Adam "Jimmy" Deem holds door panel ripped from the 76 Freedom Car during a race at New Smyrna Speedway Monday. Team owner Jack Johnson surveys the damage. James V. Carroll

76 Freedom Car bounces back

Driver Jerick Johnson drove his American Legion/David Law Firm 76 Freedom car to a seventh-place finish in short track competition at New Smyrna Speedway Monday night. His finish on the one-half mile, high-banked track 25-lap race improved his points standing in the 44th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing - a nine day racing extravaganza held near Daytona, Fla.

The 76 Freedom Car started the race on the inside of row seven and steadily moved through the field, but not without difficulty. An early skirmish dinged the left quarter panel of his car, and a late race incident resulted in near-catastrophic damage. Close contact with another car ripped off the entire left door panel of Johnson's ride, but did little to slow his move toward the front of the field. In the end, Johnson clocked faster laps than the leaders.

Johnson's seventh-place finish came on the heels of a 13th-place finish in a 25-lap feature race Sunday.

"We have been fighting a car that just doesn't want to turn left," Johnson said prior to Monday's race. "We've changed just about everything on the car looking for faster times. All we can do now is to see if our changes will make a difference."

During early laps Monday, Johnson told his race crew that the car still felt like a snowplow in the turns. But by last few laps, Johnson's car caught up with the track and the competition - passing cars on the inside and outside.

"The car suddenly seemed to come around," Johnson said following the race. "It still doesn't like the turns, but lap after lap, we kept getting faster and faster. If we get the turn problem fixed we should be one of the fastest cars on the track."

Jack Johnson, Jerick's dad and owner of Team Johnson Motorsports and the 76 Freedom Car agrees.

"If we can get Jerick up front, I think he will drive away from the field," said Johnson.

Jerick and his crew have the rest of the week to improve the car's handling and improve their overall points standing in the nine-day series of races. They are expected to take to the track once again tonight.