Substitute Johnson Jr. wins NHRA playoff opener

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MOHNTON, Pa. — Tommy Johnson Jr. won the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals on Sunday as a substitute driver for Matt Hagan, beating John Force in the Funny Car final in the playoff opener.

With Hagan recovering from COVID-19, Don Schumacher Racing turned their Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat over to the 53-year-old Johnson last week in Indianapolis. On Sunday at Maple Grove Raceway, he beat the 72-year-old Force with a 3.926-second pass at 330.23 mph for his 22nd career Funny Car victory.

“It’s hard to sit out that long,” Johnson said. “To keep up and keep ahead of the car. You can drive them but to be able to drive them well, you have to be ahead of the car. Each run, it got more comfortable and more comfortable.

“As the day went on, I kept getting more relaxed and by the final round, it was like, `Hey there’s nothing to it now.’ It was pretty cool. When I threw the chutes and the win light came on, I just burst out laughing because I couldn’t believe it.”

Hagan received the points Johnson’s earned.

Billy Torrence won in Top Fuel, Greg Anderson in Pro Stock and Steve Johnson in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Torrence edged Justin Ashley with a 3.720 at 326.08, Anderson tied Warren Johnson for career wins at 97, edging Erica Enders with a 6.578 at 208.30 in a Chevrolet Camaro, and Steve Johnson beat Eddie Krawiec with a 6.775 at 196.87 on a Suzuki.

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