By: Jeff Wackerlin – @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on August 9, 2017 | 3:00 P.M. EST
“It’s been great all season long, hearing all the comments and the congratulations. Hopefully, we can give our best shot to defend it.” (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
This time around, Knoxville Nationals week is going to be much different for Jason Johnson.
After all, he heads into the 57th annual Knoxville Nationals Presented by Casey’s General Stores as defending champion.
“It’s definitely going to be honoring, for sure,” Johnson told the Motor Racing Network. “We have quite a few awards and presentations throughout the week with, I believe, one of the columns behind the grandstands. It’s going to be a little bit different going back as a past champion.”
Johnson has won seven times in his World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series career and once in preliminary competition – but of course, none bigger than when he held off nine-time Nationals winner Donny Schatz for the victory last August to become only the 24th different driver to win the prestigious race.
“We received a lot of positive recognition because of that victory and obviously that’s the one race of the year that you really want to win,” Johnson said. “To put your name on that plateau with the few winners that actually have won the race throughout the years is really overwhelming. It’s been great all season long, hearing all the comments and the congratulations. Hopefully, we can give our best shot to defend it.”
After getting past some of the slick racetracks in the summer months of 2016, Johnson’s Nationals win came in a string of 14 consecutive finishes of ninth or better that carried from late July to early September. Johnson is hoping a similar trend will happen again, that’s already started with two straight top 10s coming into this week including a sixth-place run at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55.
“We seem to struggle in Ohio and we don’t seem to go as good at Eldora in the summer time, when it’s slick,” Johnson said. “In the spring and the fall, we go just fine. It’s just seems like when we get to these slick racetracks, we don’t have a really good balance of where we need to be. It’s just something we have to learn to adapt and we’ve got to be a little more aggressive with our racecar than we normally are. We are just getting back to some places that we are more accustomed to.”
Johnson will begin his quest to defend his Nationals title when he takes to the track on Thursday for his qualifying night.
MRN’s “Arctic Cat Winged Nation” will broadcast live from the Fan Zone Stage at Knoxville Raceway each day. Wednesday through Friday, shows will run from 6-7 p.m. (CT) with Saturday’s taking place from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Each show will be streamed live at MRN.com and on the MRN App.