Dave Connolly: Winning Auto Club Finals Perfect Way to End Season Dave Connolly is on a mission. It has nothing to do with improving his No. 3 NHRA POWERade Series Pro Stock position because that's already locked in. This is about pride and ...
Dave Connolly: Winning Auto Club Finals Perfect Way to End Season
Dave Connolly is on a mission. It has nothing to do with improving his No. 3 NHRA POWERade Series Pro Stock position because that's already locked in. This is about pride and punctuation.
Connolly is focused on winning the Auto Club of Southern California Finals at Pomona Raceway, Nov. 9-12. So what's so unusual about that? He does that at every race, but the specter of a red bulb burning brightly on the starting line in the semifinals at Las Vegas (Oct. 29) hangs over him.
"I honestly was bummed about that race because I had a car good enough to win and I screwed up and turned the red bulb on," said the talented driver of the SKULL Gear Chevrolet Cobalt. "That makes me want to redeem myself going into the last race of the season. That was a missed opportunity we should've picked on a little more but we didn't. It's going to make us work that much harder to pick up the win at Pomona.
"Our team would be pumped up more if we can go into the off-season with a win. The Pomona races are always big ones because they come at the start of the season (Winternationals) and the end of the season. You want to go into (the season) and come out (of the season) on a high note. It is certainly worth it anytime you pick up a win at Pomona."
Connolly won the Winternationals last year but failed to get out of the first round at the Finals and 2006 series opener.
This time, however, he's demonstrated his driving ability and the potency of the Cobalt that is powered by engines from Victor Cagnazzi's Mooresville, N.C.-based shop. Connolly has four wins (Atlanta, Topeka, Kan., Brainerd, Minn., and Reading, Pa.) in seven final rounds, statistics that were in the fantasy range in February, and stayed that way until a crew chief shake-up ignited a dramatic turnaround.
Connolly won two of the next three races, including new crew chief Tommy Utt's debut in Atlanta, an event the fourth-year pro cited as the season's defining moment.
2-2-2 Connolly at Auto Club Finals
"Getting that first win of the season at Atlanta was a pretty big boost for the whole team because we stumbled so much at the beginning of the year," Connolly said. "And to change crew chiefs and go out and put things together and get the win was our big turnaround of the whole season," Connolly pointed out. "It had been over a year since we'd won a race and that got the ball rolling for us. We started gathering up points so we could finish in the top three like we have.
"We never thought it would be possible to finish like that at the beginning of the year, but we were able to put together the resources of Victor and (team owner) Evan Knoll and it turned into my best year, by far. We picked up more wins than I've had in any other season and I think I learned a lot more this year."
Connolly sees many positives from his 2006 experiences. "We feel we accomplished a lot this year," he said. "Any time you feel you have a championship-contending team it makes you feel good. Even though we didn't win this year we were, basically, second to the KB (Keith Black-owned tandem of champion Jason Line and runner-up Greg Anderson) team, and that's a big accomplishment.
"I think we have the guys who are willing to work hard so we can put it together next year. The season isn't even over yet and Tommy has our testing schedule typed out for November, December and January. He's really looking forward to getting after the 2007 championship."
Meanwhile, an Auto Club Finals victory would put an exclamation point on this campaign.
Connolly will be making qualifying runs at 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. Finals eliminations commence at 11 a.m.