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Keeping Pace

FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 2009, 12:30 A.M.

Johnson aims for Route 66 repeat

Kurt Johnson's AC Delco Chevrolet jumps off the line. (Photo courtesy of NHRA) (The Spokesman-Review)
Kurt Johnson's AC Delco Chevrolet jumps off the line. (Photo courtesy of NHRA) (The Spokesman-Review)

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

Chicago, Ill. Reigning event champion is always a nice tag to take into a pending NHRA contest, and at this weekend's 12th annual United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals, it's a title ACDelco's Kurt Johnson will be battling to defend. If Johnson is successful in capturing his first victory of the 2009 campaign, it would be the first time since winning at Indianapolis in 1996-97 that he's scored consecutive season victories at a national event.

Historically speaking, Route 66 Raceway has been gracious to the 46-year-old Johnson over the years. Of his 39 career national event victories, three have come at this facility (2003, '06, '08), and Johnson will admit the track at Route 66 Raceway can be user-friendly to the ACDelco Chevrolet.

"It's the kind of racetrack where our car seems to run well," Johnson said, "and our performance record at Route 66 Raceway over the past few years seems to back that up."

Johnson set national elapsed time and speed records at this facility during the fall race in Sept. 2001 (which has since been discontinued), and in addition to the three national event wins notched on his belt, Johnson has captured No. 1 qualifying honors at Route 66 Raceway twice, in 1999 and at the aforementioned fall contest in 2001.

En route to last year's victory, Johnson qualified the ACDelco Chevrolet in the No. 6 spot and beat a Pro Stock Hall of Fame-caliber of opponents that included Mike Edwards (round one), Greg Anderson (round two), Warren Johnson (round three), and finally, Jeg Coughlin in the championship heat.

"Going to Chicago, we know we can get back to basics, put this ACDelco Chevrolet through the goalposts and be pretty darn fast," Johnson said. "Seeing that we're defending champions at Route 66 Raceway, we can look over our notes and hopefully repeat."

Johnson comes into the Route 66 Nationals in eighth place in the Full Throttle points standings with a runner-up from Phoenix already on his 2009 scorecard. The team struggled to find a competitive setup in the hot, steamy conditions at the series' last event in Topeka. However, the preliminary forecast for this weekend's race at Route 66 call for temperatures 15-20 degrees cooler than what they were just a few days ago at Heartland Park, and that could play into the hands of the ACDelco driver.

"We continue to make gains with the ACDelco Chevrolet," Johnson said, "and what we've learned over the last few weeks is helping us improve the way we run the car. We still don’t have a top-two car; we're making gains toward that, but we feel we have a top-five car. As close as the Pro Stock field is, you don't need a top-two car to win races. As a driver, if you're doing well on Sunday and the car is working the way it should, you can get a win, and right now that's what we're looking for."

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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.