Topeka: Pro Stock preview

TOPEKA, Kan. - Before this season, Ron Krisher was one of those other guys. One of those guys who always dreamed of qualifying for a 16-car Pro Stock lineup at an NHRA National event. One of nearly 40 guys entered in the 200-mph category at every...

TOPEKA, Kan. - Before this season, Ron Krisher was one of those other guys. One of those guys who always dreamed of qualifying for a 16-car Pro Stock lineup at an NHRA National event. One of nearly 40 guys entered in the 200-mph category at every NHRA National event waiting patiently for the day he would finally win a race. This season, however, Krisher has moved to the front as a consistent contender. After 18 events in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, Krisher sits third in the Winston Top 10 in Pro Stock, 396 points behind leader Jeg Coughlin Jr. He's earned two victories in four final rounds and has been the No. 1 qualifier five times in his Eagle One Pontiac Firebird. So what's the secret to the sudden turnaround? Really, it's quite simple. He hired Mike Edwards to tune his racecar. Edwards, from Broken Arrow, Okla., is a pretty solid racecar driver himself. In 1996 he shared Winston Rookie of the Year honors with Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Hines. That season he finished a career-best third in the Winston Top 10 by posting three victories. He finished seventh in final points in '98 and '99 while adding additional victories to his resume. Edwards is the defending Pro Stock winner at the NHRA Advance Auto Parts Nationals, Sept. 28-Oct. 1, at Heartland Park Topeka. While he won't challenge for a repeat from behind the wheel, he will try to tune Krisher to the victory in the $1.9 million race, the 19th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Which is somewhat ironic, because last season No. 16 qualifier Edwards defeated Krisher in a second round meeting as he raced to victory at the Kansas quarter-mile. "I have tremendous confidence in Mike," said Krisher, who finished 18th in Winston points last season. "The car is a lot easier to drive with him tuning it. Every time I go to the starting line I know we're going to make a competitive run. He's raced on all of these tracks and has a very good feel for what it takes to make the car respond to the different conditions."

COUGHLIN CLOSING IN ON FIRST WINSTON TITLE: With each passing event championship anticipation increases for Jeg Coughlin Jr. and diminishes just a little more for the rest of the 30-plus Pro Stock competitors. With eight victories in 10 final round appearances, the driver of the yellow and black Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass inches closer to his first NHRA Winston Pro Stock championship. Following a semifinal finish at Maple Grove Raceway in Readin, Pa., Coughlin extended his lead to 363 over closest challenger Kurt Johnson. Defending series champ Warren Johnson sits fourth in the order, 480 behind the leader. To sweeten the deal, the Columbus, Ohio driver needs just four more victories to make his run the greatest championship season in the history of the category. In 1991 Darrell Alderman raced to 11 victories in a dominating Winston championship performance.

PANELLA EXTENDS LEAD: A victory at the U.S. Nationals increased Bob Panella's Winston points lead in Pro Stock Truck to 129 over closest challenger Randy Daniels, who suffered a first round loss at Indianapolis Raceway Park during NHRA's most prestigious event. "I'm glad we made the most of the opportunity and won at Indy this time around," Panella said. "I hate that Randy went out early, but I enjoy having that comfort zone in the point standings." With only four events remaining in Pro Stock Truck competition, Panella will be looking to increase his lead, while Daniels hopes to reel in the leader. The defending Winston champion hopes to repeat his winning ways at the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, a race he dominated last year by recording four consecutive 7.50-second passes. The best of the four, a first round 7.511-second run, stands as the elapsed time track record. Panella, from Stockton, Calif., has four victories this season in his Chevy S-10, while Grantsboro, N.C.'s Daniels has earned five wins, also in an S-10.

YATES SAYS COMPETITION GETTING TOUGHER: Jim Yates has seen a flock of new talent emerge in Pro Stock racing over the years. The two-time NHRA Winston champion says qualifying is as tough now as it has ever been. With many top teams simply struggling to qualify, actually winning a race is another story. Yates, who earned Winston crowns in 1996 and '97, knows that all too well. The Alexandria, Va. driver needs a victory in one of the final five events this season to keep his current winning streak alive. The Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird driver has won at least one NHRA national event every year since 1994, including Advance Auto Parts Nationals titles during his championship seasons. "The level of performance is becoming more equal," said Yates, who qualified seventh here one year ago before losing in the first round to Kurt Johnson. "There's so many good cars that the difference in the top qualifier and the bottom qualifier is very small. The field moving closer together makes it tougher to win on Sunday."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Darrell Alderman , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Ron Krisher , Randy Daniels , Mike Edwards