Morgan bests Johnson; Anderson proves uncompetitive
Each year, before the official start of the NHRA POWERade season cranks up at the Carquest Winternationals at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., Pro Stock racers have finished up their preseason test schedule by competing in the Pontiac Pro Stock Superbowl.
In years past, the non-points event was held at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown, Texas, but this year, wearing it's new name, the Pro Stock Showdown, the preseason jam was held at the Strip at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The topsy-turvy nature of the Pro Stock Showdown surfaced once again as the reigning and three-time POWERade champion, Greg Anderson, looked anything but invincible, qualifying ninth in the 16-car field and losing in the second round to Richie Stevens after eliminating Kurt Johnson in the first round via a redlight.
"Obviously, we should have been here [Friday]," said Anderson. "We needed the track time on this Summit Racing Pontiac. We didn't come here in race mode, we came here to test. We know we're going to stay four more days to test.
"We weren't ready for racing. We made some mistakes and the car wasn't ready for this race track. The car hasn't been happy all day today. We need to make it happy and then it will be fine."
The point must be made that rarely in this event's history has the winner of the Showdown gone on to win the POWERade championship that year. Most recently, Dave Connolly's 2005 victory had zero impact on his regular season -- and such has been the case time and time again over the years. In fact, the Showdown has frequently been won by decided underdogs on the list of championship candidates compiled by preseason prognosticators.
But there were more surprises in store. Warren Johnson, who has come under some ongoing criticism regarding his reaction times, especially during last season, smothered the Christmas Tree in the two opening rounds of the Showdown. In Round 1, WJ used an almost-perfect .001 reaction time to beat Mike Thomas. Then, he repeated his remarkable feat of Round 1 in Round 2, dusting Allen Johnson at the starting line with another .001 light.
"The Professor" was quick of the mark in the semifinals against Richie Stevens with a .031 RT -- not quite as impressive as his two .001 launches -- and after dropping Stevens, earned his way into the final round against Larry Morgan.
The day's final surprise? After a stupendous series of razor-sharp reaction times, Warren committed the ultimate sin in the final round, fouling out to Morgan with a -.022 redlight. What made Morgan's win so much more bitter for WJ to swallow was the fact that Morgan's Dodge Stratus spun its tires on the run and moved out of the groove, forcing Larry to shut off with a lackluster 7.747-second elapsed time. Had Johnson not fouled out, his 6.802 would have easily beaten Morgan.
A harbinger of what to expect when the season begins in Pomona next week? If history is any indication, Morgan's win in the Showdown will barely register on anyone's radar screen once racing begins for real. However, we have surely not seen the last Pro Stock surprise of 2006.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.