WILK'S MAGIC NUMBER: 1 LAP READING, Pa. (August 18, 2009) -- It is still hypothetically possible for Tim Wilkerson to fail in his quest to clinch a position in the NHRA Countdown playoffs this weekend in Reading, but the options for doing...
WILK'S MAGIC NUMBER: 1 LAP
READING, Pa. (August 18, 2009) -- It is still hypothetically possible for Tim Wilkerson to fail in his quest to clinch a position in the NHRA Countdown playoffs this weekend in Reading, but the options for doing so are hardly credible, to say the least. He could, possibly, get lost on his way to the track and fail to arrive on Friday or Saturday. Or, theoretically, he could have his complete racing organization stolen by nefarious sorts who are bent on keeping the fast-running Levi, Ray & Shoup driver out of the playoffs. That's really about it when it comes to non-clinch options for Wilkerson, who enters the Reading race in the No. 5 spot on the Full Throttle leader board.
So, despite the fact it's easy enough to get lost on the winding roads that seem to veer aimlessly in the hills outside of Reading, one can expect Mr. Wilkerson to arrive. And, while we can all admit the world is a dangerous place, it's highly unlikely anyone will hot-wire the LRS transporter and then conceal it, along with the LRS Shelby Mustang, in a hidden transporter-shaped location. What will occur, though, is Wilkerson's official playoff clinching moment, which will take place as soon as he makes his first qualifying pass during this weekend's Toyo Tires Nationals, at historic and scenic Maple Grove Raceway. Once he makes that first lap, no matter the e.t. or the provisional spot it earns him, he will receive 10 Full Throttle points and will lock-in his post-season opportunity.
If not for the want of a few inches (and six thousandths of a second) this past Sunday in Brainerd, Wilk would've earned his playoff spot before ever arriving in Pennsylvania, but his razor-thin loss to Ron Capps in round one left him just a couple of points short of sealing the deal. As disappointing as that loss was, it actually provided the LRS driver with more confidence and excitement, thanks to the massive improvement it illustrated after a tough qualifying effort in Minnesota.
"When you run that good, and get beat by an inch or two, you try to take all the good from the run and focus on that," Wilkerson said. "I'll be honest, it's easier to feel good about losing a round like that after you've just won back-to-back races, because you've put yourself in a pretty good spot. If you go into Brainerd on a long losing streak and get beat 4.11 to 4.12, well then you might pull your hair out. But, we knew we'd made a great lap, the car was fine, and we had more than enough to win a third straight race. We just ran into the only Funny Car on the planet that could beat us in the first round.
"I didn't know about the playoff thing until after the day was over, so there was no disappointment in that either. It's really complicated, figuring out how and when you can clinch, but we got word right after the race that we'll lock up our spot once we make a qualifying lap in Reading, so that's great to know. Once we won Seattle and Sonoma, we kind of assumed we were basically in it, but now that we know exactly what the deal is we can just concentrate on remembering that final lap in Brainerd and carrying it over to Reading."
With his playoff berth all but assured, Wilkerson will now focus on winning as many rounds as he can, to gain the best possible spot in the Countdown after the points are reset following the Mac Tools US Nationals in Indianapolis. Each spot in the Countdown field will be separated by only 10 points, although the driver in the top spot will receive an additional 20-point bonus for having accomplished that feat during the regular season. Therefore, the difference between sneaking into the playoffs in 10th place versus entering the playoffs from the top spot will be 110 points, or six rounds of racing. Considering the entire Countdown portion of the season is six races long, anything is possible but every spot in the playoff field will be important.
"As everyone knows, we've tried it from the top spot and that didn't work out for us, but there's no getting around the fact you want to be as high up in the rankings as you can be. It's not just the 110 points, or however many you have to make up, it's all the other drivers in the way. If it was just you and the top guy, with six races to duke it out, you could make that up in two races. But, if you're going to have four, six, or even eight other great teams in the way, that's a lot of people to leapfrog because some of them are going to be winning rounds just like you are.
"Bottom line is, though, that none of that changes our outlook. We're going to these last two regular-season races to win as many rounds as we can, because we always do that. We're not going to give anything away, or go into 'test mode' because we're locked in. We're going to try to win everything that's in front of us, and then when the playoffs start we won't have to switch gears, either mentally or mechanically. It's just one long process, and the mentality is always the same. Like old Al Davis says, 'Just win, baby'."
If the same LRS Shelby that was put away after racing in Brainerd is the car that comes out of the transporter in Reading, Wilkerson will have a solid shot at doing just that. And once he makes his first pass, he can check that "Make The Playoffs" box off his 2009 "To Do" list.