and give us some momentum in the Countdown," Johnson said. "Maybe that was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal (event)."
But Johnson will have plenty of good vibes heading to the legendary all-concrete Texas Motorplex. His 2012 win was the first of three in the Countdown and it marked an important step in his championship journey.
Johnson beat Erica Enders-Stevens in the final round and from there continued to build on that points lead the rest of the season. After tasting success in Dallas, Johnson is certainly ready for more of it.
"Knowing how important that win at the Motorplex was to us winning the championship made it even more special," Johnson said. "If we keep running well, going rounds and we get another win at the Motorplex, it would go a long way toward getting that second championship.
"I sure wouldn't mind us leaving Texas in the same situation we were in a year ago. That's definitely going to be the goal."
But racing at the history-rich Texas Motorplex has always been exciting for Johnson and he hopes there's another memory to be made there in 2013.
"I have always, always loved that smooth concrete surface at the Motorplex," Johnson said. "That win gave our whole team momentum in the Countdown and a lot of confidence and that's something we hope we can repeat."
In Top Fuel everyone is chasing points leader Shawn Langdon, who earned his fifth victory of the season at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but Langdon will have to contend with the likes of five-time event winner and defending world champion Brown, seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher and other standouts like Khalid alBalooshi, Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Morgan Lucas, Texas native Steve Torrence and 2011 Motorplex winner Bob Vandergriff.
In Funny Car, Matt Hagan leads the series standings with four season victories at the controls of his Magneti Marelli Dodge Charger and will be trying to earn his second victory at the Motorplex. He will need to hold off veterans Cruz Pedregon, a three-time event champ, and Ron Capps, the 1998 winner there. Others to watch include the Force powerhouse that includes 15-time world champion John Force, his youngest daughter Courtney, a two-time winner this season, and two-time Motorplex winner and Auto Club Ford Mustang driver Robert Hight.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
As always, every ticket purchased for the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals is a pit pass, which offers an extraordinary look behind the scenes in the world of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their high-horsepower machines between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans will also want to check out NHRA Nitro Alley and the popular NHRA Manufacturers Midway where manufacturers and sponsors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and freebies. Fans will also want to take advantage of Championship Sunday for the fun fanzone featuring driver introductions and a special Track Walk at 9:30 a.m. It's free to all Sunday ticket holders.
The AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals qualifying opens on Friday, Sept. 20, with sessions at 2:15 and 5:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Sept. 21, at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22.
Tickets for the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals are available now, ranging from just $10 to $380 for weekend packages. Youth tickets for children 12 and under start as low as $5. For tickets or more information, please call the Texas Motorplex office at (800) MOTORPLEX or visit www.texasmotorplex.com.