Seattle: Round 14 preview

CHECKER SCHUCK'S KRAGEN TEAMMATES HOPING TO BOUNCE OFF THE BUBBLE AT THEIR 'HOME' RACE, SCHUCK'S AUTO SUPPLY NHRA NATIONALS KENT, Wash. -- A season that might otherwise be lost for the Checker Schuck's Kragen teams is very much alive thanks to...

CHECKER SCHUCK'S KRAGEN TEAMMATES HOPING TO BOUNCE OFF THE BUBBLE AT THEIR 'HOME' RACE, SCHUCK'S AUTO SUPPLY NHRA NATIONALS

KENT, Wash. -- A season that might otherwise be lost for the Checker Schuck's Kragen teams is very much alive thanks to the NHRA POWERade Series' Countdown to the Championship playoff system, in its inaugural season.

In a nutshell, the 23-race season is broken up into three tiers which include a 17-race regular season that reduces the field of championship contenders to eight, a 4-race playoff that reduces the field to four and finally a 2-race championship that will determine the 2007 POWERade world champions.

So far, 12 races are complete and after the July 13-15 Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver, the POWERade Series will head to the Pacific Northwest for the 20th annual Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals, July 20-22 at scenic Pacific Raceways near Seattle. The $1.5 million race, which will be televised in high definition on ESPN2, is the 14th of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

The race will be a critical one for CSK teammates Del Worsham and Jeff Arend whose race teams, much like a Wild Card contender in Major League Baseball or the NFL, have been given a second life by the Countdown.

Worsham's CSK Red team is in 13th place and 456 points behind first-place Ron Capps, but only 48 points behind eighth-place Cruz Pedregon for the eighth and final berth in the Countdown playoffs. Drivers earn 10 points for attempting to qualify, 20 points for qualifying plus 1-8 points for qualifying position, and 20 points for each round win on Sunday for a maximum of 118 points (not counting the 20-point bonus available for setting a national record).

"The analogy to the postseason in other sports is about perfect here," said Worsham, who has won 21 career POWERade Series races, including one at Pacific Raceways (1999). "It's easy to get stressed out and start thinking in terms of total points, but the bottom line is no different than it's ever been. The only goal is to win rounds, period."

"We don't have to play over our heads, or try to do stuff we're really not capable of, we just have to run like we can and like we should and we'll reel in a spot (in the Countdown)," he said.

Jeff Arend's CSK Blue team is in 12th place and 446 points behind first-place Ron Capps, but only 38 points behind eighth-place Pedregon for the eighth and final berth in the Countdown playoffs.

"Growing up in Toronto, as a Maple Leafs fan, I see the countdown as being just like the NHL Playoffs," Arend said. "You get into the meat of the regular season and being first in your division or conference starts to mean less and less, but being in the top eight means everything. I'm not sure why people had reservations about the Countdown system because the Stanley Cup playoffs are the greatest postseason in all of sports and nobody says it's unfair if the No. 8 team gets on a roll and wins the Cup."

"If you're in the playoffs, you're worthy of hoisting the POWERade trophy, and we think we're due to start ripping off some round wins," he said.

Defending race winners include Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel); Whit Bazemore (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock).

After the Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals have concluded, there will be just three races remaining in the Countdown regular season: the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals (July 27-29 in Sonoma, Calif.), the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals (Aug. 9-12 in Brainerd, Minn.) and the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals (Aug. 16-19 in Reading, Pa.).

Complicating matters for Worsham and Arend in their quest to get inside the Top 8 is the tight field that surrounds them. Entering the July 13-15 Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, the Top 6 drivers had all but assured themselves of positions in the Countdown playoffs, leaving two spots up for grabs.

And challenging for those spots are eight drivers, including Worsham and Arend and oh-by-the-way the winningest driver in NHRA history, John Force and his daughter Ashley Force.

Only 138 points, or about six rounds of racing, separate seventh-place Jack Beckman, who has 647 points, from 13th place Worsham.

It's going to be a wild ride of Musical Chairs in the Funny Car class as those eight drivers scratch and claw for every round win to punch one of those final two tickets for the Countdown playoffs.

"We're all so tightly bunched now, it's going to be a real fight to the finish," Arend said.

In Top Fuel, there are five spots that are all but secured in the Countdown playoffs and three still up for grabs, although Bob Vandergriff's UPS team looks pretty secure with 648 points in sixth place.

In Pro Stock, three-time POWERade Series world champion Greg Anderson has led the way all year with an astonishing six wins in six final round appearances.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 and 6 p.m. on July 20, and 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on July 21. Eliminations start at 11 a.m. on July 22.

TICKETS: For tickets, call Pacific Raceways, at (253) 639-5927. Tickets also are available at Ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 11:30 p.m. (ET) on July 21. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will air NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET), followed by three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. (ET) on July 22.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Allen Johnson , Jeff Arend