Justin Johnson, pictured at Southern National Motorsports Park during a pre-race autograph session ahead of the Thanksgiving Classic in November 2017. (Andy Marquis photo)

Justin Johnson is returning to Southern National Motorsports Park this Saturday night for the first time since his runner-up finish in last fall’s Thanksgiving Classic.

The 30-year-old will compete in twin Late Model Stock Car races as part of the Whelen Spring Fling presented by Thrifty Tire Service Center on Saturday night.  Johnson is hoping to make gains and score his first Southern National win.

“We’re working on our program and I feel like Southern National is a good place for us to try and get better,” Johnson said.  “I feel like we’re at the point now where we’ve gotten our cars pretty competitive so, realistically, we’re looking for a win.”

Johnson has been in contention for wins but has never picked up a victory at Southern National.  Johnson was a headliner in the last two installments of the Thanksgiving Classic.  In 2016, he spun trying to pass a lapped car while battling for the lead and, one year later, he finished second to veteran Matt McCall in a thrilling, and controversial, race.

“I would like to say this track owes me one but it never works out that way,” Johnson explained.  “For the first couple years that I raced there, I never liked Southern National.  For some reason or another, the last three years, I’ve been there five or six times and we’ve led and probably should have won every one of those.  It’s a good track that fits my driving style, especially the longer races where we have to save a little tire and pace ourselves to keep the rear tires on it for the end.”

This time around, with another stacked field expected, Johnson hopes the result will be different.

“We’re going to have to have a car that turns the corner really well, especially in three and four,” Johnson said.  “That’s the tougher part of the track.  If we can keep it turning well, it’ll be easier to keep the back tires on it and hopefully be there at the end.”

Johnson says he hopes to race at Southern National more frequently throughout the season and his tire business, Thrifty Tire, has come on board as the presenting sponsor of the race.  Johnson is a former NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series Virginia State champion, a title he earned in 2010 while also winning the South Boston Speedway track championship for the second time of his career.

Saturday’s WHELEN Spring Fling presented by Thrifty Tire Service Center will go green at 7pm.