Tommy Johnson Jr. and the Make-A-Wish crew know its too little too late in their bid for the Funny Car championship, but after making their two best runs of the season Friday -– 3.879 and 3.858 –- it at least will make the final two events more enjoyable and set the table for 2020.
The team sits eighth in points, more than 190 markers behind Robert Hight, after entering the Countdown in the lofty third position, but were doomed by first-round losses in the first two Countdown events where they were mired in the high 3.80s and low 3.90s and have won just two rounds in the four Countdown events.
So after qualifying No. 2 Friday in Las Vegas with that 3.858 –- just two-thousandths of a second behind polesitter J.R. Todd -– there was reason for optimism.
“I was like, ‘Wow, where did that come from? We could have used that a few races ago,’ “ he said with a smile. “We’ve been working on it and maybe we went down the wrong road and did some stuff that didn’t work, but if you’re not trying you’re never going to improve.”
After finishing third last year –- and earning the use of a Dodge Charger Hellcat as the highest finishing Dodge driver –- Johnson would love to repeat that feat, but he’s got a long way to go to catch teammate Matt Hagan, who sits fourth.
“Honestly, I think we’d like to get back up to at least fifth, and I feel like if we can keep doing what we’re doing that might be possible,” he said, “but look at this field: 3.85, 3.85, 3.86, 3.86, 3.87, 3.87, 3.88, and 3.88 for the top eight spots; a 3.92 gets you 12th and no lane choice in round one. It's tough out there.”
Johnson isn’t ruling out someone going quicker today than they did Friday, and with several thousand laps in a Funny Car –- he’s racing in his 20th season –- he has a good feel for the situation.
“I’ve got so many runs in these cars you just know what’s coming,” he said. “We broke a main stud on that run last night and even though it didn’t hurt the run, I knew something was wrong in the shutdown area. It probably starting hurting itself at 700 feet because it slowed down a little.
“As a driver, you just know. I drive a lot by feel and there have been plenty of times on a run I’ve felt something and I can tell John [Collins, crew chief], ‘Hey, at about 400 feet I felt something; I’m not sure what it is but it was different,’ and he can start looking at the computer and maybe see something we might not have seen. Usually we’ll find something, and I think that as there’s no such thing as too much information.”