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NICK SCHWIEN • Hays Daily News Jason Johnson competes during an NCRA 360 sprint car heat race Saturday night at 81 Speedway in Park City.

NICK SCHWIEN â ¢ Hays Daily News Jason Johnson sits in his car prior to hot laps Saturday night at the third annual NCRA 360 sprint car Air Capital Shootout at 81 Speedway in Park City.

Pass leads Johnson to $5,000 payout

By NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net

PARK CITY -- With thousands of dollars on the line, a mere few inches helped settle the winner.

For Jason Johnson, those few inches resulted in a hefty $5,000 payout Saturday night at the third annual NCRA 360 sprint car Air Capital Shootout at 81 Speedway.

Johnson, a decorated sprint car driver who won the ASCS National title a year ago, made a move in turn two with 11 laps remaining in the A-main to sneak by Don Droud Jr. It would prove to be the winning maneuver after Johnson chased Droud for the first 24 laps.

"He got to pushing more and more off of two, and I knew if I could crowd him he'd push through there," Johnson said. "I didn't want to run into him, so I made sure I gave him enough room. We were just coming off the bottom of two really good."

Droud, of Lincoln, Neb., jumped to the lead at the drop of the green flag and held off Johnson through the first four cautions. But on the final restart, Johnson stuck his nose below Droud and got his sprinter to stick just enough to power out of turn two with the lead.

"It wasn't bad," Droud said. "When he did that, it probably took a little air off my wing -- which made my car even tighter. I seen him, and when I seen him, I knew what he was going to do. But we didn't touch. If I could have, I would have tried to turn down. But when he got the air off my wing, I was just kind of riding it out."

Johnson won his heat race and started outside the second row, alongside Seth Bergman of Snohomish, Wash.,

Veteran driver Mike Peters started outside the front row, but Johnson got by him in the first lap and tried to reel in Droud. Bergman would get by Peters into third after the second caution.

"They were better early in the race,"  Bergman said. "As the race wore on, we were getting better. We didn't win, but I felt like we had the car to (win) at the end. ... Jason's been a tough competitor all year for us. He's a got a handful of national championships. I was just studying what he was doing in front of me and picked up on his lines and was able to use that to get around (Peters)."

Droud, who competes regularly in the NCRA ranks while driving the Ochs Brother sprint car from Jetmore, did his best to hold on to the lead. He never did see Johnson's car on the restarts, but he knew who was behind him thanks to the scoreboard inside turn one.

"I could see he was behind me from up there on the board,"  Droud said. "But I never seen him. The yellows were falling to where I didn't have any lap traffic. About halfway through the race, I was good, then my car didn't want to turn as good. That was bogging the motor down. I was trying to guess where to go, and I thought the track was working lower between (turns) one and two. ... I think if I would have changed my line, maybe he wouldn't have gotten me. But he's been racing a lot, and this is our first time this year. We'll take it. I'm happy we had a safe race and can load it into the trailer."

Droud would hold off Bergman for third, with Danny Wood in fourth and Peters in fifth.

"To come here and have this many cars and two B's, to be standing here on the front stretch with these guys afterward is a success," Bergman said.

"Any time you win, it's special," Johnson said. "You're only as good as your last race. We enjoy coming to Wichita. It just fits my style, and these Stenhouse guys are doing a great job working on the race car. That makes it pretty nice for me."

The biggest mover in the 20-car, 35-lap feature was Lucas Wolfe. He started last in the main but worked his way through the field to finish ninth.

Brian Brown, who finished eighth at the World of Outlaws race Friday night in California before flying to Wichita, struggled to an 18th-place finish Saturday night, and Danny Lasoski -- a former regular on the WoO circuit -- failed to make the A-main, showing just how good the competition was for the NCRA season-opener.

Johnny Herrera was sixth, and Jeremy Campbell was seventh on his hometown track. Campbell was the runner-up in the NCRA title hunt last year.