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NASCAR star Stewart happy with third place in feature event
Looking ahead to the 2013 racing season, Jason Johnson made it clear that winning another driving championship would be his top priority.
But when the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series presented by MAVTV American Real, National Tour got under way in Tucson a week ago, it was clear to Johnson that some serious work needed to be done if winning a fourth series title was going to be in the cards.
So, his crew went to work and found the combination Johnson needed for the “Ragin' Cajun” to power away from the field in Friday night's opening race of the Cocopah Cup Challenge and take the feature event win.
The win moved Johnson into an elite class, as the only driver who is now in position to sweep the four-race Cup series which is worth $41,000, including a $5,000 bonus for winning all four races. The second race was scheduled Saturday night (results were not available at press time) with the third and fourth races scheduled Nov. 7 and 8.
Entering Friday night's show, which included three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, Johnson had suffered through two subpar performances in the season-opening events at Tucson International Raceway. There, Johnson needed a provisional to get into both nights' feature events where he finished 11th and eighth.
“We didn't have the outing we wanted in Tucson, so the guys just worked real hard this week to find some more speed, and they did a good job,” said Johnson after Friday night's win.
“The track was sensational. It had a top and a bottom, you could really move around on the race track, and that's what you want as a driver, you want to run two lanes.
“And the guys set up a car where I could get through lapped traffic, go anywhere I wanted to. Hats off to these Stenhouse Jr. Racing guys.”
Johnson also was feeling a sense of relief.
“It definitely helps to get that first win out of the way. It's always tough to get that first one. To get that first one you know, it builds confidence in the team,” he said.
As for winning all four of the Cocopah Cup races, the driver from Eunice, La., indicated that it will not be an easy task. But the payday, he said, would be awfully nice.
“That's a big incentive. But I'll tell you what, it's hard enough to win one night much less four nights. But with $10,000 on the line (Saturday night), that's a big incentive.”
Finishing second Friday night was Mitch Olson, from Tacoma, Wash., who waged a battle with Stewart for the position while Johnson was able to pull away. Stewart, who started fifth on the grid, took over second place briefly from Olson, before Olson took it back and Stewart settled for third.
But Stewart, who had traveled to the track Friday evening from Phoenix where he qualified sixth for today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, was not disappointed with his effort.
“To come to a place I've never been to, and run in the top three, I'm pretty happy with that,” said Stewart afterward.
“We'll take what we learned tonight and go back and talk to the crew chief and figure out what we need to do to be a little better tomorrow.”
Stewart said he definitely planned to make the trip from Phoenix again to be in Saturday night's show, alluding to, as did Johnson, the $10,000 payday.
“We damn sure were not going to come tonight and not come tomorrow night. We weren't going to skip the bigger race,” said Stewart with a laugh.
He added that traveling between Phoenix and the Somerton oval was not a physical drain, but something he is used to and prepares for.
“You just know going into the weekend what you have to do to prepare for it,” he said. “Especially when you come out here, it's easy for us guys from the east coast to get dehydrated. So we're just making sure we're drinking a lot of water.”