Rockingham II: Series spotlight - Del Cox Jr

Cox trying to make it two in a row for Mitch King Motorsports At the start of the 2009 season Del Cox Jr. was just another face in the crowd. Young, energetic and excited to finally have his shot behind the wheel of a Top Fuel dragster, Cox...

Cox trying to make it two in a row for Mitch King Motorsports

At the start of the 2009 season Del Cox Jr. was just another face in the crowd.

Young, energetic and excited to finally have his shot behind the wheel of a Top Fuel dragster, Cox knew he had some big shoes to fill this year hopping in the same ride that Spencer Massey, a rookie himself at the time, drove to the 2008 IHRA Top Fuel World Championship.

Fast forward eight months later and Cox, with the help of legendary tuner Paul Smith and team owner Mitch King, is now just one race away from repeating that feat at the IHRA World Finals October 22-25 at Rockingham Dragway.

"With Paul Smith over here and all of these guys just working their butts off on these cars it has been an incredible year," Cox said. "You never know what the year will bring, but after having Spencer Massey in the car last year and having the same team from that championship is just mind boggling.

"They all do such a great job and they have given me a car that has put me in a position to win this championship."

And what a ride it has been for the rookie out of Downey, Calif.

From being almost completely out of the points chase at midseason to holding a commanding lead with one race to go -- an incredible 158 point swing -- Cox has turned in a performance that won't soon be forgotten.

"To be in this position is incredible and I just hope we can keep it going and wrap this thing up," Cox said. "We have got one more to go so now our focus is to go out there and win that one too."

Cox's incredible rise to the top of the Top Fuel rankings began in July when, with one win and a so-so 6-4 record, he finally hit on a combination that has since rocketed him from 84 points behind Bruce Litton to a whopping 74-point lead entering Rockingham.

And it all began with a loss in July to his boss.

Coming into the River Cree Resort and Casino Rocky Mountain Nationals at Castrol Raceway in early July, Cox found himself just 11 points out of first place. But an uncharacteristic weekend in the hills of Edmonton left Cox in a hole many thought he would never climb out of.

After qualifying fifth on his second worst qualifying pass of the season, Cox found himself in an interesting first round matchup with team owner Mitch King. While he had already beaten King once, there was just something off about Cox's team that weekend as King roared past Cox in the opening round on his way to his first career final round appearance.

In that final round Litton was able to get the best of King, giving Litton his second win of the season and a commanding lead in the Top Fuel point standings.

And it was at that moment Cox realized that something needed to change if he was going to even keep up with the former world champion.

"We knew we needed to make a few changes and this team answered the call in a big way," Cox said.

Beginning with the very next race Smith and the Mitch King Motorsports crew made a few adjustments and suddenly found themselves right back where they started, qualifying first for the third this season. Cox then went on to dominate the field for his second win of the year.

Since then Cox has put together an incredible streak not seen since the days of Clay Millican in the early 2000s.

After losing to King in early July Cox has since won four consecutive races, 12 straight rounds and has erased a one time 84-point deficit and turned it into a 74-point lead with one race remaining.

"After Mitch beat me in Canada Bruce had a big lead on me so that shows how good our team is. To be able to come back from that deficit and now to have the lead we have going into the last race is great," Cox said.

If Cox can hold on to that lead at Rockingham against one of the toughest Top Fuel fields of the season, it would give Mitch King Motorsports its second consecutive IHRA World Championship and an incredible nine wins in the past two years.

Even more fitting, Cox returns to the site of his first career win back in April with a chance to clinch the championship in only his first year on the tour.

But don't give Cox the championship just yet.

Right on his heels is one of the craftiest veterans in the sport in Bruce Litton. The former champion has equaled his foe in final round appearances this season with five, but has only been able to capitalize on two of those opportunities.

Litton has also suffered three first round losses in 2009 compared to just one by Cox. But the real story regarding Litton's season is the second half struggles the team has faced.

After starting the year with a 10-3 record and two wins he has since won just three rounds in the last four races including two first round exits. Cox's teammate and fellow Top Fuel rookie Ron August then put the proverbial nail in the coffin at the last race when he dispatched Litton in the opening round giving Cox a chance to widen his margin.

But with a dozen Top Fuel cars expected to be on hand at The Rock battling for eight spots the reality remains that anything can happen and Litton is far from out of the championship. To have a chance, however, he is going to need a little luck while capitalizing on any opportunities presented to him.

"We know what we have to do so we just need to go out there and get it done. We can't control what happens to them so we just need to go into Rockingham and take care of business and let the chips fall where they may," Litton said.

Now all that is left is for the two championship contenders and nearly a dozen others to put it all on the line Oct. 22-25 to decide the championship and final winner of the 2009 season.

-credit: ihra

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