Las Vegas II: Darrell Russell preview

Defending champ intent on keeping his title. LAS VEGAS (Oct. 22) -- Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell returns to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a special designation -- Defending Race Champion. Now, as the POWERade Drag Racing Series...

Defending champ intent on keeping his title.

LAS VEGAS (Oct. 22) -- Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell returns to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a special designation -- Defending Race Champion. Now, as the POWERade Drag Racing Series closes out its 2002 campaign with its final two events, Russell has one more wish -- successfully defend his Las Vegas title.

"We've gotten more done in our first two years then I would've ever imagined," said Russell, the tour's reigning Rookie of the Year. "But we haven't defended a race title. I'd like to get that done this weekend. It would be a real boost to our team owner Joe Amato, our sponsor Marty Yacoobian, and every member of this Bilstein Engine Flush race team."

Russell has made a habit out of surpassing his stated goals. He started his professional driving career by becoming just the third driver in history to win his first race with a victory at the 2001 season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. He raced to six more finals last season, claiming his second career victory right here in Las Vegas.

The 2002 version of Russell's odyssey has been even more spectacular with three victories in five final rounds, including a runner-up finish just two races back in Chicago.

"That's what has us excited," Russell said. "It's one thing to say you want to defend the title of a race you won, but it's another thing entirely to know in your heart you have the team and the racecar to get the job done. I sincerely feel that way right now, and I believe every member of this race team feels the exact same way.

"We weren't pleased with our quarterfinal showing at the last race in Dallas so we stayed over to test some things with the fuel management system. Our crew chief Wayne Dupuy was real happy with how things went there and when we were closing up the trailer to head out here he told me we had our hot rod back. That's all I needed to hear."

Defending their Las Vegas title will also give the team a boost in the points, where sixth-place Russell is locked in a fierce battle with four other drivers for positions 3-7. "We want to finish the year with as much momentum as possible," Russell said. "It's pretty obvious that the best way to gain momentum is by going rounds and winning races."

This race will be shown in primetime from 5-7 p.m. (ET), Sunday, on ESPN, the network's primary station. Prior to that, ESPN2 will carry highlights of the qualifying action with an early show running from 5:30-6:30 p.m. (ET), Saturday, and a later show from Midnight-2 a.m. (ET) Sunday morning. Repeat broadcasts will air from 2-4 p.m. (ET), Monday, and 1-3 a.m. (ET), Friday, Nov. 1, both on ESPN2.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Joe Amato