Phoenix: Darrell Russell preview

Phoenix return has Russell revved up PHOENIX (Feb. 18) -- Nothing puts a smile on a professional drag racer's face quicker than a return trip to the place where he registered the best quarter-mile passes of his life. That's precisely why...

Phoenix return has Russell revved up

PHOENIX (Feb. 18) -- Nothing puts a smile on a professional drag racer's face quicker than a return trip to the place where he registered the best quarter-mile passes of his life. That's precisely why reigning Rookie of the Year Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell has an inerasable grin on his mug as the 23-event POWERade Drag Racing Series returns to Firebird International Raceway for this weekend's 18th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals.

It was nearly a month ago at the conclusion of the National Time Trails preseason testing event in Phoenix when Russell and his Bilstein Engine Flush Systems teammates posted stunning back-to-back passes that registered career-best numbers of 4.541 seconds at 323.89 mph on the scoreboard. These heroic laps came after Russell had carded a 60-foot incremental time of .812 seconds -- the quickest of all-time--earlier in the weekend. Certainly, it was a moment the team won't soon forget, hence the elation about their return.

"There's no question we're excited about getting back to Firebird," said Russell, who recorded a runner-up finish at this event last season. "You have a lot of confidence knowing you can get down the track and post the kind of numbers that can win the race. I've checked the forecast and it looks like we'll see nearly the exact same conditions we had in January. There's no reason to think the track won't be every bit as quick as it was back then."

Russell, 33, and the rest of the Joe Amato Racing crew know they need a strong showing in the Arizona desert. A first-round exit at the season opener in Pomona, Calif., has them sitting a distant 15th in the POWERade Championship Points Standings, the lowest point in Russell's young professional career. This time a year ago the group was fresh off a win and sitting in first place in the points standings.

"You can't really let yourself get too excited or too down this early in the season," Russell said. "We still have 22 races to go and there's so much that can happen. At the same time we simply can't put ourselves in too big a hole early on because the top teams out here can run away from you in a hurry. We need to qualify well and go some rounds on Sunday. Jimmy [Walsh, crew chief] and I have talked and he's confident he knows how to get down this race track. After the test session we had here it's hard to argue with him. We all know what we need to do; now it's time to get out there and execute. We'll be ready to race, count on that."

The ESPN2 television network will provide five hours of primetime coverage of the 18th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals. Qualifying highlights will be broadcast from 9-11 p.m. (ET), Saturday, with elimination rounds airing from 7-10 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. A repeat showing is scheduled for 3-6 a.m. (ET) on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

-jar-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Joe Amato