Denver: Dave Connolly preview

Late First-half Surge Carries Connolly Closer to Pro Stock Top Spot Dave Connolly has gone from cool to hot in NHRA Pro Stock racing. With two victories, one runner-up and a semifinal finish in the past six races, Connolly has taken the express...

Late First-half Surge Carries Connolly Closer to Pro Stock Top Spot

Dave Connolly has gone from cool to hot in NHRA Pro Stock racing. With two victories, one runner-up and a semifinal finish in the past six races, Connolly has taken the express elevator from 12th to third in points as the POWERade Series prepares for its final 11 races of the season.

Connolly's reversal of fortune in the very competitive Pro Stock field -- this is the closest title fight in several years -- coincided with Tommy Utt's arrival as crew chief of the SKULL GEAR Chevrolet Cobalt. Connolly won at Atlanta in Utt's first race and came back two races later to claim victory No. 2, making the Elyria, Ohio native the category's first multi-race winner of 2006. He added the runner-up at Englishtown, N.J. and a semifinal finish at St. Louis last month.

The impressive numbers Connolly and crew compiled over the past half-dozen outings tell the story:

A 15-4 round record; a series increase of 503 points (227 to 730), the most in the category; and a 239-point deficit to leader Greg Anderson chopped to 71.

"Six races ago, when we were in the 12th spot, if you had asked me if I thought we had a shot at the championship, I would have said no way," Connolly said. "But you don't expect Anderson to stumble like he has. We just kind of took advantage of the situation because we've gone some rounds at every race."

The traditional Western Swing -- stops Denver's Bandimere Speedway (July 14-16), Seattle's Pacific Raceways (July 21-23) and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. (July 28-30) -- sets the stage for contenders who are battling for the right to be the driver taking the final bow at the Nov. 13 championship awards ceremony.

"It's a different (racing) world up in Denver," said Connolly of the only high-altitude track on the schedule. "We got to the finals there last year. It would be nice if we could pick up a win there and move up in points."

The team tested at Bandimere two weeks ago to fine-tune its high-altitude, less oxygen tune-up for the aptly-named Mile-High Nationals, and Connolly admitted he was "definitely happy with way we ran. It was a hot day and the track was pretty tricky -- like we expect it to be during the race. We had the fastest car on the last day.

"This is probably the most important part of the season," he continued. " It takes a lot of manpower and a well-prepared team to go out and run three races in a row and keep up with the motors. The guys in (team engine builder) Victor Cagnazzi's shop have been busting their tails, working on new motors so we should be in pretty shape equipment-wise.

"This has been a different year in Pro Stock. Every time you look, there's someone else running good. There are 10-to-12 cars that can qualify number one -- it's usually the one who makes the good run in the good session."

Overall, it all comes down to performing on Sunday, and that's where Utt's been excelling, says Connolly.

"Tommy seems to be the one who put our program together and we've been making more consistent runs. Even if we don't qualify in the top three cars, it seems like we have one of the better cars come Sunday. Tommy really has a handle on the race-day setup. I'd much rather have a good car to race on Sunday than I would a good qualifying car. That seems like what we have right now."

And it is one important item they want to keep for at least another 11 races.

-jls

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Series NHRA
Drivers Greg Anderson , Dave Connolly