Las Vegas: GM Racing preview

GM Racing's Quarter-Mile Contingent Set to Converge on The Strip at LVMS LAS VEGAS, April 8, 2008 - The 9th annual NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the next stop for GM's drag racing contingent on the...

GM Racing's Quarter-Mile
Contingent Set to Converge
on The Strip at LVMS

LAS VEGAS, April 8, 2008 - The 9th annual NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the next stop for GM's drag racing contingent on the 24-event POWERade tour, and with just four races completed in the young season, drivers competing in Chevys and Pontiacs are off to a terrific start.

In Pro Stock, the spoils of battle on the quarter-mile have been spread rather evenly in a category where it appears the championship will once again go down to the final race in November. Pontiac's Greg Anderson has driven the new GXP to a pair of victories at Pomona (Calif.) and Houston while defending champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. parked his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cobalt in the winner's circle at Gainesville (Fla.) and was runner-up to Anderson at the Winternationals. Anderson leads the POWERade standings while Coughlin trails in second place by three points.

"We actually struggled at Houston, but so did a lot of teams," Anderson said. "It just came down to timing. We never knocked one out of the park, but I guess it was enough to win. Sometime you deserve to win and you don't, and other times you don't deserve to win and you do. Houston was one of those events where things kind of evened out for us."

Anderson's Summit Racing Pontiac teammate Jason Line has a pair of runners-up (Phoenix, Gainesville) and is seeded third in the points, while ACDelco Chevy Cobalt driver Kurt Johnson advanced to the finals at Houston and is fourth in the standings.

GM Performance Parts Pontiac GXP driver Warren Johnson was No. 1 qualifier at the ACDelco Gatornationals in Gainesville and has set top speed of the meet at the last two contests. In fact, the Professor's new Pontiac was a full mile-an-hour faster than his closest challenger at Houston (discounting his teammate and son Kurt Johnson who posted the second-fastest speed of the event) where his Pontiac and Kurt's Chevy Cobalt were the only two cars to run above the 208 mph barrier. WJ's No. 1 qualifying effort at Gainesville was his first race-day pole in nearly 30 months and he is currently seventh in the points standings.

"Early on in the season we were making good power," explained the six-time NHRA champion. "I believe we had the fastest GTO at the first two races so that was kind of an indication that we had at least adequate power to qualify in the upper half of the field. This car seems to be a little quicker in the backhalf so that's where the mph is coming from. We ran 211-flat at Valdosta (Ga.) in testing prior to the Gatornationals. The scales weren't working at the time so we guessed the weight at the shop and we were 25 pounds too heavy. We thought, 'this could be pretty exciting, here!.'

"You take a new car and you get it figured out. The new GXP is a little bit different - we've never built two identical cars in our life. Kurt's Cobalt, we made some changes from the old Cobalt and GTO that worked really well. We basically had the same chassis but a little different envelope to work from, and that's allowed the two teams to work back and forth a lot closer."

Kurt Johnson was No. 1 qualifier in Houston and his ACDelco Chevrolet has qualified in the top four at all four of this season's races. Warren Johnson has been almost as good, qualifying in the top four in three of the year's first four events (including No. 1 at Gainesville). The performance increase of the two Johnson team cars will only tighten the Pro Stock field even further.

"We can probably call this ACDelco Chevrolet our Velcro car because everything we throw at it sticks," quipped Johnson. "We're really pleased with its performance right now, but our goal is to win races on Sunday. It's good to be No. 1 on Saturday, but our goal is to have our ACDelco Cobalt be No.1 on raceday."

In addition to the aforementioned GM Pro Stock drivers, there are a total of eight competitors in GM-branded cars riding in the top 10 including Mike Edwards (Pontiac GXP), Justin Humphreys (Pontiac GXP) and Greg Stanfield (Pontiac GXP).

Edwards, who drives the Young Life GXP, has advanced to the semifinals at two of the first four contests and has qualified in the top half of the field three times. Edwards needs to win just one round at The Strip this weekend to earn his 200th career round win.

"We're happy with our consistency and the progress we're making," Edwards said. "We have a whole new combination with our engine program, we're just trying to learn it a little better. We're getting some breaks, but hey, you need those every now and then. Just trying to improve at each race is our primary goal, and getting better is the main thing we're hoping to accomplish for Young Life, Penhall, GM and all the people that support us. The engine program is coming along just as we expected - I'm excited with where it is. We've been working on it, we're going to go back and work on it some more and I'm pretty pleased with it. There's still a long way to go but I'm happy with it."

In Funny Car, Chevrolet is off to one if its best NHRA POWERade starts in recent memory. Chevy Impala SS competitors have captured two national-event victories, advanced to four final rounds and earned all four No. 1 qualifying awards.

Del Worsham is Chevrolet's most recent national-event winner in Funny Car. The driver of the Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevy Impala SS ended a two-year victory drought at the recently completed O'Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston on March 30, and by doing so, leapfrogged his way from 18th place in the POWERade standings all the way to ninth place.

"As well as we ran in Houston, there have been times when we'd do just exactly the same thing and somehow get tripped up before the final, or maybe in the final," Worsham said. "When it happens once, you're disappointed. When it happens multiple times, you start to wonder if you'll ever win again. Sunday in Houston proved to us that hard work and doing it the right way will pay off. It was a huge win for us, and we just want to keep rolling right now."

Defending POWERade champion Tony Pedregon joins Del Worsham on the list of Chevy Impala SS drivers who have won a national event in 2008. Pedregon's victory came at Gainesville on March 30 from the No. 1 starting position, and after a pair of season-opening first-round losses at Pomona and Phoenix, the Q Horsepower Chevrolet competitor now finds himself in third place in the points standings and back in the thick of the POWERade championship hunt. Pedregon will unveil a Palms Casino Resorts design on his Chevy Impala SS Funny Car this weekend in Las Vegas.

"Our team has evolved from the earliest stages with the Maloof family (owners of the Palms and the Sacramento Kings) right by our side," Pedregon said. "They've done so much for us, and the car is something I wanted to do for them as a way of expressing our thanks. They're great partners, and more importantly, they're lifelong friends."

In the Sportsman categories, Chevy Cobalt drivers are once again kicking up the points total on behalf of the red bowtie in the quest for the 2008 NHRA Manufacturer's Cup. Chevrolet leads the Cup chase with 940 points and NHRA Super Stock and Stock competitors led by Jimmy DeFrank (200), Ryan McClanahan (140), and Jeff Lane (80) have contributed to over half of Chevrolet's points total.

"It feels good to get off to a good start like we have," said DeFrank who won Super Stock in a Chevy Cobalt at the CSK Nationals in Phoenix and the Divisional race at Tucson. "There are a lot of good racers, and the season is so long that even if you have a good start, I've learned that your racing prospects go up and down as the year moves along. Regardless of how good of a start someone has, it's always, without question, very close at the end."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Greg Anderson , Jimmy DeFrank , Jason Line , Jeff Lane , Justin Humphreys , Mike Edwards , Ryan McClanahan