CARQUEST AUTO PARTS NHRA WINTERNATIONALS OPENS SEASON OF CHANGES POMONA, Calif. -- Plenty of changes will greet fans, teams and drivers when the NHRA POWERade Series opens its second Countdown to the Championship at the 48th annual CARQUEST Auto...
CARQUEST AUTO PARTS NHRA WINTERNATIONALS OPENS SEASON OF CHANGES
POMONA, Calif. -- Plenty of changes will greet fans, teams and drivers when the NHRA POWERade Series opens its second Countdown to the Championship at the 48th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Feb. 7-10.
The event, which will be telecast on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD, is the first in an 18-race regular season, and that's the first change.
In 2007, drivers negotiated a three-tier season that culminated in a two-race run for the title (Las Vegas 2, Pomona 2). Now only one cut separates the championship-contenders from the spoilers, in what proves to be an eat-or-be-eaten Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend. Points will be re-set, but the drivers leading in four categories (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle) will be given a 20-point (or one-round) bonus for their efforts in the regular season. Ten drivers in each category will make the cut, up from eight last year.
And that brings us to the drivers.
Almost every major POWERade Series team brings something new to the table in 2008.
Consider Don Schumacher Racing, for one. Jerry Toliver, Cory McClenathan and Chip Ellis will compete under the DSR umbrella this season, in Funny Car, Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively.
As for the former U.S. Army Pro Stock Motorcycle duo of Antron Brown and Angelle Sampey? Brown, a newly-minted Top Fuel pilot, will drive the Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster for David Powers Motorsports. Sampey makes her Buell debut with Klement Motorsports when Pro Stock Motorcycle opens its season in Gainesville in March. Veteran DSR Funny Car driver Ron Capps returns with the team but will sport new NAPA Auto Parts colors on his Dodge Charger.
"Last year, with all the announcements from NHRA, including the Countdown to the Championship, it was such a breath of fresh air," Capps said. "And we feel it again this year with the new Countdown format...It's going to be an exciting year. More than anything, for us, with our new sponsor and all that NAPA Auto Parts is going to do for the sport of drag racing, I can't wait for the season to start. And I can't wait for the fans to see all the NAPA commercials coming up here in February and March."
Top Fuel and Funny Car teams will run on 90-percent nitro fuel, up from 85 percent. Across the pits, John Force Racing has undergone some changes of its own and the team is about to see the results of its efforts. After enduring months of vigorous physical therapy, team owner/driver John Force is back, ready to go following successful testing in his new Castrol GTX Ford Mustang equipped with the latest safety gear.
Former crew chief wunderkind Mike Neff will see what he can do behind the wheel for JFR, while Ashley Force makes her first championship charge without the 'rookie' moniker. Neff unseated his now-owner John Force when he tuned Don Schumacher's Gary Scelzi to the POWERade world championship title in 2005.
Pro Stock has seen its own share of changes. In 2006, it looked like nothing could break the hold Summit Racing Equipment teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line had on the championship. Between the two, they'd had the crown for four years -- and in 2007, seven of the 17 races in the regular season were won by either Anderson (who won six) or Line (who won one) but another team trumped their efforts. Seven regular-season wins were earned by the Cagnazzi Racing combo of Jeg Coughlin and Dave Connolly. Coughlin posted a 10-5 round record in the playoffs, the best of any Pro Stock driver, to win his third career POWERade Series world championship title.
"We are excited to defend our NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championship from last year," Coughlin said. "Carrying the No. 1 on the side of your car always adds a little extra pressure, but it also gives the team a little extra energy to dig deeper and work harder to keep the No. 1 on your car. There are going to be a lot of significant things that happen in 2008 that we mold and shape the future direction of the NHRA and that in itself is exciting."
The qualifying procedure for POWERade Series events has also been altered. Only the top 12 times will be officially recorded after the first day of qualifying. That leaves four spots unclaimed. The top 12 times will not be locked in, however, and drivers in that top tier can still be bumped or moved in the order during the final two qualifying sessions, where the final four spots will be earned for a full 16-car field.
It should be quite a year.
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 7-8. Qualifying continues at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9 and final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 10.
TICKETS: Tickets are available for the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals. Call Auto Club Raceway at (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or check online at ticketmaster.com.
ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Feb. 9. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Raceday, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Feb. 10. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise the race beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Feb. 10.