Dallas: Gary Densham preview

Densham still could play role in POWERade Championship race. ENNIS, Texas Lost in the excitement of the battle for the 2002 POWERade Funny Car Championship is the fact that Gary Densham returns to the Texas Motorplex this week (Oct. 11-13) as...

Densham still could play role in POWERade Championship race.

ENNIS, Texas Lost in the excitement of the battle for the 2002 POWERade Funny Car Championship is the fact that Gary Densham returns to the Texas Motorplex this week (Oct. 11-13) as the defending champion in the 17th annual O'Reilly Fall Nationals presented by Castrol SYNTEC0x2122.

As such, the former high school auto shop teacher still could play a major role in determining which of his teammates John Force or Tony Pedregon eventually wears the POWERade crown.

Densham, after all, has the best seat in the house.

After leading the points earlier in the season, the 55-year-old veteran has slipped back to third place behind Force, who is bidding for a record 10th straight NHRA Funny Car title, and Pedregon, who, at the wheel of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford, has closed the points difference to just one competitive round (18 points) with three races remaining.

After earning the second and third Budweiser No. 1 qualifying awards of his career, after winning at Las Vegas and Englishtown, N.J., and after posting top speed of the meet in six of the season's first eight races, Densham admittedly has struggled at the wheel of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang.

Ousted in the first round just once in the season's first 10 events, he has lost in the initial round in half the races contested since and was a first round victim in two of the three most recent tour stops (Reading, Pa., and Joliet, Ill.).

In addition, after qualifying third or better in five of the season's first seven events, he has qualified no better than fourth since mid-May and hasn't posted the big speed numbers that were almost routine earlier in the year when he boosted the NHRA national speed record for Funny Cars to 326.87 miles per hour.

Nevertheless, despite all that, "The World's Fastest Schoolteacher" still is on track to earn the highest finish of his career. Moreover, he is hopeful that a return to the Motorplex will cure some of the performance problems over which he and Crew Chief Jimmy Prock have been agonizing for months.

After all, the Motorplex, with its all-concrete construction, is widely considered the ultimate high-performance racetrack, one to which Prock should be able to apply the approximately 7,000 horsepower at his disposal just like he did a year ago when he and Densham blitzed the field and then held off Force's Castrol GTX0x00ae Mustang in the final.

"We had a bad hot rod last year," Densham said.  "When we won earlier at
Memphis (his first career win), we didn't really run that well.  We got
some breaks and just took advantage of the conditions.  At Dallas, we had
the best race car.  It was all good."

Indeed, although he qualified only 12th behind Whit Bazemore, who set track records for quarter mile time (4.753 seconds) and speed (325.37 mph), Densham's 4.803 was the quickest run on race day and his 4.803, 4.827, 4.812 and 4.832 series was one of the best of the entire season. If he can duplicate those numbers this year, he again will be difficult to beat.

"We need to get our act together in these last three events," Densham said. "We can't win the championship, but we'd like to win a couple more races and go into the off season with a little momentum."

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham