A strong 2021 season for Justin Johnson continued on Saturday evening with a third-place finish in the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 at South Boston Speedway.
But the Late Model veteran was not entirely pleased with his Top 5 run.
Along with encountering issues in making his way through the field, Johnson was critical of the way some of his competitors raced as they tried to claim the $10,000 race-winning paycheck.
“I’m OK with this in one sense but disappointed in another,” Johnson said. “There was a lot of impatience [on Saturday] amongst the drivers and we got knocked back to 10th or 11th. There were a lot of good cars here but also a lot of rough racing.”
Johnson found himself playing catch up during the final 100 laps when contact on the first restart after the halfway break relegated him to the middle of the pack.
Getting shuffled out of the Top 10 negated what had been a perfect strategy for Johnson, who had found momentum with clean air on the top line while most of his competition stayed on the bottom groove.
Johnson used the top line to reach the Top 5 with 25 laps remaining but admitted that his car became less effective with drivers getting into him on nearly every restart.
“I was really good on the top but every time I went into Turns 1 and 2 after the break, someone was body slamming me,” Johnson said. “We never could get going. It’s been a long time since we’ve run consistently here and I really wanted to pull one off for these guys.”
Johnson, who is a two-time South Boston Late Model Stock champion, believed that 2021 was one of his best opportunities to win the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 because of his team’s successful partnership with R&S Race Cars.
Using R&S’ house car, Johnson finally broke through for his first CARS Late Model Stock Car Tour victory at Dillon Motor Speedway in March before adding a second victory at Caraway Speedway two months later.
It took Johnson’s teammate Kaden Honeycutt time to find consistency in the CARS Tour but the rookie eventually tallied his first victory by leading every single lap at Langley Speedway.
The newfound efficiency of Johnson’s program has only served to elevate his expectations in regards to what he, Honeycutt and his other drivers can do on a regular basis.
While Johnson can not change the circumstances that prevented him from defeating Bobby McCarty in the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200, he intends to quickly move forward so he can put together great finishes in the two remaining Virginia Late Model Triple Crown races.
“We had a really good car but it was just so tough to pass,” Johnson said. “It was a beat and bang kind of night but I still had a lot of fun in front of the hometown crowd. I feel like we got a good shot at Langley and hopefully we can bring home a clock at Martinsville as well.”
Johnson expects the competition to only get more aggressive with two difficult races in the Hampton Heat and ValleyStar Credit Union 300 left in the Virginia Triple Crown.
While Top 5s would be beneficial, Johnson knows that wins are crucial to winning the Virginia Triple Crown and continuing his already stellar season.