Team Chevy's Dave Connolly Leads NHRA Pro Stock Field Into the Texas Motorplex Pontiac's Greg Anderson in Close Pursuit as Countdown to the Championship Continues DALLAS, Sept. 18, 2007 - The NHRA POWERade tour heads to the Lone Star State for...
Team Chevy's Dave Connolly Leads NHRA Pro Stock Field Into the Texas Motorplex
Pontiac's Greg Anderson in Close Pursuit as Countdown to the Championship Continues
DALLAS, Sept. 18, 2007 - The NHRA POWERade tour heads to the Lone Star State for the 22nd annual O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex on Sept. 20 - 23. The series is at the halfway mark of the four races in the second stage of the Countdown to the Championship, and three GM racers in Pro Stock are currently above the four-competitor cutoff line.
Team Chevy's Dave Connolly will lead the Pro Stock field into Dallas in first place in the POWERade standings. Connolly has won the last three races on the circuit including the 53rd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Sept. 3 and the O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals in Memphis last Sunday. The 24-year-old driver of the Torco Racing Fuels Chevy Cobalt has not officially clinched a position in the next phase of the Countdown to the Championship, but his victories at Indianapolis and Memphis give him a 164-point lead over fifth-place Kurt Johnson, and virtually guarantee him a spot when the Pro Stock field is narrowed to four following the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals in Richmond (Va.) on Oct. 5 - 7.
"This Chevy Cobalt is just running on mean right now," said Connolly following his win on Sunday in Memphis. "The only thing we might need is a sunroof or an air conditioning unit in it for the next few races, but we just keep tinkering with it. Even after Indy we didn't give up and say, 'Yea, we won the U.S. Nationals.' The team got out there and we tested at Farmington (N.C.) the very next week right before we came here. These Pro Stock cars are really finicky and (crew chief) Tommy Utt is just doing a great job with this Cobalt. We've grown stronger as a team and our on-track performance has shown it. We just need to keep plugging away
"The Countdown is tough because every race is important. We came into the first two races and we knew they were going to be important ones. We didn't want to get behind, fighting for fourth or fifth and possibly not make it. To come out here and perform so well and go out and win the first two races is just incredible for us."
Whether Connolly goes onto win the POWERade Pro Stock championship or not, no one can argue that it hasn't been a career season for the 23-year-old Ohio native who going into the 2007 NHRA campaign already had three consecutive top-five finishes including two top-threes. Memphis marked the 15th career Pro Stock victory for the Chevy Cobalt driver and his sixth win in seven final-round appearances this season. Connolly holds a narrow 33 point-lead over second-place Greg Anderson who Connolly has beaten in the last two final rounds at Indianapolis and Memphis. Connolly also won the O'Reilly Fall Nationals in Dallas in 2004.
"You couldn't ask for a better time to get hot," Connolly said. "Right before the first cut we win Reading (Pa.), and to continue with the roll at Indy and then here, that's just remarkable. And I'm thankful I get to do it with the people I have on my team. Those guys are like family to me so to get to share the good times with them is just awesome. Like I said before and I'll say it again, I'm just a small part of this whole process.
"I look back three or four years ago when I started my career, and every time I got to the final round, Greg Anderson beat us. Now here we are a few years later, and we've gotten our last two wins against him. He's been the thorn in our side for so many years, so to come out here and be able to give him a little taste of what we've been working on all season definitely puts a grin on your face. It's remarkable. It's all due to everything Victor Cagnazzi's put together, his whole program, and Evan Knoll picking up our sponsorship. I guess I've just been lucky enough to be the guy at the right place at the right time. We're on a roll and everything's clicking right now, and I just hope we don't use up too much of our luck before the last two races. It's just incredible to think that we have a shot at the championship this year."
While Greg Anderson looks to eliminate a slim points deficit with Dave Connolly, the Summit Racing Pontiac driver has been on a little hot streak of his own. The three-time POWERade Champion (2003-05) has captured seven national-event victories in 2007, advanced to the final round in four of the last five races (including his most recent win at Sonoma, Calif., on July 29), and he captured his 350th career round win last Sunday at Memphis. Anderson is a two-time winner at the Dallas Fall Nationals (2004-05) and nailing down a pair of rounds at the Texas Motorplex this weekend would almost assure the Summit Racing Pontiac driver a spot in the next phase of the Countdown.
"Dave's (Connolly's) a tough character and he's obviously on a roll," Anderson said prior to his professional category leading 10th final-round appearance at Memphis. "He's doing a heck of a job and actually that whole team does a heck of a job. But I'm pretty proud of my guys too. I need a win - I need to put this Summit Racing Pontiac in the winner's circle. It seems like it's been a while. He's smokin' hot and I need to stop him.
