Las Vegas II: Penultimate round preview

ANDERSON PUSHED BY PRESSURE AS TIME RUNS OUT FOR 2008 CHAMPIONSHIP HOPES LAS VEGAS -- Greg Anderson is the odd man out. Of all of the regular season champions, Anderson's the only one not in the points lead. He's not in second or third, ...

ANDERSON PUSHED BY PRESSURE AS TIME RUNS OUT FOR 2008 CHAMPIONSHIP HOPES

LAS VEGAS -- Greg Anderson is the odd man out.

Of all of the regular season champions, Anderson's the only one not in the points lead. He's not in second or third, either. Anderson's in fourth place, 82 points behind leader and reigning NHRA POWERade Series world champion Jeg Coughlin, the man who denied Anderson's bid to reclaim his title last year.

A few seasons ago, when Anderson was all but literally putting tire tracks on the backs of his competitors for three straight dominating seasons, this kind of disadvantage was unthinkable. For others, a top-five finish in the season standings would be welcomed; the best of their careers. But Anderson? Not him. He was winning half the events on the schedule, which makes it particularly absurd to see him lagging behind like a kid who missed the bus.

And yet he is, with two events left to make up ground. The NHRA POWERade Series comes to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Oct. 30-Nov. 2 for the eighth-annual ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals. It's the last race before the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., where this year's champions will be crowned.

Historically, wins in Las Vegas for Anderson have come in two's -- three times he's won both the spring and fall events in the same year there. But he's never won one without the other.

In April, Anderson qualified ninth but was booted in the first round by Greg Stanfield. Stanfield almost went the distance that day. He advanced to the final round but lost to Anderson's teammate Jason Line.

So he's in fourth. The comfort of history won't be on his side.

What's a guy to do?

Call what he needs whatever you want -- a reverse of fortune; luck; heavenly intervention. Anderson's not a guy who waits for those. He's not a mad scientist and he's not complacent either. He's somewhere in the middle, where hypothesis and hours of work meet.

Let's take the last two weeks, for instance. Anderson's made at least 30 runs in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP since the close of Richmond, part by design and part by sheer convenience of a track -- it's one block from his shop. Anderson and Line never really have to stop tweaking and testing and tweaking again.

Losing makes him hungry, and hunger makes him drive.

"I absolutely can't (remember feeling like this)," Anderson said. "This is the most dire straights we've been in since we've had this Ken Black (owned) team. It's never been this tough of a battle. We'll see what kind of performers we are, I guess. We need not only help from the other cars -- we have to perform the best we ever have."

In Anderson's world, there's no point looking in the rearview mirror. Instead he'll look at the drivers ahead of him -- and when he does, he'll see a brick-wall threesome of Coughlin, Kurt Johnson and Coughlin's teammate, the young Dave Connolly. They all have their own motivation for winning the 2008 season title.

Johnson is the winningest driver in the NHRA POWERade Series never to have won a title. Connolly is making a remarkable run for his first title after sitting out the first five events without a sponsor.

It's easy to see why there's no rest for Anderson and Line. Why there never seems to be enough time in the day or year.

"Finally it just comes down to when the pressure gets the highest, that seems to be when we work the best," Anderson said. "I can't remember when we've gone in to the last few races of the year with no chance to win the championship. We've proved before we perform the best when our back's against the wall."

In all but Top Fuel, where only Hillary Will still has the chance to stop the freight train of Tony Schumacher, multiple drivers still have a shot at winning the world championship title. In Funny Car, Tim Wilkerson, who before this season was known more for his personality than his performance, has continued a stunning year. He holds a tenuous lead on the ravenous top five of Jack Beckman, brothers and team owners Cruz and Tony Pedregon, and Robert Hight; but No.'s 6-8, Ashley Force, Ron Capps and John Force, still have a mathematical shot.

Pro Stock Motorcycle is the only category where all 10 drivers who made the Countdown to the Championship playoffs remain in play for the title. Matt Smith, the reigning NHRA POWERade Series world champion, leads the pack, with Eddie Krawiec, Chris Rivas, Angelle Sampey and Steve Johnson still in contention.

It is next to impossible for drivers near the bottom of the rankings to win, but as we saw in Richmond when both Cruz Pedregon and Dave Connolly resurrected their title hopes, it's not unheard of. Halloween just may be the perfect backdrop for the unlikely to occur.

* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 12:30 and 3 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31. Qualifying continues at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 1 and final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 2.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals. Call Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (800) 644-4444, or visit LVMS.com.

* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Nov. 1. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 2. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise the race beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 2.

* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in four categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA POWERade Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on Oct. 30. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on Oct. 31.

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Greg Stanfield , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Chris Rivas , Jason Line , Steve Johnson , Robert Hight , Hillary Will , Angelle Sampey , Dave Connolly , Matt Smith , Eddie Krawiec , Ken Black