Johnson continues Bandimere dominance

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Pro Stock driver wins for the third straight time and sixth time overall at the speedway

By Michael Hicks

MORRISON — Allen Johnson is still the king of the mountain.

The 35th annual NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals ended just like the previous two and five others since 2007 — with a Johnson victory in the Pro Stock division. The Greeneville, Tenn., driver toppled teammate Jed Coughlin Jr. in the rain-delayed final July 20 at Bandimere Speedway after Coughlin red-lighted the start. Even if Coughlin hadn’t red-lighted, it would’ve been a tough task to beat Johnson in what has become his race to lose.

Johnson, in his eighth straight final round at Bandimere, posted his 24th career victory and fourth this season. Coughlin reached his 97th career final with a hole-shot win over top seed Jason Line to set up the all-Mopar final. But he was no match for Johnson.

“This team just continues to find a way to do it. We want to win here for Mopar,” said Johnson, who made his first qualifying start at Bandimere 18 years ago. “My guys, they step up. I step up when I need to step up. It’s just a confidence thing; it’s a want-to thing. It’s deep in our gut. We just keep doing it.”

While Johnson is the king of the mountain, John Force is an NHRA favorite. Having already owned the most Funny Car victories here, the Yorba Linda, Calif., resident and 16-time Funny Car world champion was attempting to tie Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden for the most NHRA victories at Bandimere with his seventh, but he smoked his tires in the finals and was dethroned by teammate and points leader Robert Hight. The win was Hight’s 34th career victory and his first on the mountain since 2010, when he also beat Force.

“We knew that we had to go up there and make a nice run. I didn’t realize that they smoked the tires,” Hight said.

Force, who was attempting to return to the winner’s circle at Bandimere for the first time since 2011, set track marks in both low elapsed time at 4.049 seconds and top speed at 318.39 mph in the preliminaries. But he ran out of steam — literally — in the finals.

Force’s daughter, Brittany, like her dad, reached the finals. But for the third time the Top Fuel driver was denied. In a draw that saw as many seeded upsets as expected wins based on qualifying times, upset-minded J.R. Todd edged Brittany Force at the finish line for his seventh career victory and his first since 2008 in Dallas. He also won here in 2006.

In the Pro Stock Motorcycle finals, points leader Andrew Hines picked up his 36th career win and his third at Bandimere — first since 2010 — when he defeated Michael Ray.

“Coming in here, you have to be totally focused on what’s going on,” said Hines, the Brownsburg, Ind., resident who attended high school in Trinidad and lived in Colorado for 10 years. He made his professional debut here in 2002.

All eight track records — E.T. and top speed — were shattered this weekend.

LUGNUTS: Lakewood resident V. Gaines, the runner-up the past two years at Bandimere in Pro Stock, red-lighted in the first round of elimination against Dave Connolly by 0.042 seconds. … Littleton’s Mike Berry, like Gaines, red-lighted in the first round of eliminations. Berry jumped the start light by 0.011 seconds. … Morrison’s Bradley Johnson reached his first career Super Gas final, but he was denied the victory by James Kunkel of Wichita, Kan. … Colorado victors in the Sportsman finals include Lakewood’s Brian Percival (Super Street), Brighton’s Ryan Julius (Top Sportsman), and Sterling’s Branden Rhodes (Top Dragster).

Contact Michael Hicks at sports@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.