Rookie of the Year Contender Posts Best Finish at First Return Track of 2011 Season
MARTINSVILLE, VA - April 3rd, 2011 - Panhandle Motorsports driver, Johanna Long, brought the No. 20 Toyota Tundra home in her best finish at Martinsville Speedway – 18th position. The 18-year-old wheeled her truck for her first top 20 and her second showing at the famed .526-mile short track (the first in the fall of 2010, resulting in a 22nd place finish).
Long qualified 22nd for the Kroger 250 and made it as high as eighth position midway through the race. A longtime short-track racer and winner of the Snowball Derby, nicknamed the “Superbowl of Short Track Racing,” Long was comfortable on the pavement as she radioed the crew.
“We were snug off and snappy loose for most of the race, and the guys did a great job getting it dialed in for me to be comfortable on those corners,” said Long. “I was running really hard, and it’s the hardest I’ve raced this year, which was good. For the first time this year, I didn’t hesitate to run with the frontrunners or be conservative. Short tracks are my roots, so when I heard Cowboy (Starland, crew chief) say over the radio, ‘Get mad, girl!’ I knew I had to start racing the race track hard. It felt really great.”
Long battled on the restarts after each of the race’s six cautions, starting on the outside each time under tough track conditions due to tire wear and debris. “I never got an even start, and I was always on the outside so I was trying to nose down for position. It’s a tough thing to do without tagging another truck, so I was overcautious. Plus, we had a lot of tire rubber on the track, so it made for a slippery mid-track. I lost some positions on those restarts, but I’m still learning, so I walked away with a top 20, a lot of good setup and track notes, and hopefully a lot of respect from the other racers around me. It’s what you’ve got to do every week.”
The team is back in the Mooresville shop preparing for Nashville Superspeedway on April 22nd. Starland is proud of his young driver’s progress four races into the season. “Johanna really showed she can run in the top 10 yesterday. She was super comfortable racing right there in the 10th, 12th spots, but we lost a little on the restarts. That’s the progress I want to see a rookie like Jo continue to make. The first return track this year and she posted a better finish and a confident racing style. We’re going to bottle that for Nashville.”