A.J. thunders on 'the Mountain'; Brown, Capps, Krawiec score big wins
Sunday, July 12, 2009

by Brad Littlefield, National DRAGSTER Associate Editor

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The 13th event of the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series came to a thrilling conclusion after three landmark days of racing at the 30th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. A rain delay prior to the final round in the nitro classes didn’t dampen the excitement at Bandimere Speedway in Denver. The Mopar faithful were rewarded justly with an impressive Pro Stock win by Mopar-sponsored driver Allen Johnson, and Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also collected victories.

A.J. scored his second win at this event in the past three years by scoring a holeshot win against Jason Line. Brown and Capps won their eliminators from the No. 1 qualifying position. Krawiec scored in his sixth straight final-round appearance by defeating Harley teammate Andrew Hines.

Antron Brown

Brown began the grueling Western Swing with several drivers breathing down his neck to assume control of his points lead in Top Fuel. The former Pro Stock Motorcycle rider responded with a convincing win from the No. 1 qualifying position to put the Matco Tools dragster further out in front. Brown had a tough task in the final in taking on a resurgent Doug Kalitta, who handed Brown a loss in the Pomona final, but he streaked to victory with a 3.94 at 295.91 mph while Kalitta blew an engine early.

“The monkey of winning from No. 1 is finally off our back,” said Brown, whose third win this season is his first from the No. 1 spot. “There was a lot of pressure on us this weekend. All these guys were cutting lights on me, and my crew chiefs had to stay on top of the weather that was changing constantly. This trophy is worthwhile because of the stout competition.

“You always want to win. That’s what puts you in the record books and makes history. The championship is the big picture, but you’re always upset after a semifinal or runner-up because you lost. Winning makes you heal from all those times that you lost before. This is my Robitussin.”

As good as Brown’s Brian Corradi- and Mark Oswald-led team was on race day, the driver had a say in the final result as well. After defeating Rob Passey in the opener, Brown dug deep to score a holeshot win against good leaver Morgan Lucas in the second round, 4.04 to 4.03. Brown then held off another twentysomething driver by putting Spencer Massey on the trailer in the semi’s.

After four straight first-round losses since his last final-round appearance, Kalitta broke his recent slump with an exclamation point. He wheeled the Rocky Boots dragster past Clay Millican in the first round, and he impressed in the two rounds after that. He scored a hard-fought win against rival and defending event champ Tony Schumacher in round two by a .007-second margin when both ran 4.00s. He then earned lane choice in the final by laying down a 3.99 against Cory McClenathan, who erred by double-stepping the throttle.

Ron Capps

Capps continued to dominate Funny Car in terms of event wins with his fifth triumph this season. Capps and the Ed McCulloch-tuned NAPA Auto Parts team impressed with a top-qualifying effort and capitalized on the chance to make up ground in the championship chase by defeating points leader Ashley Force Hood in the final. Capps sealed the deal with a 4.18 at 297 mph against Force Hood’s 4.23 at 296 to move into a tie with Force Hood.
“I could hear her car over there,” said Capps, who has 30 wins in 60 finals. “Fortunately, our car got through the early part of the track and pulled away. I talked to ‘Ace’ [McCulloch] during the off week, and he said, ‘We’re going to get the points lead back.’ I’ve never heard him talk like that before.

“As a competitor in this class, you have to embrace the fact that Ashley is a big deal. Not only is she a big deal, but she has shouldered that more than anybody I’ve ever known. It reminds me of Shirley Muldowney who did it back when there were several barriers to be broken.”

Capps' Don Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan also enjoyed great outings. Entering eliminations from three of the top four qualifying positions, Hagan added a round-win to his scorecard, and Beckman would have been in his third straight Denver final if Capps hadn’t beaten him in the semi’s. Capps defeated Gary Densham and Cruz Pedregon in the first two rounds.

To reach her sixth final of the season, Force Hood beat Del Worsham for the fourth time in four meetings this season and scored close wins against Tony Pedregon and teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight.