"We've got to get a little bit more consistent. We still plan to put this Summit Racing Pontiac in the winner's circle a time or two or three over the next four races. We still want to take home a fifth consecutive championship for KB Racing and Ken Black."
With a semifinal-round appearance at Memphis, Team Chevy's Jeg Coughlin is back up to the third place in the POWERade standings and above the four-driver Countdown demarcation line for the first-time since the U.S. Nationals. Coughlin has a 27-point lead over fourth-place Allen Johnson and a 29-point lead over fifth-place Kurt Johnson. Coughlin won the Fall Nationals in 2002 and was runner-up in 2000 and 2003.
"It's always better to be above that cutoff line than below it, that's for sure," Coughlin said. "I'm glad we're back in the field, but quite frankly it's where we belong. The guys on this Victor Cagnazzi Racing team have given me a strong racecar all year and we deserve to be in the hunt at this point. It was good to put Indy behind us and get back to winning rounds here this weekend.
"The ultimate goal this season was to have both of Victor's cars in the title hunt and so far things are working out well. There's a lot of pressure, but our guys are handling it and I'm having a blast behind the wheel."
Team Chevy's Kurt Johnson sits in fifth place in the POWERade point standings but is in an excellent position to make a run at one of the final four positions. KJ trails fourth-place Allen Johnson by just two points, and a sound performance at the Texas Motorplex, a venue where the ACDelco Chevy Cobalt driver has won three times (1993, 1995, 2000) and been a runner-up twice (1996, 1998), would blast him right back into championship contention.
A pair of Pontiac GTO drivers still looking to make a move to the final four are sixth-place Jason Line and eighth-place Warren Johnson. Line is only 31 points out of fourth place and hopes to improve on a first-round loss at Memphis after qualifying No. 2 there. The defending POWERade champion has never won at Dallas but he was runner-up in 2005 to teammate Greg Anderson.
"All-in-all we came out of Memphis with a chance to still get into the top four," said Line following a round-one loss to Warren Johnson. "We actually gained a couple points on fourth. We'll go back, work on the two Pontiacs and get ready for Dallas. I'll work on the tree (Christmas tree, starting lights) in my spare time and try to pick up some points over the final two races on this part of the playoff."
After a disappointing DNQ at Indy, Warren Johnson got back up off the mat and advanced to the quarterfinals at Memphis. The GM Performance Parts Pontiac driver is eighth in the Pro Stock points standings with two races remaining before the cut down to four. Johnson can make up a 58 point gap with fourth-place Allen Johnson with one good weekend in Texas. Johnson has more wins than any other Pro Stock driver at the Texas Motorplex (five) and he has been runner-up there six times.
"We ran pretty well in the first round (at Memphis), so we're actually leaving here in pretty decent shape," said Johnson. "We just need to string together a few more of these round wins to have a really good day."
With the recent surge in performance of Jim Yates Wiley X Pontiac over the last few races, the two-time NHRA Pro Stock champion (1996-97) is pounding on the door to the top 10. He is only eight points behind 10th-place V. Gaines and 27 points behind ninth-place Richie Stevens. Yates is a two-time winner at the Texas Motorplex and has been running strong as of late. If you're a driver trying to make the cut to the final four of the Countdown, the Wiley X Pontiac GTO is one car you don't want to see in the other lane on raceday.
"I'm excited for WileyX and for Pontiac," said Yates following the Memphis event. "We've worked so hard all year. We didn't make the Countdown, but I think we have a car that's capable of racing with those guys. To come out here (in Memphis) and beat some of them and make it to the final four cars, which tells me where our program is - I'm really proud of that.
"Bill Jenkins (engine builder) and the guys at Jenkins Competition have been working really hard on the engine, and we've got a really strong engine in the car right now. When we get these really good conditions, we've struggled over the past year getting the most out of the car, but we made some strides at Reading adapting to good conditions, and then we came here (at Memphis) and I think we shined."
The 22nd annual O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex on Sept. 20 -23 is the third race in the four-event Countdown to Four of the 2007 NHRA POWERade Championship. Qualifying will be telecast on ESPN2 on Sunday, September 23, beginning at 12:30 a.m. Eastern. NHRA Race Day will kick off eliminator coverage on September 23, starting at 11 a.m. Eastern on ESPN2, and a three-hour telecast of final eliminations will start at 7 p.m. Eastern.
-credit: gm racing