Baytown: Russell hopes to end sophomore slump

BAYTOWN, Texas - Darrell Russell is trying to get out of that sophomore slump. In 2001, he opened his rookie season with a win in his first professional race. He went on to win two Top Fuel races in seven final round appearances. Russell capped...

BAYTOWN, Texas - Darrell Russell is trying to get out of that sophomore slump. In 2001, he opened his rookie season with a win in his first professional race. He went on to win two Top Fuel races in seven final round appearances.

Russell capped off the rookie campaign with the Rookie of the Year honors. The second year of competition, however, has been less than noteworthy. The driver of the Bilstein Engine Flush Dragster has high expectations, but is off to a slow start.

Russell will be trying to pick up the pace and get into winner's circle at the 15th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park, April 11-14. The $1.9 million race is the fifth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

"It is very early, but to sum up the season as it is now, it has been rough," Russell said. "It definitely has not started off the way we wanted it to. It just seems like everything we try to do to make the car run better is just not working. It's been very hard. It is still early and we still have a long way to go. We don't want to paint ourselves in a corner, but we are getting close to doing that."

Russell may only be in his second year of Top Fuel racing, but the three-time Division 4 Top Alcohol champion has had sub-par seasons before.

"The car will show some signs of life and it looks like we are going in the right direction, and then it throws us a curve ball," Russell said. "The guys are just chasing things. It has been very frustrating. Sure, this is my second year of Top Fuel but it is my 15th year of drag racing overall. In all the years I have been drag racing competitively, I have been in this position many times. You just have to work hard to get out of it."

While cheerleader and team booster may not be on his business card, Russell said keeping up the team's spirit has been trying.

"One of the hardest things we have had to deal with so far is keeping the guys upbeat and motivated," Russell said. "That has been very difficult because you can see the distress in their faces. I try to do whatever I can. I try to be as consistent as possible as the driver so that is one less variable we have to worry about."

Russell is confident that the team's fortunes will turn around sooner than later.

"We changed a lot of the car's technology over the winter," Russell said. "We are trying to make more horsepower and a lot of our problems have to do with the application of that technology. As soon as we click, and get it all together, it's going to be great. (Sponsor owner) Marty Yacoobian has the will and the want to win. So does (team owner) Joe Amato. It's going to happen."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Joe Amato