Gainsville: Darrell Russell Gatornationals preview

Russell's fast car should shimmer in Sunshine State GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 8) -- Car's that routinely produce over 6,000 horsepower and reach speeds of 325 mph during 4.5-second, quarter-mile passes, perform at their best when conditions are...

Russell's fast car should shimmer in Sunshine State

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 8) -- Car's that routinely produce over 6,000 horsepower and reach speeds of 325 mph during 4.5-second, quarter-mile passes, perform at their best when conditions are optimal. That's why the fastest and quickest drivers in all of motorsports love the annual trek to the performance-enhancing confines of near-sea-level Gainesville Raceway for the annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, which run this year from March 14-17.

Reigning Rookie of the Year Top Fuel pilot Darrell Russell of Joe Amato's racing stable is no exception. With multiple wins on his resume at both the professional and Sportsman levels, Russell knows fast tracks favor fast cars, and he's convinced his Bilstein Engine Flush System Dragster is due for a break-out race in the swamps of Central Florida.

"We have a serious job to do in Florida," said Russell, who is 0-2 in elimination-round races through the first two events of the season. "We're not in the top 10, we've used up all but one of our freebie oil-down violations, and we still don't have a real handle on the car. The guys are anxious, sure, but we all know one race can turn this thing around in a hurry."

With 63 championship points, Russell is a distant 14th in the POWERade standings. But his 152-point deficit to early leader Larry Dixon can be reduced substantially with a strong showing at one of the circuit's quickest facilities. If they manage to set a national record, a feat that's occurred numerous times at Gainesville Raceway, teams can accumulate 138 points at one event. A big day in Florida could move Russell all the way up to second place.

"We're not really thinking that big at the moment," Russell said. "I'm not saying it couldn't happen because I have so much confidence in this crew and this car. But we're just trying to make one pass at a time until we figure out the new Goodyear tires the NHRA has mandated this year. As you can see by the erratic results across the board, not many teams have determined what these tires can handle yet. We certainly haven't figured them out.

"I spoke with crew chief Jimmy Walsh and he said the plan for now is to completely build our tune-up around these tires. Once we figure out what they'll do then we can pour on the horsepower and we'll be running with the top teams again. We have the power; we just need to get it onto the racetrack. Everyone knows Gainesville can handle all the power you can throw at it so we're hoping to have a very fast weekend and take a big step foward."

Several hours of the 33rd annual Mac Tools Gatornationals will air in primetime on ESPN2. A recap of all the qualifying action will air from 8-10 p.m. (ET), Saturday, with a repeat showing from 4:30-6 a.m. (ET), Sunday morning. The elimination rounds will be broadcast from 5-7 p.m. (ET), Sunday evening with an encore performance 2:30-4:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 19.

-jar-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon