Four-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson added to his already impressive racing resume by winning the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Prelude to the Dream charity dirt Late Model race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
Johnson led all 30 laps at the half-mile dirt oval, but endured a serious challenge from Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer throughout much of the event.
“It’s been a steep learning curve, for sure, but it’s been a lot of fun to do,” said Johnson, who made his Prelude and dirt Late Model debut in 2008. “We tested a couple of times last year, and I think it screwed me up. I just came here cold turkey and tried to go off of my memory, and it worked. The team knew what they wanted to do with the car through the course of the night with the setup, and Clint (Bowyer) was working with us and it just got better and better.”
Bowyer, who owns the car Johnson used to win the Prelude to the Dream, finished .683 of a second behind Johnson in the runner-up spot. Carl Edwards, Busch and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five.
“You know, it’s cool to come home one-two,” Bowyer said. “A lot of hard work goes into this. This is a lot of fun, but let me tell you, my guys at the shop work their butts off. So, I’m very proud they were able to come and enjoy this night, to see Jimmie win. Me and Kyle, we were battling it out. He doored me down there, and I wasn’t going to let him get away with it. I was going to pass him one way or another.
“It’s really cool to be able to have Jimmie in the car. He’s a four-time champion for a reason, and that proves it right there.”
“This race has gotten competitive enough where I don’t want to own a car,” Johnson added. “I want to keep driving other people’s stuff. People are testing and working really hard to come up here and run well.”
Eldora Speedway owner and two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who won the past two Prelude to the Dreams, was impressed with Johnson’s maturation as a dirt Late Model driver.
“Well, I’m convinced he can drive anything,” Stewart said. “I think if we got him a ride in the space shuttle, he could do it, no worries. I mean, we saw it last year. When I followed him in the heat races, I was like this guy has picked this up really, really fast. So it doesn’t surprise me at all. But it’s cool to have a guy who hasn’t won here before. He had to do it the hard way. He had some good guys behind him. It’s hard to fight them off. It’s hard when you’re leading because you never know where to go on a dirt track because the conditions change. He got rolling around the top pretty good tonight, like a veteran.”
The Gillette Fusion ProGlide Prelude to the Dream was presented live to the entire nation on HBO Pay-Per-View® with net proceeds from the telecast supporting four of the nation’s top children’s hospitals:
· Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis: www.RileyChildrensHospital.com
· Cincinnati Children’s: www.CincinnatiChildrens.org
· Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C.: www.LevineChildrensHospital.org
· St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.: www.StJude.org
The race was a team event with the field broken up into four groups, each representing a children’s hospital:
· Team Riley: Bowyer (captain), Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier, Kenny Wallace and Ron Capps.
· Team Cincinnati: Kasey Kahne (captain), Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott and Cruz Pedregon.
· Team Levine: Busch (captain), Johnson, Matt Kenseth, David Reutimann, Dave Blaney, Marcos Ambrose and Travis Pastrana.
· Team St. Jude: Hamlin (captain), Edwards, Ken Schrader, Aric Almirola, Ricky Carmichael, Tony Kanaan and Ray Evernham.
The finishing positions of the top-five drivers from each team were added together, with the lowest team score winning 45 percent of the net money raised. Johnson’s win, coupled with Busch’s fourth-place effort, helped Team Levine score a victory with 45 total points. Team St. Jude finished second with 48 points, while Team Cincinnati (49 points) and Team Riley (71 points) finished third and fourth, respectively. As a result, St. Jude will receive 25 percent of the net money raised, and Team Cincinnati and Team Riley will each receive 15 percent of the net money raised.
If you missed the pay-per-view telecast, be sure to catch the re-premiere on Saturday. Check local listings for pay-per-view times.
TONY STEWART, (Finished Sixth, Owner of Eldora Speedway):
How was your run? You decided to gamble a bit and start at the back and go for a $50,000 bonus for Team Cincinnati. Knowing that, a sixth-place finish is still pretty impressive.