Allen Johnson

Johnson puts a great deal of emphasis on performing well at his sponsor’s title race, and it paid off with his second Pro Stock Wally in his third straight final at this event. The Mopar team, led by crew chiefs Mark Ingersoll and Jeff Perley and engine builder Roy Johnson (Allen’s dad), relied on its setup to advance to the final and let A.J. win it in the final. Facing the powerful Summit Racing GXP driven by Line, A.J. got off the starting line first and reeled off a clutch holeshot victory, 7.004, 195.87 to 7.001, 195.76.

“I love Denver,” Johnson said emphatically. “We have a combination here that’s really hard to beat. We test our butts off here so we can do well for Mopar. I think I had the most butterflies I’ve ever had in my life when I raced in the first round. By the time we got to the semi’s, I settled down and told myself, ‘We’ve got the combination.’

“We’re probably lucky that Mike Edwards got beat early because he would have been tough to beat if he got to the final,” added Johnson, who has seven wins. “We really didn’t make a good run in the final. In fact, we burned the clutch up pretty good, but to give it to my guys on the holeshot feels very good.”

Johnson had the quickest car in each of the first three qualifying sessions but surrendered the No. 1 position to Edwards when he broke a transmission during the session with the most favorable conditions. A.J. beat Morrison, Colo., native Danny Gruninger in the opening round with a 6.99, stopped Johnny Gray in round two with a 7.00, and unloaded a strong 6.98 against Rickie Jones in the semifinals.

Line’s road to the final was not an easy one. The 2006 Full Throttle world champ had to outrun KB Racing killer Greg Stanfield, hungry teammate Greg Anderson, and points leader Jeg Coughlin to get there. Coughlin’s psychological advantage against Edwards was on display in the second round when Edwards red-lighted by .001-second. Reaction times were prominent during eliminations; the first three pairs in eliminations were decided by holeshots.

Eddie Krawiec

Krawiec reached the Pro Stock Motorcycle final for the sixth straight event, and for the second straight event, his opponent was Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson teammate Hines. Krawiec, who won the Full Throttle world championship last season despite having never won a national event, picked up his third victory of the season when his teammate red-lighted by .008-second. Krawiec was on his game anyway with a nearly perfect .001 light paired and a 7.45; Hines posted a 7.51.

“We didn’t have the best bikes every single round, but Andrew and I did our jobs as riders and got it done,” said Krawiec, who has an 89-point lead in the Full Throttle standings. “I’ve been to six straight finals, which is something I’ve never dreamed of. To have two straight all-Harley finals is incredible, and I’m just so happy for our team.

“We broke a throttle cable in the semi’s at his race last year, and I really thought that was going to be my first win. I love Bandimere, and it was nice to win against Andrew in the final. We’re teammates, but we’re probably the two most competitive people in the pits. Whether we’re walking or cutting the grass, we try to race each other doing it.”

Krawiec, like Hines, struggled early in qualifying, but crew chief Matt Hines, who won this race four times as a rider, made the right adjustments to give Krawiec one of the quickest bikes on the premises. Krawiec overcame a holeshot by hometown hero Mike Berry in round one and accepted fouls by his next three opponents. The biggest relief came in the semifinals when No. 1 qualifier Hector Arana went red on his Lucas Oil Buell.

Hines’ red-light in the final wasn’t a huge surprise due to how quick the three-time world champion had been throughout the event. Hines had a .022 light in his first-round win against Jim Underdahl and followed that with respective .000 and .004 lights against Matt Smith and Craig Treble. Pairing his lights with a bike that was fast enough to set the quickest e.t. of eliminations in the semi’s (7.33) was a recipe for a success. The Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 qualifiers made it to the semifinals.

Related stories:
Friday: A.J. takes top spot, Anderson makes history; Cory Mac, T. Ped, Treble are Friday leaders
Saturday: Brown, Capps, Edwards, Arana overthrow Friday leaders for No. 1 spots