Rockingham II: Championship finale preview

Closest battle of season comes down to one race For three drivers, one race is all that stands between championship glory and another offseason wondering what could have been. Concluding one of the most competitive seasons in Pro Stock ...

Closest battle of season comes down to one race

For three drivers, one race is all that stands between championship glory and another offseason wondering what could have been.

Concluding one of the most competitive seasons in Pro Stock history, the IHRA World Finals at Rockingham Dragway will provide the backdrop for the thrilling finish to the 2009 season as John Montecalvo, Frank Gugliotta and Pete Berner go toe-to-toe for the '09 Elite Motorsports Pro Stock title Oct. 22-25 in Rockingham, N.C.

Montecalvo enters the final race of the season with a 33-point lead over Gugliotta, while two-time world champion Pete Berner sits just 63 points behind in third.

Montecalvo and Gugliotta are both seeking their first world title.

If Montecalvo can hold on to that narrow margin and claim his first ever world championship it would be especially sweet considering the road he has taken to get to where he is.

Just six races ago Montecalvo sat fifth in the standings and looked poised for another disappointing season. But back-to-back runner-up finishes at Grand Bend and Martin combined with an uncharacteristic slide by Gugliotta allowed the New York native to put himself back into championship contention.

Three weeks ago in Maryland Montecalvo put an exclamation point on his incredible climb as he rocketed to the top of the standings for the first time all season and now sits just four rounds away from a possible IHRA World Championship.

"We are very happy with the way the car has been performing and now we can breathe slightly easier heading into Rockingham," Montecalvo said following the race at Budds Creek. "I know it is going to be an all-out fight there and I am looking forward to it.

"Even though we are out front, I know the target is going to be on us now and it is up to us to stay there."

Even more incredible, Montecalvo has been able to ascend to the top without visiting victory lane. Through eight races Montecalvo has a series-leading four runner-up finishes, but he has yet to cross the line first.

If Montecalvo can hold on and win the championship and not win the race next weekend it would be the first time a driver has won a title without getting a victory since Pro Stock driver Jon Yoak did the same during his championship season in 1996.

Montecalvo's best previous championship finish is third in '08, '04, '03, '02 and '99.

But don't give Montecalvo the title just yet.

Sitting just 33 points behind in second is two-time national event winner Gugliotta.

Gugliotta looked poised to runaway with the title at midseason with two wins and an incredible 13-4 record through the first six events of the year. Thanks to that record Gugliotta took over the points lead in June and held it for fourth months until Montecalvo overtook the championship lead in Budds Creek three weeks ago.

After the incredible start, Gugliotta has since suffered three first round exits in his past four races including two straight entering Rockingham.

If Gugliotta can't get things turned around in a big way and mount a charge in Rockingham it would cap yet another late season collapse for a man who has seen his share of late season drama.

"I have been in this position every year since 2003 and have never been able to clinch a title. I have come as close as second, but it seems like it always slips away," Gugliotta said. "I have to make sure we get this turned around and hopefully make a run at this thing."

Quietly sitting in third is two-time champion Pete Berner.

Berner has one win and one runner-up finish this season and hasn't been any lower in the standings than third since the second race of the season, but he hasn't had the presence he once had.

Berner came as close as three points from the lead following his victory at Tulsa in June, but since then he has recorded just three round wins in four races.

Making the road even more difficult for the former champion is the fact that Berner has never won at IHRA's oldest track while Montecalvo and Gugliotta have won three of the last four fall Rockingham races.

Overall Montecalvo has four Rockingham victories to Gugliotta's one.

Making the weekend even more exciting for the Pro Stock field is the Elite 8 Shootout which will take place Saturday night. Eight drivers will runoff for a $40,000 purse during the "Night of Fire" prior to the championship being decided Sunday afternoon.

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers John Montecalvo