FOR SECOND CONSECUTIVE YEAR, POINTS RACES TAKE CENTER STAGE AT SEASON-ENDING NHRA POWERADE SERIES EVENTS 11 DRIVERS COMPETING FOR 4 CHAMPIONSHIPS WITH 2 EVENTS REMAINING GLENDORA, Calif. -- Apparently the drivers in the NHRA POWERade Series ...
FOR SECOND CONSECUTIVE YEAR, POINTS RACES TAKE CENTER STAGE AT SEASON-ENDING NHRA POWERADE SERIES EVENTS
11 DRIVERS COMPETING FOR 4 CHAMPIONSHIPS WITH 2 EVENTS REMAINING
GLENDORA, Calif. -- Apparently the drivers in the NHRA POWERade Series couldn't wait for the Countdown to the Championship playoff-format that was announced at the 2006 U.S. Nationals and will debut in 2007.
"You're getting a good preview of what we're going to get next year (with the Countdown to the Championship) when they even the points out with two races to go," said three-time and defending POWERade Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher, who is in third place and 89 points behind Doug Kalitta. "I wish they started it this year ... "
He's not the only one.
Under the new format, only 30 points will separate first place from fourth place with two races remaining in the season -- 16 drivers within 30 points of a championship with two events to go.
This season, while the points races aren't quite that close with only two events remaining (Las Vegas and Pomona), they are awfully close, providing fans with a taste of the exciting finishes to come in 2007 and beyond.
In Schumacher's Top Fuel category, it's Kalitta with an 83-point lead on Brandon Bernstein and he's 89 points clear of Schumacher. These are not insurmountable deficits, but both Bernstein and Schumacher know they've got their work cut out for them.
"I'd much rather be in Doug's position right now, don't get me wrong," said Bernstein, the 2003 Auto Club Road to the Future winner who is seeking his first championship. "But no, I think as a points chaser, you really have nothing to lose. You know the job at hand and you have to go after it."
Given the current system, this year's points races are about as deep and competitive as would be conceivably possible, and NHRA fans in the southwestern U.S. will get a firsthand look as the 2006 NHRA POWERade Series season draws to a dramatic close with the final two races of the season, beginning with the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals, Oct. 26-29 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The $1.8 million race is the 22nd of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
The NHRA POWERade Series has historically all but crowned its champions on Labor Day -- 83 percent of the points leaders after Indy have gone on to win championships.
But the days of the NHRA victory tour are numbered, if not already a thing of the past.
The drivers exiting Indy with the points lead in 2006 -- Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) -- may well hoist the championship trophy, but the road to Pomona in 2006 has already seen two of the four drop back to second place.
One of the two to lose his hold on first place (the other is Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle) has been Ron Capps, who led Funny Car for most of the season, but has since slipped into second place, 46 points behind John Force. And while those two have been trading punches for most of the summer, Force's son-in-law, Robert Hight, snuck up on everybody with two wins and a runner-up to join the fray. The 2005 Auto Club Road to the Future winner is just 54 points out of first with two events remaining.
First off, I'm really excited to be here with these other two drivers, a chance to win this POWERade Series championship," said Hight, who has a Funny Car-leading eight No. 1 qualifiers. "We were kind of written off going into the Western Swing. It looked like it was going to be a two-car race with Ron and John. We kind of held our own through the Western Swing, then have come on really, really strong."
Hight's back to back wins at Indianapolis and Dallas launched him from afterthought (he was in fifth place, 219 points back of Capps) to legitimate title contender. No sophomore jinx here.
Capps and Hight are looking for their first POWERade Series championships while Force, winner of four of the six previous NHRA events in Richmond, has won an NHRA-record 13 POWERade Series championships.
Each round achieved in Sunday final eliminations is worth 20 points with a minimum of 20 going to first-round losers and a maximum of 100 going to the winner. Here are the top contenders with two races remaining (Las Vegas 2 Oct. 26-29 and Pomona 2 Nov. 9-12):