LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Jason Johnson made a dramatic late-race move to top the opening portion of I-30 Speedway’s 25th annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires that was postponed by rain to Friday night.
A native of Eunice, La., “The Ragin’ Cajun” dove under race-long leader Paul McMahan entering turn one on the 23rd round of the 25-lapper to take the win in the JJR/Stenhouse Jr. Roush Yates Ford-powered No. 41 Maxim.
Johnson took the win to lock into Saturday’s $15,000-to-win, $2,500-to-start STN championship event along with runner-up McMahan in the Cooper Racing No. 01 and rookie STN contender Christopher Bell, who claimed the third and final lock-in position.
“I really was just searching around, trying to find something that would work and I finally did coming off of four there,” the 2006 Short Track Nationals champion explained.
And search around he did quite nicely, diamonding off the top of turn three and four to get a powerful run off of four that ultimately led to victory lane after chasing 2002 STN kingpin McMahan most of the way.
With Dixon Road U-Pull-It STN Rookie of the Year contender Bell leading the way to the green flag after accumulating the most points through heat race and qualifying race on Thursday night and then into Friday after Mother Nature intervened, it was front row outside starter McMahan gunning into the early lead with Bell holding off fourth-starter Johnson for second until the fifth round.
Working the low side and reaching traffic by the tenth round, McMahan found clear track again when the red flag flew at the midway point when Gary Taylor flipped in turn four after contact with another car.
McMahan took off on the restart with Johnson in pursuit as another pair of cautions flew over the next half dozen circuits, including one after 15 laps when sixth-runner Sam Hafertepe Jr., biked it in turn four and came to a stop and then one final interruption for a three-car tangle in turn four involving Shawn Dancer, Jimmy Hurley and Randy Hannagan.
Johnson continued searching the track on the final restart and finally dove underneath McMahan entering turn one on the white flag lap for what proved to be the winning pass. Johnson locked into his seventh career STN finale with the win while McMahan earned an STN championship event starting berth for the fourth time in five tries.
Just 17 years old, Bell rounded out his strong I-30 Speedway sprint car debut with a podium finish that will put him into Saturday night’s dash for cash.
Greg Wilson finished one spot out of a lock-in position in fourth, while Brady Bacon advanced from 11th to take the fifth position in the final circuits.
Jason Johnson, Paul McMahan, Christopher Bell, Greg Wilson, Brady Bacon, Derek Hagar, Travis Rilat, Ray Allen Kulhanek, Kevin Swindell, Seth Bergman, Dustin Morgan, Jonathan Cornell, Randy Hannagan, Jimmy Hurley, Brian Bell, Shawn Dancer, Jan Howard, Sam Hafertepe Jr., Gary Taylor Jonathan Beason.