Englishtown: Points chase to intensify at Matco Tools Supernationals

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. - After seven races in 2001, it's looking pretty certain that uncertainty will frame the championship picture in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. The battle for NHRA Winston titles is becoming an intense,...

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. - After seven races in 2001, it's looking pretty certain that uncertainty will frame the championship picture in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

The battle for NHRA Winston titles is becoming an intense, fascinating toss-up entering the 32nd annual Matco Tools SuperNationals presented by Racing Champions, May 17-20 at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

In this the NHRA's 50th Anniversary season, a unique trend is developing. Unlike past seasons, patterns of dominance in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock are scarce.

As many as six drivers are within close striking distance of points leader Mike Dunn in Top Fuel, as five drivers have claimed victories. It's a close heat in Funny Car too, as several new faces have emerged in the Winner's Circle to challenge longtime category dominator John Force. Few points separate the top seven challengers in the close quarters racing offered in Pro Stock.

It's quite a contrast from 2000, when Winston champions in two categories were pulling away from the competition in grand fashion.

John Force, powered by a trio of early victories, marched to his 10th title in Funny Car. Jeg Coughlin won six of the first seven events to leave the Pro Stock contingent sitting in his dust.

Doug Kalitta, Cruz Pedregon, Coughlin and Angelle Savoie are the defending pro category winners of the $2 million race, the eighth of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series for 2001.

Kalitta used low elapsed time of the event to edge Gary Scelzi for the Top Fuel win in one of the closest side-by-side finals of the season. Kalitta and Scelzi will lead the charge again in the 6,000 horsepower category, and will be challenged by a talented group. Recent Las Vegas victor Kenny Bernstein, a five-time winner at Englishtown, hopes to continue working his magic in the Tim Richards-tuned Budweiser King dragster. Winston Rookie of the Year candidate Darrell Russell hopes to give team owner Joe Amato a reason to smile at the New Jersey quarter-mile. Dunn, driver of the 331-mph Yankees dragster, is also among the top contenders.

Pedregon defeated Force in a wild pedaling match for the Funny Car title. Pedregon is now a color analyst for ESPN's NHRA telecasts, while Force is working on claiming his 11th NHRA Winston Funny Car championship. A crop of newcomers are giving Force a great challenge this season, including Bruce Sarver, Las Vegas winner Tommy Johnson Jr., Houston winner Del Worsham and Whit Bazemore, driver of the Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird.

Coughlin had the horsepower advantage to take the Pro Stock win over upstart Greg Anderson. Coughlin, fresh off a much-needed Vegas victory, enters the race as the favorite in his new-look Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier.

Several drivers will be working to end the reign of the defending Winston champion, including Warren Johnson, who has been impressive this season with two victories in his GM Performance Pontiac Grand Am. Johnson's son Kurt is also a top contender in his AC Delco Cavalier. Other top Pro Stock threats include points leader Jim Yates, Mark Pawuk and Bruce Allen.

Coughlin also will try to win his third straight Holley Pro Stock Dominator Duel, a special bonus event conducted during the Matco Tools SuperNationals for qualified Pro Stock entries. Coughlin claimed the $50,000 winner's share of the lucrative payout last year by defeating brother Troy in the final. Ron Krisher, driver of the Eagle One Cavalier, leads the field of eight in 2001.

Savoie overpowered Geno Scali in a battle of Suzukis for the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory. Antron Brown, points leader Matt Hines and Steve Johnson will join Scali in pursuit of Savoie, who has won the last three years at Englishtown on her Team Winston Suzuki.

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Bruce Sarver , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Mike Dunn , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Cruz Pedregon , Bruce Allen , Geno Scali , Tim Richards , Tommy Johnson Jr.