“It was fun. It was a little bit hairy at the beginning with some guys who struggled in the back. It was a little dusty at the beginning, back where we were. We needed a long, long run and we got better and better and better as the race went on and got three or four spots just in the last couple of laps there. It was pretty cool. I would’ve liked to have had about 10 or 20 more laps. I think we could have been up there giving Jimmie a run for it.”
I know you put a lot of time into this race and into preparing this racetrack. How was it tonight for the wide range of experience that was out there tonight?
“I thought it was really racy. Some guys will probably come back next year and be much better than they were this year. This is not an easy track to go to for the first time. To come here and run as hard as you have to run at this place, I thought everybody did a really good job. There were guys from the top to the bottom, and everywhere in-between, racing each other. So it was fun to watch.”
KYLE BUSCH, (Finished Fourth, Captain of Team Levine):
You ran in second-place for much of the race, but it seemed like Johnson was just a tick better. All in all, what did you think about your run?
“It was a fun deal. I really enjoy coming out here and running this race. It’s just frustrating not being able to ever close one of these deals out. I felt like, if it went green the whole way, I probably could’ve won. But they had different tires and a different setup that would really go on the short run and that really killed us.”
You weren’t able to bring home the race trophy tonight, but your team did win the team competition.
“Yeah, I didn’t win, but at least I was the captain of the winning team. I’m just really happy that our efforts – especially Jimmie’s – helped us to make a donation to Levine Children’s Hospital. I just want to thank Tony for doing this. We all have a lot of fun out here.”
CARL EDWARDS, (Finished Third):
Racing from 17th to third was quite a performance. It looked like you enjoyed yourself tonight.
“Yeah, it was fun. The guys worked really hard. Somebody (Ron Capps) ran over that cone during one of the restarts. So I figured, no cone, no rules. That’s how I got a couple of people on that last restart – running around the bottom. There, for a minute, I could see the lead and thought this is going to be pretty good. We just needed a little bit more time. Man, that was a lot of fun. I had a blast.”
This year’s Prelude event offered a bit of change with drivers on teams working to help specific charities. You were part of Team St. Jude. How was that experience?
“It was very cool to be involved with St. Jude. I’ve been very fortunate over the years to be involved with a lot of good people and, hopefully, we’ll be donating a lot of money to them after tonight.”
Your crew was pretty pumped up about your run through the field. They said they threw a setup at it that you won this race with a couple of years ago. Obviously, it worked then and again tonight
“Yeah, we just had a lot of fun. Stacey Holmes owns the car and works hard at it. He is one heck of a racer. We tried a bunch of different stuff and then he just essentially put in what we had last time when we won the race. We got close. I just wish this was more than once a year. I want to start again tomorrow night and run again. That’s fun.”
DENNY HAMLIN, (Finished Fifth, Captain of Team St. Jude):
You sustained some damage to your car early in the heat laps, but then you moved up from deep in the field to get a top-five. What does that mean to you?
“We went from 24th to fifth. That’s a pretty big accomplishment for us. I was running the bottom and I just kept passing cars. I just got a bad restart on that last one. I think I needed a longer race. I tell you we were definitely moving forward.”
Talk a little bit about the team aspect of tonight’s event, and what it means to you that you guys were able to raise money for four different charities, including yours, St. Jude?
“That was a big deal, for sure. It looked like a few of our guys were in the wall. But it’s good that at least the captain of the St. Jude team finished up well.”
A ton of guys again came out to Eldora, and it looks like you all have a ton of fun. What does this event mean to you?
“It’s just a great event. We raise a ton of money, which is great for a lot of kids’ charities, and that’s really important for us to do. I’m glad to be a part of it. It definitely takes me out of my element, and I guess some guys are back in their element when they’re racing here. But it’s just a lot of fun and it’s something we look forward to every year.”
