Connolly qualified 15th, meaning he had to face higher-qualified drivers all day. He had to battle a recalcitrant race car, too, as the IDG Chevy was unable to match the performance of GK Motorsports teammate Erica Enders.
And Connolly was racing in only his third event of 2012.
But none of that was enough to stop Connolly from winning his third U.S. Nationals title.
"It's incredible," Connolly said. "To even race Pro Stock was always a dream of mine as a kid. To win the U.S. Nationals in '07 was unbelievable. It was one of those wins you'll never forget. I ran in '07 and '08 and won and haven't run here since. We've got a little 12-round winning streak right now."
But the victory celebration was somewhat tempered because Connolly had to beat Enders in the final.
The two are not only teammates, but good friends.
"It was definitely bittersweet in the final, running Erica," Connolly said. "I think I'm more proud when she wins than when I win. I truly mean that. I hope she whips my butt the next six finals. But it's the U.S. Nationals, and there's no laying over. It was cutthroat."
Connolly won on a slight holeshot, leaving with a .011-second advantage (.015 to .026) on Enders, who had the best performing race car Sunday. Connolly made a pass of 6.589 seconds at 210.05 mph, and that was enough to hold off Enders, who slowed to a run of 6.589 at 210.05 mph. The margin of victory was a scant .002 seconds.
Connolly said he pulled out all the stops on his car in the final, knowing he had to improve its performance to beat Enders.
"I was trying to get the car to show me something," Connolly said. "It still went out there and rattled and went left. It was ugly, but I pulled another gear and tried to keep going. When I let the clutch out and pulled second, I didn't think I stood a chance. I plugged fifth and looked over and saw a lot of flat black (of Enders' car). I knew it was going to be tight down there. It made for an exciting race."
Connolly's uphill battle started against No. 2 qualifier Mike Edwards, but Connolly left first with an. 001 light. He made a pass of 6.610 seconds at 209.14 mph to take out Edwards, who slowed to a run of 15.918 seconds at 47.74 mph.
Connolly then blitzed No. 7 qualifier Ron Krisher on the Christmas Tree (.045 to .149) and on the race track (6.610 seconds at 209.88 mph to Krisher's 6.651 at 208.39 mph) to advance to the semifinals against No. 6 qualifier Vincent Nobile.
The matchup against Nobile was bound to be won on the starting line, as both drivers are recognized as two of the best. And it was, as Nobile fouled out.
That matched Connolly against Enders, for whom he serves as crew chief with Tommy Utt. But though Enders outran him, Connolly held the trophy.
"Pro Stock's brutal right now," Connolly said. "It doesn't matter where you get in. You definitely have a shot. With Cagnazzi power under the hood and judging by Erica's performance, we've got the right tools."
Source: Dave Connolly (IDG)