LAS VEGAS – This is a dream, and it’s pretty good.
In fact, Jhett Johnson won’t want to be awakened. In his fifth qualification to the sport’s biggest event, the Casper, Wyo., cowboy is having his best Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Johnson and his partner, Turtle Powell of Stephenville, Texas, have placed in the first six go-round of this year’s championship event, winning two. They’ve each earned $73,990 in six nights of competition at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas – Johnson’s previous best finale came six seasons ago when he earned $71,000 roping with Shane Schwenke.
“To be that guy to place in the first six … it seems surreal,” said Johnson, who attended Northwestern Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma Panhandle State University on rodeo scholarships. “This is the best finals I’ve ever had, and there are still four to go.”
A key ingredient is how well the tandem is working. The big thing in team roping is to be fast and smooth, especially in an arena like the NFR, which is roughly the size of a hockey rink. With Powell handling the cattle well early, things seem to be falling in to place.
On Tuesday night, the two stopped the clock in a blazing fast 3.8 seconds – the same time that earned them the fifth-round title Monday – to finish in a tie for second place with Matt Sherwood and Cory Petska. Reigning world champions Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith won the round with a 3.5.
“He has done so good here that every time I’ve caught both feet, I’ve had a chance to win,” Johnson said. “Tonight wasn’t even a dumb run. It was just fast.”
With this kind of start in the biggest roping of his career, does Johnson intend to carry that run to Vegas’ gaming tables.
“I’m saving my luck,” he said.
Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s just preparation meeting opportunity. Whatever is the case, Johnson has moved from 12th to second in the world standings, and he trails leader Travis Graves by just $614. Sixth place in a go-round pays $2,885, so there’s always a chance. The ultimate goal is to be atop the standings when Saturday’s final round is complete.
“If we do our job one night at a time, the timers will time the runs, the sectary will add up the money and add up the average,” Johnson said. “Our job’s with the cow every night. If we’ll keep it that simple, shoot, it’ll all play out. Somebody’s going to win it, and it might be us.”