DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — For Las Vegas driver Justin Johnson, his race team sponsor – Vision Airlines – is fitting.
“They have a vision,” said Johnson of the Georgia-based charter airline that got its start in Las Vegas. “Right now, their vision is to win a championship. Hopefully I’ll get it for them.”
Johnson is certainly doing his part. He has won five of the last six races in the Pepsi Super Late Model Division at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, Calif. In addition to holding a commanding lead at the high-speed half-mile, Johnson also leads the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series California state championship standings.
NASCAR will crown 25 U.S. state and Canadian provincial champions, continuing a tradition that dates back to the sport’s early years. The first NASCAR California state champion was Danny Graves in 1954.
Connecticut’s Keith Rocco continues his grip on the top spot in the national standings with 788 points – just 22 points shy of a maximum score. He had an off week by his standards, finishing seventh at Thompson International Speedway and third at Stafford Motor Speedway. The 25-year-old Wallingford, Conn., driver also races his asphalt Modified at a third Connecticut track, Waterford Speedbowl, which did not race this past weekend.
Rocco has 16 wins, 24 top fives and 29 top 10s in 30 starts.
Craig Preble, of Yutan, Neb., remains second in points with 715 points. Racing his dirt crate Late Model, Preble was third at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., on Saturday and closed out the weekend with a win at I-80 Speedway in Omaha, Neb., on Sunday. He has 13 wins and 21 top fives in 21 starts.
Justin Johnson of Durham, N.C., no relation to the Toyota Speedway driver, picked up his 10th asphalt Late Model win of the season at Motor Mile in Radford, Va., to improve his third-place total to 650 points. Johnson has 10 wins, 14 top fives and 17 top 10s in 18 races at Motor Mile and South Boston (Va.) Speedway.
Bill Leighton Jr. (602 points), who races against Preble at the two Nebraska tracks, is fourth. Former national champion Ted Christopher moved into fifth with 593 after finishing second at Thompson and ninth at Stafford.
A driver’s best 18 results are counted toward their state and national points totals, and the champions are decided on overall points total.
Under the points structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner received two points for every car in the event up to 20. Second place received two fewer points, and so-on through the field. Race winners received an additional five bonus points. For example, if there are 20 cars, the winner received 45 points, second gets 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner received 35 points, second gets 28 and third, 26.
California points leader Johnson, who worked at Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain, Nev., for the last four years, was originally hired by Vision Aviation Racing as a driver coach for 17-year-old Dusty Davis.
That position has morphed into a two-car team and Johnson ran a handful of races at Toyota Speedway to close out 2009.
“We felt for us to be seen and our name out there, racing at Irwindale was the place we had to be,” said Johnson of the track that also hosts the prestigious postseason NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. “Last year was pretty much a learning curve for us. We went into this year just hoping to win a couple races.”
Instead, Johnson has just one finish outside of the top three and posted wins in half of the events. He leads Davis, who has three wins, by 34 points in the track championship race.
Johnson said that while his driving style suits long runs, he’s improved his qualifying efforts and that has resulted in the better finishes this year at Toyota Speedway. He also points to the work former track champion Rip Michels has contributed to their shock package, and said the primary credit rests with Chuck Wahl.
“If we need to make a change, he makes the right change,” Johnson said. “He’s worked his butt off being the crew chief.”
Track, state and provincial champions and the top three finishers in the national standings earn invitations to the 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet. The winner of the national championship will also earn a secure spot in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
National Top 500 NASCAR Points Leaders
Pos Driver Track Starts Wins T-5 T-10 Points
1 Keith Rocco Stafford Motor Speedway 30 16 24 29 788
2 Craig Preble I-80 Speedway 21 13 21 21 715
3 Justin T Johnson South Boston Speedway 18 10 14 17 650
4 Bill Leighton, Jr I-80 Speedway 22 0 18 21 602
5 Ted Christopher Thompson Intl Speedway 20 5 13 16 593
6 Matt Buller Junction Motor Speedway 21 4 15 18 580
7 C E Falk, Iii Langley Speedway 17 6 11 15 544
8 Marty Ward Greenville-Pickens Speedway 17 10 17 17 526
9 Woody Pitkat Stafford Motor Speedway 18 1 9 16 495
10 Duane Howard Grandview Speedway 13 2 12 13 482
11 Toby Porter Greenville-Pickens Speedway 17 5 15 16 477
12 Woody Howard Langley Speedway 15 1 12 13 463
13 Burt Myers Bowman Gray Stadium 13 4 8 12 436
14 Philip Morris Motor Mile Speedway 13 4 10 11 432
15 Tommy Lemons, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 17 1 5 11 429
16 Travis Swaim Caraway Speedway 16 4 12 16 426
17 Adam Royle Raceway Park 21 7 18 20 405
18 Lee Jeffreys Bowman Gray Stadium 13 2 7 11 388
19 Jeremy Burns Greenville-Pickens Speedway 19 0 13 18 388
20 Ron Yuhas, Jr Waterford Speedbowl 11 0 10 11 382
21 Jacob Brown I-80 Speedway 15 1 5 11 377
22 Micah Brown I-80 Speedway 20 1 4 11 375
23 Craig Von Dohren Grandview Speedway 12 6 8 9 374
24 Greg Edwards Langley Speedway 12 2 10 11 372
25 Micah Veleba Junction Motor Speedway 21 0 3 12 370