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Young driver steps up

Posted: February 27, 2009 1:19 a.m.
Updated: February 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
R.J. Johnson tested the waters of the NASCAR Camping World Series in January at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. He tried to qualify for the Toyota All-Star Showdown in a car owned by Bob Farmer, who owns a stable of race cars based in Castaic.

Johnson had to race his way into the Showdown, and found himself competing against some tough drivers. Jarit Johnson, the younger brother of three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson, was among the participants in the qualifying race, and so were Matt Crafton, a regular on the Camping World Truck Series, and Andrew Myers, a Camping World Series West veteran.

Johnson didn’t make it into the main event that night. But he did gain some valuable experience running against some of the rising stars of NASCAR.

“Take what you can and move on I guess,” said Johnson, a 19-year-old from Canyon Country who will be racing regularly in the NASCAR Super Trucks division at Irwindale.

Johnson came on strong in his rookie season at Irwindale last year. He won the last two races of the season, including the season-finale 100-lapper, and did not finish worse than second in the last five races of the year. He was fourth in the Super Trucks standings at the track and was the rookie of the year. There were three rookies in the final top 10 Super Truck standings.

“I’m excited because I didn’t expect to do that good last year,” Johnson said. “And I kind of went into last year, just do your own thing, learn as much as you can. Then next thing you know we’re running top five, winning races.”

Johnson proved to be a quick study, but he took a simple philosophy into every race: Follow the fast guys.

“You run with them and you learn where your limits can be,” Johnson said. “Once I got comfortable running up there, then we just fine-tuned and everything just fell together.”

After putting together a nice run to end the season, Johnson says he has championship aspirations.

But it won’t be easy. Pat Mintey Jr. of Quartz Hill, the reigning Super Trucks champion, is expected back. Joe Herold of Poway, who won two races in only nine starts, will undoubtedly make his return to the track for select races.

“In the back of my head, the championship is number one,” Johnson said. “I think the best way to get the championship is what my dad always taught me. Go out and run as hard as you can every race. Take what you can get. Try not to put yourself in harm’s way. Win as many races as you can.”

Indy Lights testing Testing began for the Firestone Indy Lights drivers this week at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. It wasn’t that stellar of a debut for the newly formed Bryan Herta Autosport team.

Herta, a Valencia resident and Hart High graduate, has a one-car team and is making his first venture into race car ownership.
Daniel Herrington, the driver for the team, was responsible for the only crash of the day on Tuesday. He crashed in Turn 2 and damaged the rear of his car. It was not seriously damaged, but it ended the day of testing for the new team.

“We had made two pretty big changes to the car and went out hoping it would be better,” Herrington said. “I think we got caught out by the wind. It had picked up quite a bit since we made the changes. In retrospect, maybe we could have been more conservative and not made such a big change, but we got away with not too much problem.”

There were 20 Indy Lights cars at the test session this week. The Indy Lights season opens April 5 with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida.

Speedway to Speedway

Here’s a blast from the past. Doug George, who used to race in the old NASCAR Southwest Series and Winston West and made regular visits to Saugus Speedway, is the crew chief for Kyle Busch’s Camping World Truck Series team.

George won his first Truck Series race as a crew chief Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

“It feels awesome,” said George, who raced against Ron Hornaday Jr., Dan Press and Rick Carelli, among others, when they were on the Southwest Series and Winston West. “We started out a little bit tight. It’s kind of new for me because I have not worked with Kyle before, but his skills with the truck are a lot different than with guys I’ve worked with in the past. It does help that he knows what he wants for a feel from the truck.”

When George, who calls Atwater, Calif., home, was asked about his days racing against Hornaday and Carelli, he said they would be the better ones to ask. Then Ricky Carmichael, a driver for Kevin Harvick Inc. and a teammate of Hornaday’s in the Truck Series, wanted to know about racing against Carelli. Carelli is an advisor for Kevin Harvick Inc. and works with both drivers during the season. Even after Carmichael asked about racing against Carelli, George refused to address the question. Seems like that will be a discussion for a later date.

Tim Haddock can be reached by e-mail at For more on the NASCAR races at Auto Club Speedway and the track’s president responses to competing with Oscars for TV viewers, poor attendance at the track and boring races, go to This column reflects the writer’s views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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