Pomona: Darrell Russell preview

Defending champ ready to repeat POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 4) -- Bilstein Engine Flush Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell returns to Pomona Raceway as the defending champion of the 42nd annual K&N Filters Winternationals. Last year, Russell, who is...

Defending champ ready to repeat

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 4) -- Bilstein Engine Flush Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell returns to Pomona Raceway as the defending champion of the 42nd annual K&N Filters Winternationals. Last year, Russell, who is legend Joe Amato's hand-picked successor, became just the third driver in NHRA history to win his first race as a professional, joining Gary Scelzi (Top Fuel, 1997) and K.C. Spurlock (Funny Car, 1990) in the record books.

The win, coupled with another victory late in the season in Las Vegas as well as five runner-up finishes over the course of the year, helped the 33-year-old Texan win NHRA Rookie of the Year honors.

This time around Russell will aim for another unique distinction -- that of becoming the first Top Fuel champion to win back-to-back titles at the historic Winternationals. Russell knows his bid for the 2002 POWERade Drag Racing Series championship begins and ends at drag racing's home, Pomona, Calif.

"This will be the first time I've defended the title of a race as a professional," Russell said. "It's a nice feeling. But the truth is I don't think the fact we won here last year means a lot. The teams racing at this level are so good and I can tell you already there will be 10-12 cars that can win this race.

"The POWERade Drag Racing Series is tough. Realistically, we start every weekend with the same goal--to earn a spot in the field. Then you try to improve each round and you see what happens.

"Last year was a surprise because it was our first race together as a team. It was my first race as a Top Fuel driver and Jimmy Walsh's first race as a crew chief. We weren't the quickest or the fastest, in fact we never had lane choice on race day, but our car was consistent and the guys we were racing kept beating themselves.

"It would be huge to repeat at the Winternationals. The fact it hasn't been done before in Top Fuel is a cool footnote but the important thing is that a win would be a great start to the season for us. We want to win the POWERade championship so every round is important, whether it's at the season opener or the season-ending race."

For the first time, Russell will be flying the colors of his new primary sponsor Bilstein Engine Flush at this year's K&N Filters Winternationals. Bilstein Engine Flush signed on as a corporate backer of Amato Racing in January.

Both ESPN and ESPN2 will carry portions of the Winternationals. Qualifying highlights air from 4:30-6 p.m., Saturday, on ESPN, and continue from 6-7 p.m., Saturday, on ESPN2. Primetime elimination coverage runs from 5-7 p.m., Sunday, on ESPN. The eliminations will be rebroadcast from 3-5 a.m., Monday, Feb. 11, on ESPN, and again from 4-6 a.m., Friday, Feb. 15, on ESPN2. Times are listed in Eastern Standard Time.

-gm racing-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Gary Scelzi