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Championship Picture Gets Clearer Out West KENT, Wash. - The West Coast swing can make or break a driver's chance of scoring a Winston championship. With the second-half of the season beginning in Southern California, then moving through ...

Championship Picture Gets Clearer Out West

KENT, Wash. - The West Coast swing can make or break a driver's chance of scoring a Winston championship. With the second-half of the season beginning in Southern California, then moving through Colorado, Washington, and Northern California, only to head back east, then turn around and finish off the season in Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif., six of the final 12 races will be contested out west.

Indeed, crucial points are at stake on the west side. Three eventual Winston champions appeared in the final rounds in Seattle last season as the contenders were separated from the pretenders in the chase towards the series crown. Championship hopes are on the line again as the second half of the NHRA's 50th anniversary season continues with the 14th annual Prolong Super Lubricants NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts, July 27-29, at Seattle International Raceway.

Gary Scelzi, John Force and Richie Stevens are the defending pro category winners of the $1.7 million race, the 15th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Three-time Winston champion Scelzi drove past Doug Kalitta in an exciting side-by-side final round race for his record-tying sixth Top Fuel win on the year. Scelzi will need an impressive showing on the West Coast to make up vital ground between him and points leader Kenny Bernstein and the Bud King dragster. Bernstein is chasing his sixth career Winston championship but hasn't won in Seattle since his 1988 Funny Car victory. Several drivers are hoping to contribute to Bernstein's absence from the winner's circle in the Northwest, including Doug Kalitta, who is always extraordinary out west, rookie Darrell Russell, Mike Dunn and the Yankee dragster, and Larry Dixon in his Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster.

The animated Force inched closer to the points lead and eventual championship as he notched his 87th career Funny Car victory last season when final round opponent Frank Pedregon lost traction and rolled to a runner-up finish. The 10-time champ Force already has a commanding lead in the Winston standings as he seeks his record-breaking 11th series title. The Seattle race will be crucial to any competitor who plans to challenge Force for Funny Car supremacy. Force's teammate Tony Pedregon, '99 event winner Del Worsham, Bruce Sarver and Ron Capps are planning to make the 2001 season more than a race for second place.

Stevens scored his third career victory in Pro Stock as he defeated the eventual Winston champ Jeg Coughlin in the finale. Coughlin's runner-up finish added to what proved to be an insurmountable points lead en route to the title. Unlike last year, fans of the ultra-competitive door-slammer category have seen the Winston points lead change hands several times with a variety of winners throughout the season. Coughlin, five-time Winston champ Warren Johnson, two-time champ Jim Yates, and the revitalized Mark Pawuk will battle it out for the Pro Stock crown.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is set to begin at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. on July 27 and will continue at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on July 28. Final professional eliminations begin at 10:30 a.m. on July 29.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 14th annual Prolong Super Lubricants NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts. Call Seattle International Raceway at (253) 631-1550 or Ticketmaster for ticket information. Tickets are also available at nhra.com.

* TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise two hours of eliminations coverage at 6 p.m. (ET) on July 29. ESPN2 also will feature two separate qualifying shows on July 28, including a one-hour program at 7 p.m. (ET) and a two-hour program starting at 10 p.m. (ET).

ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at www.nhra.com.

-NHRA-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta