Memphis: GM Racing final report

MEMPHIS, September 16, 2007 - Apparently Dave Connolly wasn't content with his first U.S. Nationals title won two weeks ago at Indy, so the driver of the Torco Racing Fuels/Seelye Wright Chevy Cobalt backed it up with a Pro Stock win at today's...

MEMPHIS, September 16, 2007 - Apparently Dave Connolly wasn't content with his first U.S. Nationals title won two weeks ago at Indy, so the driver of the Torco Racing Fuels/Seelye Wright Chevy Cobalt backed it up with a Pro Stock win at today's 20th annual O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park. In a repeat of their final round at Indy, Connolly defeated Greg Anderson in the Summit Racing Pontiac GTO in another all-GM final round. The current Pro Stock points leader drove his Chevy to a winning elapsed time of 6.648 seconds at 207.59 mph to edge Anderson's 6.658 e.t. at 20208.65 mph for his third consecutive win and sixth of the season.

"You couldn't ask for a better time to get hot," Connolly said. "Right before the first cut we win Reading (Pa.), and to continue with the roll at Indy and then here, that's just remarkable. And I'm thankful I get to do it with the people I have on my team. Those guys are like family to me so to get to share the good times with them is just awesome. Like I said before and I'll say it again, I'm just a small part of this whole process.

"I look back three or four years ago when I started my career, and every time I got to the final round, Greg Anderson beat us. Now here we are a few years later, and we've gotten our last two wins against him. He's been the thorn in our side for so many years, so to come out here and be able to give him a little taste of what we've been working on all season definitely puts a grin on your face. It's remarkable. It's all due to everything Victor Cagnazzi's put together, his whole program, and Evan Knoll picking up our sponsorship. I guess I've just been lucky enough to be the guy at the right place at the right time. We're on a roll and everything's clicking right now, and I just hope we don't use up too much of our luck before the last two races. It's just incredible to think that we have a shot at the championship this year."

Connolly started his streak at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., last month, and then followed up with a win in NHRA's biggest race of the year, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, and now has six wins on the season in seven final-round appearances.

"This Chevy Cobalt is just running on mean right now," Connolly said. "The only thing we might need is a sunroof or A.C. unit in it for the next few races, but we just keep tinkering with it. Even after Indy we didn't give up and say, 'Yea, we won the U.S. Nationals.' The team got out there and we tested at Farmington (N.C.) the very next week right before we came here. These Pro Stock cars are really finicky cars and (crew chief) Tommy Utt is just doing a great job with this Cobalt. We've grown stronger as a team and our on-track performance has shown it. We just need to keep plugging away."

Anderson saw Connolly end an amazing four-year winning streak (19 consecutive round wins) at the U.S. Nationals, and his loss today leaves the three-time NHRA POWERade champ 33 points in arrears of Connolly heading into next weekend's race at Dallas.

"(Connolly's) a tough character and he's obviously on a roll," Anderson said before his 10th final-round appearance of the season. "He's doing a heck of a job and actually that whole team does a heck of a job. But I'm pretty proud of my guys too. I need a win - I need to put this Summit Racing Pontiac in the winner's circle. It seems like it's been a while. He's smokin' hot and I need to stop him."

Chevy driver Jeg Coughlin and Pontiac driver Jim Yates joined Connolly and Anderson in the semifinals to make it an all-GM quartet to decide today's winner. Connolly defeated Yates with a 6.632 e.t. at 207.69 mph to Yates' 6.683 e.t. at 206.64 mph, and Anderson got the better of Connolly's teammate Coughlin with a 6.636 e.t. at 208.42 mph to Coughlin's 6.697 e.t. at 206.39 mph.

"I'm excited about the weekend," Yates said. "In qualifying we had a couple of issues going on but still were only a thousandth from the top half. That gave us a tough draw - Kurt Johnson in the first round. I know he's in the Countdown so I was a little anxious about that, but I don't think we give up anything to any of these cars out here. I think if we go out here on Sunday we can beat any of them. Lane choice was pretty critical here, but we got the car down the right lane and got two good round wins out of it. We didn't lose until we ended up in the "good" lane. But I'm excited for WileyX and for Pontiac. We've worked so hard all year. We didn't make the Countdown, but I think we have a car that's capable of racing with those guys. To come out here and beat some of them and make it to the final four cars, which tells me where our program is and I'm really proud. Bill Jenkins (engine builder) and the guys a t Jenkins Competition have been working really hard on the engine, and we've got a really strong engine in the car right now. When we get these really good conditions, we've struggled over the past year getting the most out of the car, but we made some strides at Reading adapting to good conditions, and then we came here and I think we shined."

In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. advanced to the semifinals after qualifying his Skoal Racing Chevy Impala SS third for today's eliminations. Johnson defeated Kenny Bernstein in Round 1 and Ron Capps in Round 2 to advance to his semifinal match-up with eventual event-winner Gary Scelzi. Scelzi drove his Dodge to an elapsed time of 4.908 seconds at 312.13 mph to get the better of Johnson's 6.064 e.t. at 176.26 mph, and then defeated his teammate Jack Beckman in the finals.

"We're not in the Countdown for the Championship so we decided to try some stuff and do a little testing," Johnson said. "It looks like it's paying off. The performance has picked back up, and today it almost picked up too much. We had trouble getting it down the track, but I like what I see. There's a lot of potential there, and when the conditions are really good we can run the big number. Now we just need a little more time with it to learn how to make the adjustments to the racetrack. But it's definitely better and we're heading in the right direction now."

All wasn't lost for the Avon, Ind., native as his wife, Top Fuel driver Melanie Troxel, defeated Doug Herbert to take home today's Top Fuel title.

"I watched her win the semis right in front of me before we ran," Johnson said, "so I was hoping I could get there and both of us be in the final round. But it was great to see her win and we had a good day, so we can celebrate now. It's bad when one of us goes out in the first round and the other one wins, so it's nice to go to the semis and her get a win."

In the Sportsman ranks, Jimmy Hidalgo Jr. from Donaldsville, La., drove his '97 Camaro to the Stock Eliminator crown by defeating Edmond Richardson from Greenbrier, Tenn., in his '02 Camaro.

-credit: gm racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Ron Capps , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Jack Beckman , Melanie Troxel , Dave Connolly , Tommy Johnson Jr.