PHOENIX (Feb. 23) -- Rookie of the Year Darrell Russell continues his early season struggles here at the 18th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals. Still, the 33-year-old pro from Houston did well enough today to earn the No. 12 spot in the ...
PHOENIX (Feb. 23) -- Rookie of the Year Darrell Russell continues his early season struggles here at the 18th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals. Still, the 33-year-old pro from Houston did well enough today to earn the No. 12 spot in the field with a laboring 4.735-second, 302.08-mph quarter-mile pass down Firebird International Raceway.
Russell's Bilstein Engine Flush Top Fuel dragster, which is owned by drag racing legend Joe Amato, continues to overpower the race track early and often, leaving Russell and the rest of the Bilstein crew lost in clouds of tire smoke. Their pass of record was the exception but the would-be strong run ended before the scoreboards when the engine expired in a ball of fire, adding precious fractions of a second to their final elapsed time.
"The car actually put a hole [cylinder] out early, at 1.2 seconds into the run, and then basically just started eating itself up until it finally kicked a rod at the other end," Russell said. "The good news is we got in and we're racing on Sunday but we ate up a lot of parts to do it. The whole thing blew up at the other end and we oiled the track down. It's hard to explain but I do know the guys are working overtime to fix our problems."
Sunday's elimination-round action will open with Russell lining up against Doug Kalitta, who nailed down the No. 5 qualifying position with a 4.605 at 324.44 mph. In five career match-ups with Kalitta, Russell owns a slight 3-2 head-to-head advantage. This time Kalitta has the advantage of lane choice due to his superior elapsed time in qualifying.
"We've got to fight through this time until we start running the way we know we're capable of running," Russell said. "Between Joe Amato, Jimmy Walsh, Bob Bauer, and every other person on this Bilstein Engine Flush team, there is just too much drag racing knowledge here for us not to figure out what it will take to get a handle on this monster.
"Every team goes through periods like this and we can't let ourselves get down. We'll just keep clawing away until we're back at the front of the pack where I think we proved several times in the past that we belong. We just have to be careful to not let the POWERade points race get away from us too soon or we'll be playing catch-up all year."
Television coverage of the Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals will be presented on ESPN2. Today's two-hour qualifying show will air beginning at 9 p.m. followed by Sunday's final-round coverage, a three-hour primetime show that starts at 7 p.m. The entire program will be repeated at 3 a.m. Tuesday. All times are Eastern.