Each and every NHRA Pro Stock team take earning every point they can very seriously, and especially those that are earned for a shot to take part in the biggest single day payout race-within-a-race, the prestigious K&N Horsepower Challenge. Earning those points for the 2013 K&N Horsepower Challenge just got more exciting with the recent announcement that next year's championship run-off would be held at not only a new venue on the NHRA Full Throttle tour, but earlier in the season. The next installment of the K&N Horsepower Challenge will be held during the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway next spring and with the news Allen Johnson is extra pleased with his start to the new season's chase.
Mopar Pennzoil racer Allen Johnson No. 1 at 2012 Mopar Mile-High Nationals
"I think they ought to change [the location] every couple of years," he commented on the move to Las Vegas. "I'm all for that. This way, we can spread around the Pro Stock flavor to a lot of different venues and fans who can attend the shootout in person."
While Johnson didn't have the memorable 2012 Horsepower Challenge event he had hoped for, when he took an early bow out during the first round, he has now put together three consecutive number one qualifiers since the points began accumulating for the new season. The 2009 K&N Horsepower Challenge champion took the pole, the maximum points and the $3,000 K&N Low Qualifier bonus check at Norwalk, Denver and most recently at Somona Raceway during the 25th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
2012 Mopar Mile-High Nationals Pro Stock winner Allen Johnson.
"Anytime you can qualify number one it's great, especially in regards to the K&N Horsepower Challenge points and bonus money," said the Mopar Dodge Avenger driver from Greenville, Tennessee. "It all goes to building up to the new event location in Las Vegas. We are getting an early start on it."
During the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals held at Bandimere Speedway, natural aspirated engines struggle for whatever air Mother Nature will give them, and even though the temperatures and humidity were brutal the event before in Norwalk, Ohio, for the Denver event the adjusted altitude handed to the Pro Stock teams during the race were even worse as they soared near the 10,000 foot mark.
But the massive change in weather conditions from one venue to the next is all a part of the game for professional teams like Johnson's and they are prepared well in advance of the race. "We have to change everything on the car," he said of going to the Denver event. "But of course, we have a lot of notes and we tested the week prior also. We were set up and ready for it."
From the time the Pro Stock cars took to the strip for their first hit on Friday all the way through the fourth and final qualifying lap on Sunday, Johnson and his team had the quickest hot rod each session. Johnson opened qualifying at number one with a 6.982, he followed it up with a 6.962 and by Saturday's sessions he found even more by lowering his number to a 6.956 and finished with a 6.951 to start Sunday's event on top.
The Mopar Mile-High Nationals kicked off what is affectionately known throughout the NHRA ranks as the "Western Swing", three consecutive weeks/races that start in Denver, move on to Sonoma, California and wrap-up in Seattle, Washington. Teams need to be ready for the big swing in air conditions when heading from the Denver race, to the plentiful good air available to tune with for the next event on the "swing" at Sonoma Raceway, which provides near sea level altitudes.
Sonoma Nationals Victor & 2013 K&N Horsepower Challenge Point Leader Allen Johnson.
"You have to change everything back to really near sea level conditions," Johnson pointed out. "So where we started with the car at Norwalk, to Denver, well to go to Sonoma we go completely the other way with our tuning, even past what we were at for the Ohio race. Just a lot of changes."
Even with back-to-back events that are thousands of miles apart, the teams are well prepared for their road trips well in advance. "Well, we've done it so long that we have everything set up in a 'canned-type' program,' he disclosed. "We know exactly what, where and how to change everything on our car and we know going in where we are going to start with our tune-up."
Thanks to his back-to-back number one qualifiers, Johnson holds on to an early lead in the 2013 K&N Horsepower Challenge standings, and headed further west to try his hand to make it three in a row and an event swing of his own.
With much more comfortable temperatures in the mid-seventies and an adjusted altitude some 8,000 ft better, Pro Stock cars had a great opportunity to lay down numbers that they were a little more familiar with and Johnson soared right to the top of the heap from the word 'go'.
Pro Stock racer Allen Johnson gets 2012 Sonoma Nationals Wally.
"We just had a really-really good hot rod right out of the box," he said of his track record setting 6.536 lap during the first session of the Sonoma event. "Friday night's session, even though we bettered our E.T. [6.527], Mike [Edwards] matched us during that run, but we were able to hang on for best of the session with our M.P.H. We really didn't make that good of a run like we could have."
But then, there was Saturday morning and the best air conditions that teams had been given to work with in many races, with seventy degrees, an adjusted altitude of under 1,300 ft, combined with low humidity, it was time for the naturally aspirated 500ci Pro Stock power plants to show their stuff and again, Johnson was right out front.
"That fifty-one [6.517] was a really good run and I think a fifty-three was the closest to it that round," he said.
Although Johnson was unable to improve during the fourth and final session, he still outran the class as the quickest of the session with his 6.525. "We've been doing really well and I think since Chicago, there has been only one session where we haven't been the quickest and we are really proud of that."
Johnson's 6.517 in session three stayed as the number one spot and his third number one in a row, giving his a nice leg up in the 2013 K&N Horsepower Challenge standings. Johnson has already earned the maximum 525 points available since the slates were wiped clean for the new season. Jason Line sits seventy-five back at number two and K&N's Mike Edwards at number three, eight-five points out of first.
"That's our third number one qualifier there, three years consecutive and I didn't really realize that until I saw it in the press release," he confessed of his latest feat in Sonoma.
Johnson not only qualified number one, but he also went on to win the event, just like he did the week prior in Denver. Now he looks to do it all over again for the third and final leg of the "Western Swing" as the teams are rolling north to compete in Seattle.
"We have a great car and a great team, really as the driver, I feel like I'm the only one who can screw it up," he laughed. "So, really a little bit of added pressure. We're always out to get the bonus money that K&N puts up for us and get those bonus points, that is very important in our book."
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