Las Vegas II: GM Racing preview

LAS VEGAS, October 23, 2007 - NHRA's inaugural Countdown to the Championship starts its first leg of the two-race championship round, the Countdown to 1, at this weekend's ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway,...

LAS VEGAS, October 23, 2007 - NHRA's inaugural Countdown to the Championship starts its first leg of the two-race championship round, the Countdown to 1, at this weekend's ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Chevy drivers will lead the way in three professional categories when qualifying begins on Friday. Dave Connolly, Tony Pedregon and Larry Dixon enter the two-race shootout as points leader in the Pro Stock, Funny Car and Top Fuel categories, respectively, in their quest to be crowned 2007 NHRA POWERade Series champion after the final race at Pomona (Calif.). In addition, three of the four drivers eligible for the Countdown to 1 in Pro Stock will be in GM-branded cars as Pontiac driver Greg Anderson and Connolly's Chevy teammate Jeg Coughlin will join the Pro Stock championship hunt.

"We're going to continue to test all the way until we get up to Vegas," Connolly said. "We're going to try to have the best race car possible when it comes down to that Countdown to 1. If we have the success we did with the Countdown to 4, we're looking pretty good. We're going to take it one round at a time just like we have all season. With the pressure of Las Vegas, there's going to be a little added pressure, but we're going to deal with it the best we can, and whatever happens, happens. It's definitely not going to be lack of effort by no means."

The 24-year-old Connolly enters Las Vegas on a historic winning streak, winning all four races of the Countdown to 4 first-round playoff races behind the wheel of his Torco Racing Fuels/Seelye Wright Chevy Cobalt and five straight races overall. The Ohio native has a class-leading eight race wins on the season and has put his name on a pretty elite list of drivers to have won five consecutive Pro Stock races, joining the legendary Bob Glidden (9 consecutive wins), Ronnie Sox (5) and Greg Anderson (5). Connolly enters the Countdown to 1 as the class leader with 3,030 points and is looking for the first POWERade championship of his young career.

"We've used up some luck in these last five races, there's no doubt about it," Connolly said. "And in the same sense, I never dreamed of winning three in a row or four in a row, and before that the first and second one had to come. To win six or seven is definitely going to be extremely tough. Like Greg (Anderson) said, each championship comes, it gets tougher and tougher each one. That goes the same for each event and each race. It's getting tougher. Especially these last two, I mean, because not only us four in the Countdown, but we also have 12 other guys out there that want to be some spoilers in this whole deal and take us out.

"I'm real thrilled and excited about what we've accomplished in the past. But yet the job is definitely not done and championships are on all of our minds right now. We're going to do everything in our willpower right now to go out there and pick up the sixth or seventh in a row and try to win this championship for everybody involved. That's kind of what's cool about our class, you know, it's such a team effort. There are so many other guys that are working forward for this whole program, too. There are so many people that get enjoyment out of each win you get. We're just going to go in there and see how it plays out in Vegas. Hopefully I can still have a little luck left in me and use it up these last few races."

Three-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson will be looking for a fourth championship trophy for his mantle in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO. The Minnesota native trailed only Connolly in race wins with seven and led the class in points for the 17-race regular season. He enters the Countdown to 1 in second with 3,020 points and now looks to gain some of his momentum back in the final two-race championship battle.

"If you look at momentum, Dave's definitely got that going right now," Anderson said. "We've got to find a way to slow him down. He's doing a heck of a job. That team is fantastic. He's on a heck of a roll. Not only I, but obviously Jeggy and Allen (Johnson) have to find a way to stop him. That's a He-Man chore right now. We're looking for something (in testing), just trying to find a way to get around David.

"Obviously it would probably be ridiculous for Dave and I to just think it's going to come down to he and I. There are two other guys in this Countdown. There are a whole lot of other guys in this class that would love to send us packing early and spoil this deal. We can't just look at each other right now and think about that. There are certainly four cars very capable of winning this deal. I would just about bet the farm on the fact that any one of these four drivers this year has probably had a two-race stretch where they made more points than any other car in the class. We've got a two-race deal. It's all we've got. It's certainly not a stretch for any one of them to put together a two-race run and win a championship. There's no telling what's going to happen. I'd hate to be the oddsmakers picking the odds on this deal."

