BARBERSVILLE, Fla. – Jason Johnson made a grand entrance into 2017 Friday night, winning the World of Outlaws Craftsman® Sprint Car Series opener at the 46th Annual DIRTcar Nationals. Johnson, whose 2016 season was highlighted by a Knoxville Nationals victory, took home his first Gator and a $10,000 purse.
“Yeah, 365 days later we start the season off in the best case scenario,” said Johnson, rehashing on his team’s troubles last season. “It’s a long season, and you need to condition for it. My little [Jaxx] on FaceTime over there… he and my wife mean the world to me, and I wish he could be here for the win. [The win] is huge for our operation, for our team, for the people working on this team and for my self-confidence.”
For Johnson’s four World of Outlaws wins last season, Johnson brought his son up on stage to wave their index finger in the air symbolizing “No.1.” This time Johnson scaled the wing of his No. 41 Priority Aviation Services, LLC/ Mesilla Valley Transportation Maxim car solo, but dropped back down to high-fives and hugs from his crew. Johnson, who was involved in a horrific wreck earlier in the week, opted to withdraw from the All-Star Circuit of Champions finale Thursday night. But one day later, consistently bested 35 other cars on sprint car racing’s biggest stage.
Johnson started on the outside of the first row for the 30-lap feature event. Where he started, is where he stayed. Johnson – continuing to stay on-top of the wheel and high on the track – darted to the front within the first lap. Sweet followed Johnson to the front but from the bottom. The first of three cautions came on the third lap, when David Gravel suffered from more mechanical failures. Notably, Gravel raced nearly 80 races without blowing a motor heading into this year’s DIRTcar Nationals. The caution regrouped the field, giving Sweet the opportunity to recreate last season’s season opener with a win.
“I’ll tell you what, I really thought we were going to have something there for Jason,” Sweet said. “I had to [eventually] move to the top but Johnson set a really torrid pace out there. He did it, so hats-off to him. We have two more nights so hopefully we can end up where he is.”
Sweet swapped spots with Brian Brown throughout the race, but in the final two laps swiftly moved passed him on the front straightaway. Brown forfeited third to a red-hot Christopher Bell, who rounded-out the podium. Bell not only beat Johnson in the dash, but also set the night’s quick time with a 13.121.
“I kind of struggled on starts and restarts there,” said Bell, who led the feature field into the green flag. “Mistakes on my part for starts and restarts, but this thing is really fast. It’s a great machine to drive. Thank you Tony [Stewart] for letting me come out and have some fun.”
From the victory, Johnson leads the points championship for the first time in his career. As Sweet alluded to, Johnson’s aggressive driving style opened up the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” for him. Earlier in the program, Johnson qualified third but claimed his stake for a Gator in the third heat. His car weaved in-and-around series newcomer Brent Marks. Though he was in a transfer spot, Johnson did not let off the gas.
He went on to start fourth in the Craftsman Club Dash and finish second after yet another battle – with Brown. Brown’s uncle and crew member, 2001 Series Champion Danny Lasoski, is the most winningest sprint car driver at Volusia Speedway Park. He is scheduled to compete predominantly with the Outlaws, though it will not be full-time.
Series veteran Jason Sides set the pace early in the program, recording the quickest time in hot laps of 13.602. Sides went on to set quick-time in qualifying – putting him in position to “Double Down” as his nickname suggests – but the time only stood until Bell knocked him off with 15 drivers remaining. Ultimately, four out of the five top-qualifiers were series regulars. Three regulars finished the night in the top-five.
-World of Outlaws Press Release. Photo credit: Paul Arch
Feature – (30 Laps) – 1. 41-Jason Johnson  [$10,000]; 2. 49-Brad Sweet  [$5,500]; 3. 14-Christopher Bell  [$3,200]; 4. 21-Brian Brown  [$2,800]; 5. 9-Daryn Pittman  [$2,500]; 6. 49X-Tim Shaffer  [$2,300]; 7. 10H-Chad Kemenah  [$2,200]; 8. 24R-Rico Abreu  [$2,100]; 9. 2M-Kerry Madsen  [$2,050]; 10. 18-Ian Madsen  [$2,000]; 11. 13JT-Mark Dobmeier  [$1,500]; 12. 17-Joey Saldana  [$1,200]; 13. 1-Dale Blaney  [$1,100]; 14. 15-Donny Schatz  [$1,050]; 15. 11K-Kraig Kinser  [$1,000]; 16. 19-Brent Marks  [$900]; 17. 13D-Danny Dietrich  [$800]; 18. 4-Paul McMahan  [$800]; 19. 87-Aaron Reutzel  [$800]; 20. 5W-Lucas Wolfe  [$800]; 21. 7S-Jason Sides  [$800]; 22. 27-Greg Hodnett  [$800]; 23. 2-Shane Stewart  [$800]; 24. 1A-Jacob Allen ; 25. 5-David Gravel  [$800]; Lap Leaders: Jason Johnson 1-30; KSE Hard Charger Award: 10H-Chad Kemenah [+13]