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Tue, 09 Oct 2018, 13:43 PM

Tommy Johnson Jr. Looking to Pounce at NHRA Carolina Nationals
Courtesy of NHRA Communications
Photo copyright 2018 Auto Imagery, Inc.


Tommy Johnson Jr.
Tommy Johnson Jr. might not be in the perfect position, but he remains within striking distance of his first Funny Car world championship and that is more than good enough for him. Heading to the NHRA Carolina Nationals, Oct. 12-14 at zMAX Dragway, to kick off the second half of the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Johnson is ready to pounce.

The talented veteran may be lurking in the shadows, currently sixth in Funny Car and 136 points behind defending world champion Robert Hight. Johnson believes the best is yet to come in his 10,000-horsepower Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T over the final three races and that could make for an eventful finish to his 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

"I'm always the underdog and I kind of enjoy it," Johnson said. "I'm confident if we do our thing we'll be there at the end. I like that role we're in where we can surprise some people. With these fuel cars, it seems like the car needs to be in a happy place to get on a streak. I think that's where we're at. Everything about our team is on the right track, we're making the right changes and that's all you can ask for. We've got all the bases covered and that makes you feel good."

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year's winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 14. It is the fourth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship and the 22nd of 24 races in 2018. For Johnson, he hopes it is the start of a late-season hot streak after being consistent all year.

Johnson and his team, led by crew chief John Collins, have had a top-flight car all season, advancing to six semifinals and two final rounds. They've only lost in the first round five times all year and none in the last eight races, as the team has been a staple of consistency. It includes a semifinal showing at the most recent playoff race in St. Louis, but Johnson knows the time is now to take that next step to start racking up wins and Charlotte would be the perfect place to do it.

"We just need to keep doing what we've been doing. We have a good car and we've had good runs, we just have to keep going rounds. I'm not going to lie, it's been getting a little harder to take the losses because we have a good car, but we just have to keep focused. It's a good confidence-builder knowing we have a good team that's capable of winning."

Tommy Johnson Jr.
Johnson, who has 17 career wins, will have to make his charge against a loaded Funny Car field that starts with Hight. J.R. Todd is 50 points back in second, while Tim Wilkerson sit 133 points back, respectively. Courtney Force rounds out the top five and is 155 points behind Hight, but Johnson's track record at the final three races in Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Pomona give him confidence he can get hot at an ideal time.

"I look forward going to Charlotte knowing we have had a lot of success there," said Johnson, who was runner-up at the Charlotte playoff races in 2015 and 2016. "Heading into crunch time, it's nice to know we're going to three tracks where we've done well. We're shooting for a championship and we're going to end the season at three of the best tracks for us in Charlotte, Vegas and Pomona. We're looking forward to that. But I'm pretty happy with the way we've kept ourselves in it."

Kalitta, a Top Fuel veteran, will look to keep his chances alive for a first world title in Charlotte going against points leader Steve Torrence, Clay Millican, and Tony Schumacher.

Pro Stock points leader Tanner Gray, who has seven 2018 wins, continues his impressive season, as the second-year star has a 89-points lead on Vincent Nobile and a 90-point lead on Jeg Coughlin.

Eddie Krawiec is after his first Pro Stock Motorcycle playoff win in 2018, as the defending champ tries to track down point leader LE Tonglet, who is 47 points back of Tonglet.

The NHRA Carolina Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, which will have its 11th of 12 races, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.

Tommy Johnson Jr.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the NHRA Carolina Nationals include Jim Dunn, Frank Manzo and more.

As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they're granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.

Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also are available online at Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.

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