Tommy Johnson Jr. knew his dreams of winning his first nitro Funny Car NHRA Mello Yello Series world championship were fading – fast.
He needed a win in a bad way to keep his championship hopes alive.
And, Johnson Jr. and his Don Schumacher Racing team delivered Sunday.
Johnson clocked a 3.884-second elapsed time at 326.08 mph to edge his DSR teammate Matt Hagan’s 3.886-second lap at 333.00 mph.
Johnson, who is in his final season driving the MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, is third in the points standings, just 34 points behind first-place Hagan. Fellow DSR driver Jack Beckman is second, 16 points behind Hagan.
Johnson Jr.’s run in the finals was the fastest elapsed time of the event in his class.
“Yeah, it was almost a must,” said Johnson Jr. about the win. “You’re trying to gain some points on those guys, we had a couple bad races and didn’t really fall out of it, but it hurt us. So, the last couple races have been ‘must do well’ races, and you look over there and they’re still going rounds.
“So, when you go face up against them, it’s a must-win. You can’t let them keep going rounds and you fall a round behind, round behind, round behind. It was huge to be able to take out both today and keep ourselves securely planted in it and make it a solid three-man race right now.”
Johnson Jr.’s win extended DSR’s national event win streak to 11. The wins date back to October of 2019. DSR previously set the consecutive win record in a single class at 10 races during the 2017 season with the same driver lineup of Hagan, Beckman, Johnson Jr., and Ron Capps.
“I mean it’s amazing to me,” said Johnson Jr. of the streak. “It’s incredible that we went that many races and won the race. It’s unbelievable. But I think it’s a tribute to all the hard work and even through the lockdowns and everything these guys were at the shop working and trying to make everything better not knowing when we’d race again, but they’ve continually worked hard to keep that advantage and it’s extremely hard to make these cars run that good that long and that many runs in a row and to be able to do it for this long is just incredible.”
This was Johnson Jr.’s 21st career Funny Car win and 23rd national event win as he has two in Top Fuel – Seattle in 1993 and Memphis in 1994.
Johnson acknowledged he had some tense moments in his latest win.
“Yeah, I was a little nervous,” he said. “We were late getting up there. We had issues all day and the guys kept working hard and we made it up there. But man, I had no idea it was that close. I mean when they’re that close you can’t see the other guy. When I saw the time slip, I was like, ‘whoa, that was a show.’ My semifinal round and the final, both of them were just really tight races and it shows you why the three of us are at the front right now for the championship because man, there’s such good cars, such good teams and the racing is so close.”
Johnson disposed of Terry Haddock, No. 1 qualifier Paul Lee, Beckman, and Hagan during his victory parade.
“We had a couple of bad races and it’s teaching us some lessons that ‘you got to win.’ You got to do it. When we went up there for the semis against Jack (Beckman) I did dig a little bit. I’m like, ‘you know what, we’ve got to get this done and I’ve got to help them. They got to help me, and I got to help them. I got to dig.
“So, I dug a little bit and the final I thought you know, we got to win this. I’m going to do my part. We got to win it. I’m digging. I try not to ever try harder but I’m trying harder because you need to.”
Johnson Jr. is eager to get over that world championship hurdle.
“You have to come close in order to learn what it takes to win it and we’ve learned from mistakes and it takes a little bit of luck too,” Johnson Jr. said. “I’m not going to kid you; you think things have got to go your way. You’ve got to do your job when you need to do your job. You need a few things to go your way. It means a lot to be in this. It’s a screwed-up year, but it doesn’t matter to us. Everybody’s had the same opportunity.
“So, you’ve got to make the most of them and it means a lot. I mean right now we don’t have funding for next year and who knows if I’ll be out here next year. It means a ton to me to try to finish as strong as I can because who knows what the future holds.”
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