KASEY KAHNE, (Finished Eighth, Captain of Team Cincinnati):
Talk about your night in the Prelude.
“I had a good time. I didn’t really pass a lot of cars in the feature, but it was alright. This is always a fun race, and we all enjoy it.”
Talk about the team aspect of tonight’s race.
“It was good. We were able to come together and raise a lot of money for some children’s hospitals, which is cool.”
JEFF GORDON, (Finished 22nd):
What did you think of this year’s team concept benefiting the four children’s hospitals?
“I love the fact that it puts a lot of emphasis on each of those hospitals. I know I didn’t contribute much to our team tonight. You always want to win, but the Prelude to the Dream is always a great event, no matter where you finish.”
You were able to move up several positions over the course of the race. World of Outlaws Late Model Series driver, Clint Smith, prepared your car. How did you feel going into the feature?
“Clint and his team did an awesome job with the car. I don’t feel as though I was very well prepared for tonight. I haven’t driven one of these cars for two years. I don’t like making excuses, but the car was a lot better than I was. You know, I just don’t need to skip out a year. I’ll have to come back every year and make sure we get the laps we need so we can give these guys a better effort.”
Will you be back for the 2011 Prelude to the Dream?
“I certainly hope so. I hope they do another Prelude event. I love this event and I always want to come back to Eldora Speedway. It just depends on my schedule and how things are going in the season. It worked out this year, as well as two other years, so hopefully there’ll be a fourth.”
Was it fun to get back on the dirt again?
“I always love doing the dirt races. I miss it so much. It was always so much fun when I was dirt racing full-time. These cars (dirt Late Models) are a totally different animal on the dirt. I’d definitely like to get to know them better, but dirt racing is always fun, no matter what type of car you’re in.”
TONY KANAAN, (Finished 24th):
What did you think of your first dirt Late Model race?
“By far, this is the craziest thing I have ever done. I had a lot of fun. I can’t describe it. I definitely put myself in a very difficult spot, not testing and never being on dirt in my life. In 35 years, I’ve never driven a car like this or on a surface like this. I really thank Tony Stewart. I hope the fans enjoyed it. I’m definitely going to practice and I hope to be back next year. The biggest thing I learned is that we think our racetrack changes a lot? This is completely another world. I can drive with the brakes and the throttle at the same time, which I can’t do in my (Indy) car.”
TRAVIS PASTRANA, (Finished 23rd):
What did you think of your first dirt Late Model race?
“It was good, but it started out really rough. I came into the first turn and everyone turned left really hard to go to the inside. I did a quick spin and got back going. It was cool, though, because I was running with Ricky (Carmichael) most of the time, so I was either right behind him or in front of him the whole time. And then … you see this tire mark I put there on the front of his car? I got some good air getting launched off the front of Ricky’s car. Then, the last few laps was actually where I started feeling good in the car. I really like the restarts, where they put everyone close together, where I actually was able to start picking off some people. Still, I was way in the back, but I felt really good. The car was great. It took me a long time to get it figured out. I started out using high lines, low lines, until I finally found a groove that started working for me with about 20 laps to go. I definitely want to practice a little before I come back. But, definitely, this is really cool.”
RICKY CARMICHAEL, (Finished 19th):
What did you think of your first dirt Late Model race?
“It was pretty fun. What an experience. I just got too greedy at the beginning and spun out. Someone hit my right front and knocked the toe in. The rest was history. I want to thank Tony Stewart, Oakley and Team Dillon Racing just for the opportunity. The event was really for a great cause and I was just glad to be a part of it.”
What did you think of the team concept for this year’s Prelude?
“The team concept was really cool. It made it a race within a race. Eldora Speedway is just awesome and the entire event and being part of Team St. Jude was just a lot of fun.”
What was your first impression of first lap of the feature event?
“It was crazy. I got caught up in the moment and spun out. It was a really cool deal.”