Lonnie Wheatley, POCOLA, Okla. (July 1, 2006) – Louisiana's Jason Johnson put to good use a perfect blend of patience and experience to capture his third O'Reilly American Sprint Cars on Tour National victory of the season in Saturday night's 25-lap feature event in the 35th Annual Firecracker Nationals at Tri-State Speedway.
"Ragin' Cajun" took quick advantage of race-long leader Nick Smith's
slight miscue in lapped traffic on the 13th round, then charged to
the checkered flag unabated aboard Lanny Row's Wesmar-powered The Shop Diesel
"The track started taking a little bit of rubber, and I've probably had a little more experience on that kind of track than Nick," Johnson commented in victory lane after his 13th career ASCS National Tour triumph. "He got a little impatient in traffic and slipped up out of the rubber to let me by. We got in traffic at the end and I would pick 'em off when I could, but I wasn't going to press the issue."
With a heavy heart, Johnson went on to say that, "We've got to dedicate this one to Daniel McMillin," Jesse Hockett's crew chief and cousin who lost his life early Saturday in an automobile accident in Missouri. "Daniel was a great guy and we weren't really in any mood to race after finding out. But you just have to keep going, that's part of it."
Johnson started the feature from the front row outside, but it was polesitter Smith gunning into the early lead aboard the Ostrich-powered MPHG Promotions No. 15s J&J from the pole position at the outset.
Smith, the current series point leader, paced the early rounds in front of Johnson, Gary Wright, Gavin Punch and Darren Stewart, a two-time ASCS National Tour winner at Tri-State Speedway who cracked the top five in just a handful of laps after starting eleventh. Stewart then battled his way past Punch for fourth by the time the leaders encountered lapped traffic on the eleventh lap.
As Smith struggled with lapped traffic, Johnson quickly closed the gap and began challenging for the lead. Smith briefly slid high entering turn one on the 12th lap but was able to shut the door before Johnson could take advantage. But when Smith slipped out of the groove again in the same spot a lap later, Johnson pounced to take the lead on the low side.
After a lap 16 caution for Sean Walden's turn four spin that collected Forrest Sutherland and J.P. Bailey, Johnson wasted little time opening up a near half straightaway advantage. Smith was able to close the gap some as lapped traffic once again came into play over the final three laps, but was unable to mount a challenge for the lead.
Smith held off two-time series champion Wright for the runner-up slot, with "The Texan" settling for third in the Wesmar-powered Southwest Express/The Shop/Richwood Construction No. 9 Maxim. Stewart held fourth to the line in Bobby Sparks' Ostrich-powered Sparks Construction/RESM Transport No. 91 Eagle, with Punch posting just his second career ASCS National Tour top-five feature finish by rounding out the top five.
Sam Hafertepe, Jr., crossed the stripe sixth, with Travis Rilat, Jan Howard, Sean McClelland and Larry Neighbors completing the top ten.
Wright, Johnson and Howard completed the top ten.
Ranked third in points entering the night, Hockett missed the event due to McMillin's tragic passing.
Heats Races (Top 6 in passing points Pole Dash)
Brodix Heat One (8
Laps): 1. 9-Gary Wright, 2. 15s-Nick
Smith, 3. 1-Sean McClelland, 4. 29-Travis Rilat, 5. 10-
Wesmar-Shaver Heat Two (8 Laps): 1. 41-Jason Johnson, 2. 26-Rafe Essary, 3. 81au-Gavin Punch, 4. 14v-Sean Walden, 5. 22J-Jasiel Randolph, 6. 9x-Larry Carter, 7. 11s-Eddie Ramsey.
Brodix Heat Three (8 Laps): 1. 46-Jan Howard, 2. 15-Sam Hafertepe, Jr., 3. 83s-Larry Neighbors, 4. 91-Darren Stewart, 5. 44J-Abe Sherwood, 6. 85s-Forrest Sutherland, 7. 11F-Foster Landon.
Pole Dash (Finishing Order Determines Front Three Rows of “A” Main):
Pole Dash (5 Laps): 1. 15s-Nick Smith, 2. 41-Jason Johnson, 3. 9-Gary Wright, 4. 26-Rafe Essary, 5. 81au-Gavin Punch, 6. 46-Jan Howard.
Feature (25 Laps): 1. 41-Jason Johnson, 2.
15s-Nick Smith, 3. 9-Gary Wright, 4. 91-Darren Stewart, 5. 81au-Gavin Punch, 6.
15-Sam Hafertepe, Jr., 7. 29-Travis Rilat, 8. 46-Jan Howard, 9. 1-Sean
McClelland, 10. 83s-Larry Neighbors, 11. 12-Trey Robb, 12. 11F-Foster Landon,
13. 4-Jamie Passmore, 14. 26-Rafe Essary, 15. 44J-Abe Sherwood, 16. 85s-Forrest
Sutherland, 17. 10-
Lap Leaders: Nick Smith 1-12, Jason Johnson 13-25.
O’Reilly ASCoT Points (Top Fifteen): 1. Nick Smith 1,677, 2. Gary Wright 1,670, 3. Travis Rilat 1,550, 4. Jason Johnson 1,530, 5. Darren Stewart 1,502, 6. Jan Howard 1,444, 7. Sean McClelland 1,440, 8. Jesse Hockett 1,431, 9. Trey Robb 1,321, 10. Sam Hafertepe, Jr., 1,270, 11. Tony Bruce, Jr. 1,180, 11. Dustin Daggett 1,153, 13. Abe Sherwood 1,116, 14. Zach Chappell 1,102, 15. Kevin Ramey 853.