Anderson won three consecutive POWERade championships from 2004-06 before finishing second to teammate Jason Line last year, but they certainly don't come easier after the first one.

"There's no doubt, that first one, I'm certainly not going to say it surely was easy," Anderson said. "It wasn't. There's no question that second one got a lot tougher. You're just flat not going to sneak up on anybody anymore, and you probably could have said that during your first championship campaign when you weren't expected to win. Everybody guns for you extra hard when you come out the next year because you're the champion. You've got a huge target on your back. For that reason, you've got to find a way to perform better than you did the year before or you won't win again. It definitely gets tougher with every one, without a doubt. If I could somehow pull this one off it would be my fourth. There's no question each one has gotten more difficult to get. This one certainly will be by far the most difficult one yet if we can achieve that goal."

Connolly's teammate Jeg Coughlin has driven his Chevy Cobalt to three wins this season and enters the Countdown to 1 in third place with 3,010 points. The Ohio native will be looking for his third career Pro Stock championship.

"Well, we're definitely excited about the Countdown to 1 heading into Vegas and Pomona," Coughlin said. "There are four of us, and four of us are capable of winning. I think that's exciting not only for NHRA POWERade drag racing, but it gives us the drivers, the teams, the media, the opportunity to get out and promote the heck out of this sport that we know and love, and that's great for all of us, the sponsors, great for the teams, the team owners and for the sport. Exciting times. We're glad to be a part of it.

"Obviously it's been a fun stretch to this point. As Greg pointed out, any one of the two of us probably have had a good two-race stretch, although it's tough to argue with Dave's success here the last five races. But the other three of us are ready to mix it up and put our name in the books as POWERade champion."

In Funny Car, Tony Pedregon leads the field of four into the playoffs with 3,030 points in his Q Horsepower Chevy Impala SS. The 2003 POWERade Series Funny Car champ has three wins on the season and will be joined by 2005 POWERade champion Gary Scelzi (3,020 points), Force Racing's Robert Hight (3,010) and Schumacher Racing's Ron Capps (3,000) in the two-race quest for the 2007 championship.

"We're in some very good company to be in the top four," Pedregon said. "It's a big achievement for me. I think my team has worked hard and we're real privileged and pleased to be in the final four.

"I think that the focus is on the top four cars to have a chance to win the championship. But I think there's probably some pretty (ticked) off drivers that didn't make the final four that would love to, you know, make it so that they could become a spoiler. You know, really in a sense, I think the final outcome is going to be a little different. But I really believe that going into these last two races, I mean, the approach for any of us that are in the top four, we can't discount the fact there are some other cars and some other teams. It's going to be business as usual. Really you take away all of the pre-race and all the hype, I mean, I think the new points system has without question made it a lot more exciting. But I think for all of us that are in the top four, we've all got a lot of experience. We've all got very good teams and a lot of good backing. I really believe that we're all professionals. When it's all said and done, I really believe we're going to al l race, we're going to race heads up, and I think that's what's going to make it exciting."

In Top Fuel, Team Chevy's Larry Dixon in his SkyTel Top Fuel dragster has recorded three wins and three runners-up on the season and leads a field of four with 3,030 points into the Countdown to 1 that includes Rod Fuller (3,020 points), three-time defending class champion Tony Schumacher (3,010) and Brandon Bernstein (3,000). The Avon, Ind., resident will be looking for his third POWERade championship driving for the legendary Don "The Snake" Prudhomme.

"Well, obviously I'm excited about being a part of it," Dixon said. "You know all four of us have a shot at winning a championship. I think that's what everybody set out for at the beginning of the season, so with two to go we've got a shot. I think you'll see our team no different than everybody else's team to throw everything on the table and see how it all plays out.

"For me personally, I spent two-thirds of the season looking how many points ahead of ninth place I am just so I'm in that first -- the first cutoff period. Then the next part of the Countdown you're looking back to fifth place. I haven't spent any time looking to first place at all. Then all of a sudden now with two weeks to go, only two races to go, now everybody that's left in it, the four of us, it's all about shooting for first place. We'll go out there and hope for the best."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Bob Glidden , Brandon Bernstein , Jason Line