Millington: Darrell Russell Saturday summary

Last-gasp effort pays off for Russell. MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Sept. 21) -- A rain-shortened qualifying session for this weekend's 15th annual Mid-South NHRA Nationals put the pressure on Joe Amato's Bilstein Engine Flush System Top Fuel dragster crew...

Last-gasp effort pays off for Russell.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Sept. 21) -- A rain-shortened qualifying session for this weekend's 15th annual Mid-South NHRA Nationals put the pressure on Joe Amato's Bilstein Engine Flush System Top Fuel dragster crew and Rookie of the Year driver Darrell Russell. But just as they have all season, the team responded, with Russell driving from out-of-contention to the No. 12 position in the group's third and final qualifying attempt.

Torrential rain Friday forced officials to cancel the opening round of qualifying outright and postpone the second session until late in the evening when a sticky fog enveloped the track. The conditions didn't agree with the Bilstein Engine Flush rail, which lost traction near half-track. The group's problems continued in today's first session when the fuel pump drive shaft cracked, resulting in a leaner fuel mixture, which consequently allowed the motor to create too much power and thus overpower the racetrack.

Even the final session was filled with drama as the car directly ahead of Russell severely oiled down the surface. But with his 42-race-streak of successful qualifying efforts on the line, Russell and crew chief Wayne Dupuy responded with a critical 4.822-second pass at 296.18 mph to keep the 34-year-old Russell perfect as a professional.

"That was a big lap for this Bilstein Engine Flush team," Dupuy said."We had the car backed down to run about a 4.75 but when that guy in front of us oiled the track down I backed her down even more because I knew we needed to get in and I wanted to make sure we didn't smoke the tires. I told Darrell,' Get this thing to the other end even if you have to do it upside down.' He did his job and we got in the show. That was a clutch job by everyone on this team. My guys did me proud on this one."

Russell was equally excited."I couldn't even breathe at the other end of the track because I was holding my breath all the way down," he said."They were trying to interview me and I was gassed. What a great job by Wayne and the boys. We're paid to perform under pressure and everyone handled it very well."

The team's attention will now shift to race day and first-round opponent Tony Schumacher, who qualified fifth with a 312.13 mph.

ESPN2 has added some coverage time to this weekend's 15th annual Mid-South NHRA Nationals. Qualifying highlights will air from 10 a.m.-midnight (ET) later this evening. Sunday's elimination rounds begin at 3:30 p.m. (ET) and continue until 7 p.m. A consolidated show of the entire race will run from 2:30 - 4:30 p.m. (ET) Friday.

-jar-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato