Richmond: Round 22 preview

EVEN THE IMPOSSIBLE HAS SHOT IN SEASON OF UPSETS AS POWERade SERIES HITS BACKSTRETCH OF COUNTDOWN PLAYOFFS PETERSBURG, Va. -- It's the season for the impossible. Let's take the NFL, for instance. Nobody guessed the Miami Dolphins -- then ...

EVEN THE IMPOSSIBLE HAS SHOT IN SEASON OF UPSETS AS POWERade SERIES HITS BACKSTRETCH OF COUNTDOWN PLAYOFFS

PETERSBURG, Va. -- It's the season for the impossible.

Let's take the NFL, for instance.

Nobody guessed the Miami Dolphins -- then dubbed the worst team in pro football for good reason -- would roll all over a humbled New England Patriots in a 38-13 decision in Week 3.

Over on the college football front, it's been the same. Three of the five teams featured on Sports Illustrated's preview covers (hello, jinx) have already experienced embarrassing defeats that left devoted fans in Ohio, Florida, Georgia and Southern California deflated and confused.

The most obvious example? No one but the most gristled Oregon State season ticket holder (should one exist) would've picked the Beavers to beat USC, the sure-footed golden boys from Southern California who were practically crowned the 2008 BCS champions before the year's first kickoff. But they did, just like both the Northsiders and Southsiders from Chicago made Major League Baseball's post-season, and a man named J.R. Todd beat Tony Schumacher in Dallas on a day when, for the first time in NHRA history, all four reigning POWERade Series world champions lost in the final round at the same event.

Todd, who hadn't seen a final round in more than a year, seemed the least likely candidate to cool Schumacher's run of dominance. But he did, at least for one race. And even though Todd may not be in the hunt for the 2008 NHRA POWERade Series world championship title, nine other drivers besides Schumacher still are -- just as all 10 drivers in all four pro categories are still mathematically eligible to be crowned champions this year. It's the perfect playoff scenario: where fans can still have faith in a season that's yielded more than one upset.

"The FRAM guys are great and they're a championship-caliber race team," said Cory McClenathan, who at 166 points out has the best shot mathematically at overtaking Schumacher. "We're not out of this thing. We go to Richmond in a couple of weeks and I've had a lot of good luck at that track so we can't wait to get there."

The day of Todd's win was historic, indeed. The champs, Schumacher, Tony Pedregon, Jeg Coughlin and Matt Smith all seemed to have a solid chance to win -- yet not one came away with a Wally. Instead, Greg Stanfield, Chris Rivas and Tim Wilkerson walked away heroes.

Granted, the Top Fuel field is probably wishing on a whole lot of stars these days. They'll need almost total self-destruction from Alan Johnson and his U.S. Army crew to unseat the five-time and defending world champion. But is it impossible? No.

No one will be mathematically eliminated from the hunt until after this race, the third annual Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park. After this event, only two remain in the 2008 Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Of the four categories, Funny Car and Pro Stock have seen the most movement.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson, a three-time world champion who's been crowned bridesmaid the last two seasons, is hungry for his fourth title -- but he dropped from first in the points to fourth after handing a stunning first-round win to Steve Spiess in Memphis. Anderson was bounced on a holeshot, meaning he actually had the faster car and would've won if he'd beaten Spiess at the starting line.

In Funny Car, independent team owner/driver Tim Wilkerson's Cinderella story continued with his second consecutive playoff win. Wilkerson defeated three John Force Racing drivers, starting with John Force himself, to do it. He handed Force himself a loss in the second round after beating Melanie Troxel first, then downed Robert Hight and Ashley Force for his second Wally in as many events. Wilkerson's opponents were actually happy when the body-shop owner from Springfield, Ill. started winning in the early season, but they may have a few voodoo dolls in his likeness now.

"I heard I was down and out after getting whupped first round in Charlotte, and that motivates me," said Wilkerson, who held the points lead through the majority of the regular season. "When I was a kid, I wrestled in high school. I wasn't very big or very good, and I sparred with this kid who was a state champion. My coach would say, 'When you wrestle with him, you don't even look like the same wrestler. Why don't you treat everyone else that way?' I've been thinking about that. When I race these champions, I don't go out there thinking we're going to get beat by them. All year, we've been racing everybody like it's the last race of our life."

The standings in Pro Stock Motorcycle are no less dramatic. Defending world champion Matt Smith sits atop the points but his hold is a tenuous one. Eddie Krawiec and Chris Rivas are both within 100 points of him. They won't race in Richmond, and you can be sure that week off won't bring a lot of rest for them.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:30 and 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 10. Qualifying continues at noon and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11 and final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 12.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Virginia NHRA Nationals. Call (804) 862-3174 or check ticketmaster.com.

* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 12. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise the race beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 12.

* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Virginia NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in four categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA POWERade Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying and eliminations begin at 8:15 a.m. on Oct. 10.

ON THE WEB: Get live timing, scoring, multimedia and the latest news updates from every NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event on the Internet at www.nhra.com.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Cory McClenathan , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Chris Rivas , Robert Hight , J.R. Todd , Matt Smith , Eddie Krawiec , Steve Spiess