Richmond: Round 21 preview

MIDNIGHT IS ABOUT TO STRIKE FOR SEVERAL DRIVERS ON THE COUNTDOWN TO 1 BUBBLE FIELDS FOR THE TWO-RACE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND WILL BE SET IN RICHMOND GLENDORA, Calif. (Oct. 1, 2007) -- The inaugural season of the Countdown to the Championship has ...

MIDNIGHT IS ABOUT TO STRIKE FOR SEVERAL DRIVERS ON THE COUNTDOWN TO 1 BUBBLE

FIELDS FOR THE TWO-RACE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND WILL BE SET IN RICHMOND

GLENDORA, Calif. (Oct. 1, 2007) -- The inaugural season of the Countdown to the Championship has already had its share of "thrill-of-victory, agony-of-defeat" moments and there are sure to be at least a couple more this weekend in Richmond, site of the fourth and final leg of the first round of the NHRA Playoffs, the Countdown to Four.

Fans will remember the last race of the regular season, the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa., for the amazing Cinderella run turned in by Top Fueler Doug Herbert, who leapfrogged three drivers -- Cory McClenathan, Melanie Troxel and Dave Grubnic -- with his first win in more than two years to clinch the eighth and final Top Fuel playoff berth.

Also at that last regular season race, Craig Treble survived as the last man in the Pro Stock Motorcycle field when Matt Guidera and the Mohegan Sun team ended the playoff bid of Chris Rivas -- who had left the Mohegan Sun team midway through the season -- one round short of bumping Treble. But Treble didn't survive a second bout with fate when his playoff life was again out of his hands at the final Countdown to 4 race for the bikes (Dallas). There, he could only watch helplessly as upstart Peggy Llewellyn beat the No. 1 qualifier (Chip Ellis in the semis) and three-time defending champ (Andrew Hines in the finals) en route to her first career win to earn the fourth and final Countdown to 1 berth that Treble had been precariously holding on to.

Del Worsham, Richie Stevens and Melanie Troxel, each of whom was in a win-and-in situation at the last regular season race in Reading, can attest to the consequence of what's at stake for the drivers on the Countdown to 1 bubble this weekend.

"I'm becoming more and more disappointed about not making the Countdown every week. Our destiny was in our hands," said Troxel, who was eliminated from contention with her first-round loss to Morgan Lucas at the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals, the last regular season race. Had she won that race, it would have set up a do-or-die matchup with Dave Grubnic for the last playoff berth in Top Fuel, but her loss opened the door for Herbert and he pulled off the miracle run.

All of which sets the table for the second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals, Oct. 5-7 at Virginia Motorsports Park. It is the 21st race in the 23-race NHRA POWERade Series season and the fourth and final race in the Countdown to Four, the first round of the NHRA Playoffs.

The championship field was set in dramatic fashion in Pro Stock Motorcycle -- the bikes do not compete in Richmond -- and finalizing the four-driver fields for the Countdown to One in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock figures to provide much of the same edge-of-your-seat theatrics this weekend.

Here is a list of the top contenders for the Countdown to 1 in each of the three categories competing at Richmond. Remember, the top four drivers in each category after the race in Richmond will qualify for the Countdown to One, the two-race championship at Las Vegas (26-28) and Pomona (Nov. 1-4).

[NOTE: Drivers earn 10 points for attempting to qualify, 1-8 points based on qualifying position and each round achieved in Sunday final eliminations is worth 20 points with a minimum of 20 going to first-round losers and a maximum of 100 going to the winner.]

The biggest move at Dallas was made in Top Fuel by the UPS team as driver Bob Vandergriff Jr. corralled his 11th career runner-up to pull within striking range of the Budweiser (Brandon Bernstein), U.S. Army (Tony Schumacher) and Caterpillar (Rod Fuller) teams.

In Funny Car, it's anybody's guess what'll happen as some of the biggest names in the sport knock heads in a high-stakes game of musical chairs. After his crash in Dallas, John Force will not compete so that opens up a spot, but there's still going to be two top-notch drivers who are going to leave Richmond with their 2007 championship hopes having been doused.

Tony Pedregon's the only driver that looks safely in. As for the others, Robert Hight's in pretty good shape, he may have to win a round to be safe, but as for Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi and Mike Ashley, they are all within two rounds of one another for the last two spots.

"This is exactly what NHRA wanted and it's pretty damn exciting," Scelzi said.

In Pro Stock, Dave Connolly and Greg Anderson have clinched their Countdown to 1 berths and the final two challengers to the category's dominant twosome will come from among the five drivers between third and seventh place.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5. Qualifying continues at noon and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6 and final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 7.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals. Call Virginia Motorsports Park at (804) 862-3174 for ticket information, or check online at ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise one hour of qualifying of the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at 6 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Oct. 6. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Raceday, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 7. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of final eliminations beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 7

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Peggy Llewellyn , Craig Treble , Jack Beckman , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Chris Rivas , Mike Ashley , Andrew Hines , Bob Vandergriff , Chip Ellis , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Matt Guidera , Dave Connolly