Speedweek turns into Speed Day for 76 Freedom Car

On Feb. 5, 2009, practice for The American Legion/David Law Firm 76 Freedom Car went very well. The car started slowly, but the crew made the right changes to the car and was pleased with its speed by the end of the day.

Feb. 6 brought more of the same. After an early practice session and a few more adjustments to the car, everyone was confident that the 76 Freedom Car was going to be a contender, in the biggest car count (38) class of Speedweek.

In the Speedweek qualifying runs, everyone qualifies and a drawing determines the actual starting order of the race. In order to gain a front starting position, a driver must qualify in the top 10. As expected by the race team, the 76 Freedom Car easily qualified in the top 10, and when the draw was made, driver Jerick Johnson and the 76 Freedom Car drew pole starting position.

Obviously, this was a great start to Speedweek for The American Legion/David Law Firm crew.

Friday evening, the green flag flew to start the race. Johnson and 2007 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year winner Landon Cassill led the field to the starting line. Early in the race, Johnson dropped to second behind Cassill. Several cautions gave Johnson opportunities to duck inside of Landon on the restarts, but the 76 Freedom Car was never quite able to complete the pass.

With eight laps left in the race, Johnson suddenly came on the radio and said, "Something didn't feel right." The car that once looked like it could win the race started to show signs of problems and quickly dropped from second to sixth. With only two laps left, Johnson drove deep into turn three, and the car's right front ball joint assembly failed. The 76 Car slammed into the outside wall. Johnson walked away from the incident uninjured, but the crash resulted in an 18th-place finish in the 38-car field.

Normally, a top-20 finish would be exciting, but this was an exception. Johnson was in the hunt to win the race. At the very least, he could have finished in the top five.

It was later confirmed that the right front ball joint had broken, causing the right front wheel to buckle under the chassis. This resulted in the quick and complete destruction of the right side of the 76 Freedom Car - even before Johnson hit the wall. There was nothing to do except pack up and head home.