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2013 NHRA: Johnny Gray NHRA Arizona Nationals Event Preview
Posted by: newsla on Feb 20, 2013 - 07:04 PM
2013 NHRA: Johnny Gray NHRA Arizona Nationals Event Preview

Now that the first event of 24 in NHRA's 2013 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is in the rearview mirror, Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car driver Johnny Gray and his Pitch Energy team are gaining a clearer vision of the season ahead. Based on all that the team learned at the season-opener in Pomona last week, the future looks mighty bright, and this weekend, at the NHRA Arizona Nationals just outside of Phoenix, the team will be aiming to get the Pitch Energy Dodge Charger R/T just a couple of steps further on raceday.


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Just a few days ago in Pomona, Gray and his dedicated group, lead by crew chief Rob Wendland and assistant crew chief Rip Reynolds, qualified the vibrant Pitch Energy Dodge in the top half of the field and were blazing on raceday as they rocketed to the quickest passes of the first two rounds. Gray was only stopped in the semifinals when DSR teammate Ron Capps laid it all on the line to make it to the finish line first.

"We had a great weekend in Pomona last week, and we would like nothing better than to take our Pitch Energy Dodge just a little bit further in Phoenix," said Gray, of Artesia, N.M. "You never know until you get out there for that first race of the season how things are going to stack up, and we were definitely pleased. This being my last season [full-time] in a Funny Car, it's very important to me that we do well, and that we all have a good time doing it. Last weekend was a great start, now we want to go to Phoenix and go after the trophy."

Gray, a motorsports enthusiast with experience in multiple sportsman and professional categories both in the dirt and on the asphalt, has yet to close the deal at Firebird International Raceway and is looking to change that this weekend. If the previous two seasons are any indication of the future, Gray should be on the right path. In 2011 he was runner-up at the event to DSR teammate Jack Beckman, and last season he and his team proved that they had the right tune-up for the desert facility as they raced to the pole.

"All that being said, I just haven't quite done what I want to do in Phoenix yet," said Gray. "But I feel very confident that we're going to run well this weekend, and if we can build up a little more momentum and keep it going, we're going to be sitting in pretty good shape with our Pitch Energy Dodge. Last weekend showed us that we have a good racecar, and that has me pretty excited to get back in the driver's seat here in a few days."

Wendland, who tuned Gray to two victories in four final rounds last season, has experience of his own at the racetrack in the Valley of the Sun. In 1999, he made his NHRA debut there behind the wheel of a Top Alcohol Dragster.

"I have a lot of great memories there," said Wendland, who scored two wins in three final rounds in his rookie year as a competitor in the alcohol class. "You can't help but think about that when you go back, but right now, our main focus is on maintaining consistency with our Pitch Energy Dodge. We had a great start last weekend, and I know we have a great tune-up for Phoenix. We're ready to roll right on through whatever that track has for us."

Johnny Gray's STATS
2013 Pts Races Titles R-up Poles DNQ Win/Loss
3rd 1 0 0 0 0 2-1
Career Races Titles R-up Poles DNQ Win/Loss
205 3 12 3 40 131-162

4.010 seconds (10-1-11, Reading), 319.45 mph (10-8-12, Reading)

A year ago, qualified No. 1 and lost to eventual event winner Robert Hight in second round.
Career: Wins 0; runner-ups 1 (2011); poles 1 (2012)

WHAT: 29th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals
WHERE: Firebird International Raceway, south of Phoenix
Friday: Qualifying, 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
Sunday: Championship eliminations, 11:30 a.m.

Sunday: Qualifying, 1 a.m., 8 a.m. (ET)
Sunday: Championship eliminations, 8 p.m. (ET)

Friday: High 63; 0 percent chance of rain
Saturday: High 69; 0 percent chance of rain
Sunday: High 64; 0 percent chance of rain

(After 1 of 24 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)

1. Courtney Force, 124
2. RON CAPPS, 94
4. Gary Densham, 60
5. Cruz Pedregon, 56
7. Bob Tasca III, 51
8. Todd Lesenko, 51
10. Del Worsham, 38

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