Las Vegas: Anderson odds-on favorite

PRO STOCK'S GREG ANDERSON IS THE ODDS-ON FAVORITE TO GET BACK TO HIS WINNING WAYS IN LAS VEGAS LAS VEGAS -- There's been no surer bet in NHRA POWERade Pro Stock racing the past two years than Greg Anderson. Anderson has claimed back-to-back...

PRO STOCK'S GREG ANDERSON IS THE ODDS-ON FAVORITE TO GET BACK TO HIS WINNING WAYS IN LAS VEGAS

LAS VEGAS -- There's been no surer bet in NHRA POWERade Pro Stock racing the past two years than Greg Anderson.

Anderson has claimed back-to-back NHRA POWERade Pro Stock world championships and he is coming off of a remarkable 2004 campaign in which he led the POWERade point standings from Day 1. In what was the best single-season performance in Pro Stock history, he established the NHRA single-season record for victories (15), No. 1 qualifying awards (16), elimination rounds won (76), POWERade championship points earned (2,402), and final round appearances (19).

Perhaps nothing puts his run in better perspective than this: Anderson led the point standings for an astounding 36 consecutive events, beginning with the Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals outside Columbus, Ohio, in June of 2003 through the end of the 2004 season.

So for most of 2003-04, Anderson was simply in a class by himself.

So far in 2005, he is in fifth place all by himself. He has been as low as 10th in the points order.

Entering this weekend's event, Anderson has earned 239 points, a distant 102 points behind points leader Warren Johnson. He has also failed to make a final round appearance in the first four races.

"We got off to a slow start this year and it ruffled our feathers," Anderson said. "We've been testing quite a bit. It has been an extra motivational factor. The fact that we have sucked, maybe that will help the team. You never want to get lax, but maybe we did with all the winning we did (in 2003 and 2004)."

The other drivers had better enjoy it while it lasts.

Although Warren Johnson eliminated him in the second round at the Gatornationals, Anderson set the Pro Stock national records for both time (6.633 seconds) and speed (208.23 mph) during qualifying. And if it's true that there's no place like home, then no driver and no team will be looking forward to the upcoming NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals more than Anderson.

Anderson won just about everywhere the past two years and Las Vegas was no exception; in fact, he will enter the $1.8 million NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals April 14-17 -- the fifth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series -- with a four-race win streak at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Anderson calls Charlotte, N.C. home, but Las Vegas is the home of team owner Ken Black, who owns Vegas General Construction, and it's a strip that's been awfully kind to his drivers, Anderson and teammate Jason Line.

"It wasn't always comfortable racing there; there used to be extra pressure," Anderson said. "When we first started (driving for Black three years ago), he said, 'I don't care what you do around the country as long as you do well in Vegas.'"

The partnership started rather inauspiciously when Anderson failed to qualify in his first start for Black in Las Vegas, but he was able to overcome those initial jitters and he has delivered four straight wins for Black on what he now calls his "home track."

"We've had such great success there lately that it's become my favorite track," Anderson said. "I've become really comfortable driving there. It's just a great facility and everything about the city is so doggone fun."

Just as long as he wins.

"I'm sure Ken still feels the same way (about the importance of winning here)," Anderson said. "It's a big weekend for him, it means a lot to him."

While Anderson has garnered most of the attention for driving his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac Grand Am to the four straight wins in Vegas, Black's other driver, Line, has been no slouch.

En route to winning the 2004 Rookie of the Year award, Line drove his KB Racing Pontiac Grand Am to semifinal and runner-up finishes in Las Vegas. And in 2003, in just his fourth Pro Stock start, Line had his best-ever finish up to that point by advancing to the semifinals at the AC Delco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals before being eliminated by Kurt Johnson. Line enters the event riding a two-race final round streak. He won at Gainesville, Fla., and was runner-up last weekend in Houston.

So if you're looking for a favorite for Pro Stock in the 2004 NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals, Ken Black's garage would be a pretty good place to start.

Some other names to watch in Pro Stock would certainly include point leader Warren Johnson, 61, who is in his final year of competition as a driver and won last weekend at Houston; Dave Connolly, who won the season-opener; and Jeg Coughlin, who has three wins in Vegas since 2000.

The other winners at the 2004 NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals were Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel and Phil Burkart, Jr. in Funny Car.

Burkart will be among the Funny Car drivers to watch again this year as he led in the points standings after the first two races of 2005 before failing to qualify at the Gatornationals and slipping to eighth in the standings; defending Funny Car champion and current points leader John Force will be looking to end a four-race winless streak in Vegas; and second-place driver Whit Bazemore hopes to build on his win at the Gatornationals.

Top Fuel competition should be wide open with defending champion Schumacher, a two-time winner this season, among the favorites along with Morgan Lucas, who is still looking for his first series victory. Doug Kalitta won the AC Delco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals last fall, and Larry Dixon is the top active driver in wins at the Vegas Strip with three.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on April 15. Qualifying continues at noon and 3 p.m. on April 16. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. on April 17.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals. Call Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (702) 644-4444 for ticket information, or check online at LVMS.com or tickets.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage of the NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals at 10 p.m. (ET) on April 16. ESPN2 will televise three hours of final eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. (ET) on April 17.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , Greg Anderson , Phil Burkart , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Dave Connolly , Ken Black