Phoenix: Teams use preseason data for round two assault

Teams use preseason data for Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals assault. CHANDLER, Ariz. - With the 2003 NHRA POWERade season running on all cylinders by the time the circuit reaches the Valley of the Sun, professional competitors will look for...

Teams use preseason data for Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals assault.

CHANDLER, Ariz. - With the 2003 NHRA POWERade season running on all cylinders by the time the circuit reaches the Valley of the Sun, professional competitors will look for any slight advantage to gain an edge on the quarter-mile drag strip.

Following preseason testing in the Phoenix area, several NHRA teams hope the data they obtained will put them in the winner's circle at the 19th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Feb. 20-23, at Firebird International Raceway. The $1.9 million race, which will be televised on ESPN2, is the second of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

More than 20 professional teams competed in the open test session at the always-quick Firebird Raceway, with each team recording valuable information with every pass down the track. The data helps crew chiefs decide on the right tune-ups for their vehicles to be used during the season, or at a specific event like the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals. Since the weather plays such an important role in the performance of the car, the close proximity of the test session to the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals is a bonus for teams and crew chiefs because the atmospheric conditions are similar at both events.

Defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon began his championship run last season with an unbelievable start, advancing to the final round at 10 of the first 11 races, including a runner-up finish at last year's national event at FIR. Dixon was impressive in the test session behind the wheel of his Miller Lite dragster, recording the quickest pass of the three-day event held in mid-January. Defending event winner Tony Schumacher, the 1999 Top Fuel champion and another budding superstar, also had some eye-opening passes in the U.S. Army dragster and showed he will be a contender for the $400,000 championship purse offered by POWERade.

Top Fuel rookie Brandon Bernstein showed he wasn't going to be intimidated by the veteran nitro-pilots, as he recorded some of the top numbers of the session in the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster, formerly driven by his retired father Kenny. The 30-year-old will be intently watched as he takes over the driving duties of one of the most heralded vehicles in all of motorsports.

Last year NHRA icon John Force again proved to be too much for the rest of the Funny Car field, snagging his 12th POWERade championship and the 10th in a row for the all-time winningest driver in NHRA history (106 wins). Force has been dominant at Firebird over the past few years in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, but last season's event winner, Del Worsham, is seeking to join Force as the only two Funny Car drivers to repeat as event champions at Firebird. Worsham's Pontiac Firebird would prove to be a contender for the crown all season, and is a favorite to dethrone Force in 2003. Last season's championship battle went down to the season-ending event, and all signs indicate another year-long battle for Funny car supremacy

Texas' Bruce Allen came out on top in Pro Stock in his Pontiac Grand Am, becoming the second of 13 eventual different winners in the category in 2002. This following the 2001 season, which had 15 different drivers visit the winner's circle, making the 200-mph category one of the most competitive classes is any form of motorsports. Jeg Coughlin won at Phoenix in 2000 en route to his first series crown and will be a favorite heading into the 2003 Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals. A first round loss at last season's event was one of several early season disappointments that Coughlin overcame with his second-half dominance that led him to the 2002 title in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Bruce Allen , Brandon Bernstein