TOP FUEL PILOT DOUG KALITTA LOOKS TO BREAK INTO "TOP EIGHT" IN BRAINERD BRAINERD, Minn. -- With the grueling Western Swing at an end and the cutoff point for the Countdown playoffs only two races away, many drivers are looking to make a push...
TOP FUEL PILOT DOUG KALITTA LOOKS TO BREAK INTO "TOP EIGHT" IN BRAINERD
BRAINERD, Minn. -- With the grueling Western Swing at an end and the cutoff point for the Countdown playoffs only two races away, many drivers are looking to make a push into the top eight in the point standings at the 26th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn. One of those drivers is Mac Tools dragster pilot Doug Kalitta.
Kalitta has earned his share of success in Brainerd. With wins there in 2003 and 2005 and a runner-up finish in 2000, Kalitta has, for the most part, enjoyed his experiences in Brainerd.
"It's definitely one of my better places to race," Kalitta said. "It's been a pretty good track for me and my family. Connie (Kalitta, uncle and team owner) has won up there as well (1985). It's a race I'm really looking forward to."
But Kalitta's excitement for Brainerd isn't just fueled by the hopes of snatching his first win of the 2007 season. Sitting in the 11th spot in the point standings, just 64 points behind teammate Dave Grubnic and the eighth place Countdown cutoff point, Kalitta is hoping to make up some ground and break into the top eight before the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
"I'm really looking forward to going up there, going a couple rounds and getting into the top eight," Kalitta said. "Obviously you go in wanting to win, but being able to go a couple rounds would really help us in the points."
The Countdown to the Championship consists of a 17-race regular season that trims the field of championship contenders to eight, then a four-race playoff that halves the field of championship contenders to four and finally a two-race championship to determine the 2007 NHRA POWERade Series world champions. The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd is the next-to-last race in the 17-race regular season. Then the POWERade Series heads to Reading, Pa. for the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals where the eight-driver playoff fields will be set. For Kalitta, who would otherwise be a championship afterthought, the three-time bridesmaid (2003, 2004, and 2006) sees the Countdown format as a second chance to compete for the championship that has always eluded him.
"The way we've done so far this year, it's really a blessing that there is a system like this," Kalitta said. "For us it's just a matter of taking advantage of it and getting ourselves in."
But getting in, for Kalitta, would mean his two Top Fuel teammates would not. Kalitta is currently tied for the 11th spot with teammate Hillary Will, and would also have to pass by Grubnic to take over the eighth-place spot.
"It is what it is," Kalitta said. "We're all trying to do the same thing. What we're all hoping is we can all move up and all get in. I guess we're not trying to knock each other out, but we're definitely running out of time."
And a win in Brainerd would not only add a third to a track that he enjoys competing at, but would also give Kalitta some peace of mind heading to Indianapolis.
"If we go there with the mindset to win and we can pull it off it would be huge for us in the points," Kalitta said. "And that's exactly what we're going to try to do in Brainerd."
Kalitta, Grubnic, and Will have plenty to contend with as the highly competitive Top Fuel class comes to Brainerd. Defending event winner Brandon Bernstein looks to drive his Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster to his fifth win of the season, while defending series champion Tony Schumacher hopes to see a repeat of his 2005, 337.58 mph run, the fastest in NHRA history.
In Funny Car many drivers will be fighting to get into that coveted eighth spot. Among the drivers on the outside looking in are defending event winner Tommy Johnson Jr., NHRA rookie sensation Ashley Force, and 1992 Brainerd winner Cruz Pedregon. Defending series champion, John Force, hopes to add an 11th win to his amazing record of most wins by a driver at a single track.
The Pro Stock series is tighter than ever, with only 16 points separating 10th place Richie Stevens Jr. from eighth-place Larry Morgan. Defending event winner Dave Connolly will be looking for his third win at Brainerd and fourth win of the season.
Pro Stock Motorcycle's defending Brainerd winner Antron Brown is hoping to collect his first win of the season in Brainerd and jump from 11th in the points to eighth before the cutoff point. Points leader Matt Smith will look to get his fourth win of the season at Brainerd.
SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 10 and 11:15 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Aug. 11. Eliminations start at 11 a.m. on Aug. 12.
TICKETS: For tickets, call (866) 444-4455. Tickets also are available online at brainerdraceway.com.
ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 12:30 a.m. (ET) on Aug. 12. ESPN2 and ESPN 2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute news magazine show, at 11 a.m. (ET), followed by three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. (ET) on Aug. 12.