Houston: Team Panella eliminations

Baytown, Texas - - In the first round of eliminations for the NHRA O'Reilly Nationals at Houston Raceway Park , Bob Panella, Jr., from Stockton, Calif., defeated Charlie Greco, from St. Davids, Penn. Greco left first but made a violent move left...

Baytown, Texas - - In the first round of eliminations for the NHRA O'Reilly Nationals at Houston Raceway Park , Bob Panella, Jr., from Stockton, Calif., defeated Charlie Greco, from St. Davids, Penn. Greco left first but made a violent move left toward the wall, while Panella streaked to the finish line for the win.

In the second round, the twenty-nine-year-old, two-time Winston champion (1999 & 2000) took the measure of Mike Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio. This matched Panella against Greg Stanfield, from Bossier City, La., in the semi-finals. Stanfield had lowered the national elapsed time record to 7.395 seconds in the opening round. He then upped the national speed record to 182.33 mph in the quarter-finals. Both records were previously held by Panella and set during Friday's second qualifying session.

Both Panella and Stanfield left together and stayed glued together all the way down the track. The win light came on in Panella's lane. He took the victory by .0034 of a second and recaptured the national speed record at 182.40 mph.

Next up was Randy Daniels, who defeated Panella's teammate Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., in the semi-finals. During his Pro Stock Truck career, Panella has met Daniels 10 times, winning seven. In final rounds, Daniels leads with three wins in five finals. At the green, Daniels was out of the gate first and, although Panella ran a quicker elapsed time, he couldn't overtake Daniels.

"I've been in the finals three consecutive times here and lost all three times," said Panella as he reviewed today's action. "The only good thing is that the two previous times I lost at Houston, I won the Winston championship. I hope that holds true this year.

"Randy Daniels did a better job than I did. The S-10 is flying but the driver didn't do the job on the starting line. I'll go home do some practicing on the tree (starting lights) and come back swinging in 10 days. I took the left lane that last round even though there's a significant bump in that lane. But it probably didn't matter what lane I was in because a .499 (second) light won't win you a race in either lane. I've got to get that part figured out, do my job better, then look out, " concluded Panella.

Panella is third in Winston points with 155 points after two of 14 events for Pro Stock Truck. Randy Daniels leads the point standings with 235 points.

Gracia reaches semi-finals

Close is only good in horseshoes and grenades. In racing it's not how close it is but who gets to the finish line first. Just ask Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., driver of the Panella Motorsports GMC Sonoma.

In the opening round of the O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Gracia was matched against Brian Self, from Spring, Texas. Self's Chevy S-10 left first and stay ahead of Gracia the entire length of the Houston Raceway Park - - except for the last few inches, when Gracia edged by and took the win light by .0002 seconds. That's two ten thousandth of a second.

"That was a close race," said Gracia. "It was a dead heat. I didn't do as good a job on the start as I could have. He got out on me and It took the whole quarter-mile to run him down."

In the quarter-finals, Gracia defeated Scott Perin, from Pen Argyle, Penn., to move to the semi-finals against Randy Daniels, from Grantsboro, N.C. Gracia was out first on Daniels, taking a .0113 second margin of victory and ending Gracia's day.

Daniels advanced to the finals and won his second consecutive O'Reilly Nationals.

"The second round was another close race and another slow reaction time. Fortunately, the Panella Motorsports power pulled me through once again," said Gracia of his quarter-final win.

"In the semi-final, the driver should have done a better job. It's difficult to win with a .469 (second) light against the power that Randy Daniels has. We'll just take it to Vegas and give it a go there.

Gracia is fourth in Winston points with 150 points after two of 14 events for Pro Stock Truck. Randy Daniels leads the point standings with 235 points.

-Micky Schultz

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Panella , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , Mike Coughlin , Greg Stanfield , Brian Self