When Matt Smith nailed his Pro Stock Motorcycle No. 1 qualifying position Saturday for the NHRA Dodge Nationals, he said his Denso-sponsored motorcycle “is running on mean right now.”
And he wasn’t kidding.
His winning 6.855-second elapsed time at 195.90 mph on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway quarter-mile just reinforced that.
Smith dusted off year-long nemesis Steve Johnson, who challenged on his own Suzuki with a 6.863, 194.04 in his bid for a seventh overall triumph and his first since the March 2014 Gatornationals.
The margin of victory for Smith was .0053 seconds, or about 18 inches, on a day chock-full of thrilling side-by-side match-ups in all pro classes.
Before eliminations, Smith had said, “We’ve got a lot of confidence.” However, he said the best he could hope for was a second-place finish in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ final standings.
“The Charlotte race killed us. My goal right now is to win the next two races and get as many points as we can and then finish second,” Smith said. “That’s our goal right now – unless Andrew [leader Hines] stumbles and loses first or second round in both races. Then we have a shot. But ultimately, we’re going for second right now.”
Smith is halfway toward accomplishing his mission. But Hines made it to the semifinals, where Smith dispatched him.
So where does that leave Smith?
He improved from fifth place to fourth and is 117 points away from the lead – with Jerry Savoie and Eddie Krawiec between them. The wild part is that No. 2 Savoie is 115 points off the pace and Krawiec is 116 away from a fifth championship. So Hines’ toughest challengers have only a three-point spread among themselves.
And the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif. – the Nov. 14-17 season finale – comes with a maximum of 191 points.
So “running on mean” will come in handy for Smith.
Johnson got the jump on the launch with a .028-of-a-second light. Smith’s reaction time was a still-respectable but slower .031 of a second. But Smith took control by about half-track and used his quickest pass of the day to win for the first time in the Countdown, the fourth time this year, and fourth time at this venue. In his 54th overall final, Smith recorded his 24th victory, his first of the Countdown, his fourth of the year, and fourth at this venue.
Johnson was making his 22nd career final round, second this year, second of the Countdown, and first at this event.
Surprisingly, the two had met just twice before in final rounds, and each had won once. But Smith had a 16-12 advantage against Johnson overall.