Denver: Round 13 preview

DEFENDING WORLD CHAMPION SAYS HIS FOCUS IS FORWARD AS MOMENTUM BUILDS FOR FAMED WESTERN SWING MORRISON, Colo. -- Headlines come out of the Schumacher Racing camp almost weekly - from updates on Top Fuel ace Melanie Troxel's upcoming walk up the...

DEFENDING WORLD CHAMPION SAYS HIS FOCUS IS FORWARD AS MOMENTUM BUILDS FOR FAMED WESTERN SWING

MORRISON, Colo. -- Headlines come out of the Schumacher Racing camp almost weekly - from updates on Top Fuel ace Melanie Troxel's upcoming walk up the ESPY red carpet to crew chief Ed "Ace" McCullough's battle with cancer to the signing of Pro Stock rising star Erica Enders, who stunned the drag racing world when she separated from team owner Victor Cagnazzi early this month to become a free agent under Schumacher's umbrella.

Perhaps the most perplexing one of all, however, is that none have included reigning Funny Car world champion Gary Scelzi - the man who won the most gripping NHRA POWERade Series point chase in recent memory in 2005 to join Kenny Bernstein as the only drivers in NHRA history to be crowned world champion in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories.

The 2006 season began with predictions of even closer battles, with Scelzi's name near the top of the list with teammate Ron Capps and 13-time NHRA world champion John Force. Although he's struggled through the first half of his defending year, the driver of the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger starts the famed Western Swing with a little momentum.

Scelzi will try to make headlines of his own when the elite drivers of the NHRA POWERade Series come to Denver for the 27th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, July 14-16 at Bandimere Speedway -- one of only three tracks Scelzi has not visited the winner's circle in Top Fuel or Funny Car. The others are in Gainesville, Fla. and Englishtown, N.J.

So far this season Scelzi has yet to earn his 43rd career No. 1 qualifier. He advanced to the semifinal round in Bristol, Tenn. -- a season high until another semifinal appearance in Chicago and a runner-up finish to teammate Ron Capps in Englishtown. Making it into the semifinal and final rounds in the last three events built up crucial momentum for the defending champion before the mid-season break and Western Swing.

"Denver has always been important to me because it's a race track I've never won at," Scelzi said. "Now that it's my sponsor's race, it's even more important. After the last three races, we know we have a car that can win. We feel we're definitely hitting our stride right now. It may be too late to win the championship, but you never know.

"The car has been a lot better since Bristol (in April) ... We haven't had as much tire smoke in the last few races. I guess the key is knowing your limitations, but also knowing you have a car that can run low E.T. at any time. Our qualifying hasn't really shown how well we can run, but I think that's going to change too."

As for the other headlines brewing in the 12-entry Schumacher Racing camp? Scelzi has one focus, and that's the Mopar/Oakley Dodge.

"There's so much stuff going on (at Schumacher Racing) all the time," Scelzi said. "I try to worry about myself and my team, rather than what's going on around the team and the shop -- who's dong what, who's doing this and who's getting that. Because at the end of the day all I have to answer to is Don Schumacher and Mopar and Oakley. We share information, but we try to worry about our own team ... In Denver, all the things we learned in the wind tunnel with the new Dodge Charger should come into play. We have a car that we've been running brand new after Houston, and we have a brand new car ready to roll. We're in really good shape."

While Scelzi continues his battle to move up the POWERade point standings from No. 7, Capps fights to keep his top spot from Force, who is only 44 points behind him. In Top Fuel, Troxel, driver of the Skull Shine/Torco Race Fuels dragster, is a mere 24 points ahead of Doug Kalitta.

In Pro Stock, Ken Black Racing teammates Greg Anderson, the defending POWERade world champion, and Jason Line, are No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, with two points between them. And while Anderson is ahead in his defending year, Pro Stock Motorcycle reigning champion Andrew Hines is currently in second place, 28 points behind Angelle Sampey and her U.S. Army Suzuki.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. on July 14, and 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on July 15. Eliminations start at noon on July 16.

TICKETS: For tickets, call NHRA, at (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available at Ticketmaster, ticketmaster.com or nhra.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 10 p.m. (ET) on July 15. ESPN2 will telecast NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute weekly news magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 9 p.m. (ET) on July 16.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Melanie Troxel , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Don Schumacher , Angelle Sampey , Ken Black