Richmond: Final eliminations report

SCELZI, CAPPS BUMP TEAMMATE BECKMAN ON DRAMATIC FINAL DAY OF THE COUNTDOWN TO 4 Kalitta wins first race of 2007; Connolly wins fifth in a row, enters Countdown to 1 as No. 1 seed in Pro Stock DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Four-time POWERade Series ...

Kalitta wins first race of 2007; Connolly wins fifth in a row, enters Countdown to 1 as No. 1 seed in Pro Stock

DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Four-time POWERade Series champion Gary Scelzi punctuated a dramatic final Sunday in the Countdown to 4, the first round of the NHRA Playoffs, with a huge victory at the Second annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park to claim one of the four berths in the two-race championship.

Scelzi jumped from sixth to second place with the win over teammate Ron Capps in the Funny Car final and he was joined in the winner's circle by Top Fuel's Doug Kalitta and Pro Stock's Dave Donnolly, who swept his way through the first round of the NHRA Playoffs with four straight wins to earn the No. 1 seed in Pro Stock's Countdown to 1.

"Things are just clicking for us right now," said Connolly, who has won five straight races overall. "It was nice to sweep the first leg of the Countdown but we have two races left (in Las Vegas and Pomona) so that's what we're concentrating on. This team will be ready. We tested for two days before this race and we have a long testing schedule to complete before we head to Vegas. The work is definitely not done."

Connolly's incredible winning streak in Pro Stock has now reached five races, which ties him for the second longest run in class history behind Bob Glidden's nine-in-a-row back in 1978-'79. Greg Anderson also won five straight in 2004, as did Ronnie Sox in '70-'71.

Capps secured the fourth and final berth in Funny Car with his semifinal win over Tim Wilkerson; Tony Pedregon and Robert Hight, first and third, respectively, will be the other two finalists in the Funny Car Countdown to 1. The hard-luck loser in Funny Car was Jack Beckman, who would have clinched a berth with either a Scelzi or Capps loss in the semifinals, but when both won his championship hopes were dashed.

The drama in Top Fuel played out in the first round when fourth-place Brandon Bernstein ousted fifth-place Bob Vandergriff to cement his position in Top Fuel's final four; the other three finalists in Top Fuel, in 1-2-3 order, are Larry Dixon, Rod Fuller and Tony Schumacher.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson will be the No. 2 seed and the Pro Stock final four was filled out by No. 3 Jeg Coughlin, who drove his way in with a first-round win Sunday, and Allen Johnson, who clinched the fourth and final Pro Stock berth when his teammate eliminated fifth-place Kurt Johnson in the second round.

The top four drivers who remain alive in the Countdown to the Championship will have their points reset in 10-point increments, from 3,030 to 3,000, before heading to Las Vegas (Oct. 26-28) and Pomona (Nov. 1-4) for the two-race championship, the Countdown to 1, that will determine the 2007 POWERade Series world championships.

The Funny Car final was, for all intents and purposes, the first roud of the Countdown to 1 since both drivers had just clinched their positions and they were tied in points. The winner of the race would pass Robert Hight and emerge with 3,020 points after the reset and the loser would end up with 3,000.

Scelzi was second off the starting line by a hundredth but he soon zoomed by a tire-smoking Capps to take the win with a 4.956 at 306.60 mph in his Mopar/Oakley Charger to Capps' resigned 5.935 at 207.11 mph in his Brut Dodge.

"It was a great day," Scelzi said. "[Crew chief Todd] Okuhara made all the right calls. He's just incredible. [Former tuner] Mike Neff got us here and I don't ever want to forget that. Mike and I are very close and I hope I can help him learn how to drive a Funny Car. He means a lot to me, and then Okuhara has slipped right into that role. I've had three awesome tuners in my career -- Alan Johnson, Mike Neff, and Todd Okuhara -- and each one I love dearly.

"Before the final I told Todd, 'you know, we're in the Countdown deal already but it would be even better if we were second in the points.' The only way to do that was to win so I told him to hop it up. I said, 'put some more in there, you coward.' He started laughing and jumped in the box. Let me tell you, that thing was aggressive. That was probably the worst job of driving ever but we got the win light."

Scelzi improved to 4-0 in final rounds this year and 37-21 for his career. Capps drops to 3-4 on the season and 25-27 overall.

Doug Kalitta won his first Top Fuel race in more than a year by beating Melanie Troxel, extending his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one win to 10. He is fourth on that list now that is headed by John Force's streak of 21 consecutive seasons with a win. Kurt Johnson is next with 13, Angelle Sampey's is third with wins in 12 straight seasons and Whit Bazemore -- who hasn't won yet this season -- has won in 10 straight seasons.

After finishing 2006 on the losing end of the closest points race in history, Kalitta has endured the worst Top Fuel season of his career in '07. Some of that pain was erased Sunday when he broke through for his first victory in more than a year (Memphis, 2006), which came when he outran Troxel by three-hundredths of a second, 4.647 at 316.08 mph against Troxel's 4.649 at 316.45 mph.

"I was starting to wonder if we'd keep our streak alive," Kalitta said. "We've had a pretty tough year but we have Jon-O [Oberhofer] tuning the car now and he's doing a great job. The guys are all working hard, and Dick LaHaie has been helping. Of course, Connie [Kalitta, uncle] is there. It's been a struggle but we're getting through it."

Connolly's fifth straight win one was over early as he pasted Vieri Gaines at the starting line by .046 seconds and roared away for his 17th career win with a 6.671 at 206.95 mph in his Torco/Seelye Wright Chevrolet Cobalt. Gaines carded a 6.679 at 206.92 mph in his Kendall Dodge.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Bob Glidden , Dick LaHaie , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Allen Johnson , Bob Vandergriff , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Angelle Sampey , Mike Neff