Scene set for season finale in Pomona

With one race to go before the NHRA POWERade Champion trophies are awarded, Tony Schumacher, Jeff Arend, Dave Connolly and Andrew Hines lead the field into Sunday's final eliminations for the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona....

With one race to go before the NHRA POWERade Champion trophies are awarded, Tony Schumacher, Jeff Arend, Dave Connolly and Andrew Hines lead the field into Sunday's final eliminations for the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The finale of the 2007 season is also the finale of the NHRA's first ever Countdown to the Championship.

The Countdown to the Championship was designed to take the championship race down to the wire and is doing just that in three of the four classes in its inaugural season. All but Funny Car will be decided during Sunday's eliminations.

All four Top Fuel contenders are still in the running going into Sunday, though Rod Fuller has the advantage. He leads the Championship points after winning in Las Vegas last weekend over Larry Dixon, Brandon Bernstein and Schumacher. Fuller, adding more drama to the weekend, waited until the third round of qualifying on Saturday to get into the show and sits in the 11th spot.

Schumacher pulled out all the stops for the last round of qualifying, blasting down the quarter mile in 4.50 seconds and a top speed of 323.04 mph, jumping up to the number one spot. Currently fourth in the Championship points, Schumacher appreciates sitting atop the ladder, but downplayed the value.

"All it does is allow us lane choice," Schumacher said. "In this sport you can win from every position you qualify. I'd rather be one than eleventh though [where Fuller sits]. I'd rather have lane choice."

Schumacher has had his share of success this year. "We've won five races. That is a fantastic season," he shared. "I'm going to get up in the morning and try to win a championship. It's a long shot, but it's open. We need to win the race."

Arend blasted down the Pomona quarter mile in 4.781 seconds with a top speed of 324.90 mph to grab the Funny Car pole position. He'll meet Tony Pedregon in the first round who's essentially a lock for the FC Championship.

"You'd think when you're number one you'd get someone other than the world champion in the first round," Arend lamented. "But I'm real proud of the [crew]. They're giving it their all and there's a lot of pride on this team."

Arend assured his team isn't going to be intimidated by the soon-to-be champs. "We're not laying down for anything. We'd like to go out with a win tomorrow. Any race we go to we're trying to win."

Tony Pedregon can clean off a place on the mantle for his 2007 Funny Car Championship trophy. Just by qualifying for Sunday's field, Pedregon all but clinched the title. He built a seemingly insurmountable lead last weekend in Las Vegas over fellow Countdown contenders Gary Scelzi, Robert Hight and Ron Capps with his win there.

The only way for someone else to win is for Pedregon to go out in the first round and one of the other contenders to win the event and set a national record. The odds are stacked against them, but it is possible. Tony Schumacher did just that in 2006 to steal the Top Fuel Championship from Doug Kalitta.

Four riders are focused on the Pro Stock Motorcycle Championship with Andrew Hines leading Chip Ellis, Matt Smith and Peggy Llewellyn, though it's mathematically impossible for Llewellyn to win the title. Hines padded his lead with a final qualifying 6.956 second track record run that moved him up to the pole, screaming to a speed of 192.22 mph. Ellis sits fourth and Smith. Hines looks prime to earn his fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle Championship.

"I feel pretty confident right now, but it's going to be a heck of a day," Hines shared. "I think those last two qualifying points might be the two most crucial points I've ever scored in my career. There are so many great bikes out there you can't take anything for granted. We do have a bit of a cushion, but hopefully we don't need it and we can win out tomorrow."

The closest Championship race involves Pro Stock drivers Greg Anderson, Jeg Coughlin and Dave Connolly. Connolly did his part to make it exciting with his number one qualifying run, a low ET 6.648 seconds with a top speed of 208.01 mph. Anderson grabbed the second spot on the ladder and Coughlin the fourth.

Connolly shared that his team tried to slow down their qualifying run in hopes of creating a first round match up with fellow Championship competitor Anderson. "We kept adding weight and the thing wouldn't slow down. It's probably the first time in my pro stock career that we tried to slow down and got faster," he shared. "We wanted to put the destiny in our own hands, but we have to rely on some of our fellow Pro Stock competitors tomorrow and hope they can beat up on Greg first tomorrow.

"It's gonna be an exciting day tomorrow," Connolly said. "We'll go out and try to win this one tomorrow. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."

All the trophies and cardboard checks will be handed out tomorrow during final eliminations for the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Events begin at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona at 10am. (Don't forget to turn back your clocks tonight.)

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Peggy Llewellyn , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Jeff Arend , Chip Ellis , Rod Fuller , Dave Connolly