Las Vegas II: Penultimate round preview

DRIVERS IN SPRINT DOWN FINAL STRAIGHTAWAY WITH ALL EYES ON CHAMPIONSHIP TITLES LAS VEGAS -- Racers in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series have different ways of dealing with intense pressure. In the car or on the bike, they break down movements...


LAS VEGAS -- Racers in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series have different ways of dealing with intense pressure. In the car or on the bike, they break down movements in their mind until they become habit and worry isn't an option. Out of the car and off the bike, and with just two races left in the Countdown to the Championship, it's a whole new game.

"Normal" is what they want. Routine passes that go exactly as planned are what they need. But in a season that's been anything but and the inaugural Countdown to the Championship titles on the line, the fastest racers of the NHRA POWERade Series are feeling the strain.

"It's going to be a war," said Gary Scelzi, a four-time world champion with titles in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. "NHRA wants fan excitement. I tell you what, they ought to see what they're doing to the drivers. They're making us a mess."

The final sprint begins with the seventh annual ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Oct. 25-28, and ends with the Auto Club NHRA Finals at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Pomona, Calif. Nov. 1-4.

The four Funny Car drivers in the Countdown to One have already fought through one of the most talented fields in NHRA history to earn a shot at the title -- but as Scelzi will tell you, the hardest part remains. Scelzi and his Don Schumacher Racing-owned teammates Ron Capps and Jack Beckman, who was bumped out of the title running by his teammates in Richmond, took advantage of a last-minute test session at The Strip one week before the event there.

"You know, as far as the Funny Car class just on its own, I think it's just going to be a whole team that you kind of look at (as far as who wins the world title)," Capps said. "I don't think you can take any of the four drivers and put them out and say this is what's going to happen or this guy might fold under pressure situations.

"I think you've got -- no disrespect to any of the other teams - I think you've got four of the best teams to duke it out for two races. It's already exciting."

Two former world champions -- Scelzi and Tony Pedregon, who in 2003 became the only driver other than John Force to win the title in more than a decade -- are still in the hunt. Capps is certainly proven, and hungry. His three close misses have made him one of the most talented drivers in the Series to have never won a title. And Hight, according to Capps, has stared down enough traumas this year to make him more than stable under pressure.

Then there's the field of spoilers that, with just a few more rounds wins or one more trip to the winner's circle, could have still been in the running for the big one.

The story's the same in Top Fuel, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Four-time and defending Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher made the Countdown to 1, but he's in third place. Larry Dixon leads the standings going into Las Vegas, with hometown favorite Rod Fuller in the No. 2 spot and Brandon Bernstein rounding out the eligible.

In Pro Stock, Dave Connolly continued his improbable but not impossible string of consecutive event wins, racking up his fifth in a row and eighth of the season. He comes to Las Vegas in the No. 1 spot, leading three-time world champion Greg Anderson, Jeg Coughlin and Allen Johnson, who faced his own personal struggle when his father had a heart attack in Phoenix. He returned to the track almost immediately and now Johnson will make his first serious run for the title.

Peggy Llewellyn is looking for a Cinderella ending to her first ever championship run in Pro Stock Motorcycle. She won her first POWERade Series event in Dallas and at the same time qualified for the Countdown to 1. She'll have to hold off three-time defending series champ Andrew Hines, along with Chip Ellis and season-long points leader Matt Smith if she's to complete her quest.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1 and 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 26, and 11:30 and 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 27. Pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. on Oct. 28, followed by the first round of professional eliminations at 11 a.m. Rounds of the Technicoat Top Fuel Shootout are scheduled for 1, 3:20 and 4:45 p.m. on Oct. 27.

TICKETS: For tickets, call Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (702) 644-4444.

ON TV: On Oct. 27, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 10 p.m. (ET). On Oct. 28, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will telecast NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET).

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Peggy Llewellyn , Jack Beckman , Brandon Bernstein , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Don Schumacher , Chip Ellis , Rod Fuller , Dave Connolly