Reading: Recent progress has Thomas 'optimistic'

READING, Pa. (Sept. 11) -- Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas enters this weekend's 16th annual Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in an upbeat mood that has resulted from the recent changes he made with his Matco Tools-sponsored team. Thomas, a...

READING, Pa. (Sept. 11) -- Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas enters this weekend's 16th annual Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in an upbeat mood that has resulted from the recent changes he made with his Matco Tools-sponsored team. Thomas, a perennial top-10 contender who by his own estimation has struggled mightily in 2000, is buoyed by his car's performance at the tour's recent stops in Brainerd, Minn., and Indianapolis.

Now, the 47-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., hopes his engine builder Rick Hickman and new crew chief Tim Freeman can help him kick it up a notch in Pennsylvania's Dutch Country.

"We're all very optimistic about the Reading race," said Thomas, who currently is 21st in the Winston points but could move up four spots with a strong performance at this event. "We're starting to have a lot of qualifying sessions where this Matco Tools car is running equal or better elapsed times than the top 10 guys. That tells me we are moving in the right direction.

"The rest of this season can really tell us a lot about our program and where we are in relation to the guys that will be competing for the championship in 2001. It's going to be a whole new ballgame next season when the new cars roll out, but we can still learn a lot about our engines this year. That's the goal at this point; we want to send some loud messages to the rest of the class down the stretch."

Thomas certainly has some weapons in his arsenal. His Finish Line Racing Engine shop, which relocated to Knoxville in January, is still producing some of the best horsepower in the Pro Stock class. Thomas' limited client list continues to rack-up wins with the powerplants.

"Rick has done a fantastic job of making horsepower," Thomas said. "We haven't been able to capitalize on it yet because the car itself has had problems but it's really comforting to know the power is there. Not everyone can say they have the horsepower to win. We can."

Same-day television coverage of the 16th annual Keystone Nationals will air from 9:30-11:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, Sept. 17, on ESPN2.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas , Tim Freeman