SCHUMACHER, BECKMAN AND CONNOLLY WIN RAIN-PLAGUED SCHUCK'S AUTO SUPPLY NATIONALS Capps, Fuller and Connolly clinch berths in the Countdown playoffs KENT, Wash. -- Four-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher defeated Brandon Bernstein on a ...
SCHUMACHER, BECKMAN AND CONNOLLY WIN RAIN-PLAGUED SCHUCK'S AUTO SUPPLY NATIONALS
Capps, Fuller and Connolly clinch berths in the Countdown playoffs
KENT, Wash. -- Four-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher defeated Brandon Bernstein on a holeshot by just .004-second to claim the Top Fuel title on a rain-plagued Sunday at the 20th annual Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals.
"Fast Jack" Beckman made it two wins in a row in Funny Car when he defeated John Force in a final round that concluded with Force's Castrol GTX Ford in flames but, other than some singed paint, he was okay. Connolly climbed back into the winner's circle and ended Allen Johnson's bid for not just a second straight win on the Western Swing but also his second straight in Seattle with the quickest pass of the weekend.
The 14th race of the 23-race season -- and 17-race regular season -- saw three more drivers clinch berths in the Countdown playoffs: Rod Fuller in Top Fuel, Ron Capps in Funny Car and Connolly in Pro Stock. There are three races left in the regular season: the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals at Sonoma, Calif. (July 27-29), the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd, Minn. (Aug. 9-12) and the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Reading, Pa. (Aug. 16-19).
Four-time and reigning Top Fuel champion Schumacher rode a great car to the final and then let his driving do the talking, recording a giant holeshot victory over a much quicker Brandon Bernstein to win his third race of the year. Schumacher blazed from the gates with a .047-second reaction time in his U.S. Army dragster to Bernstein's .100 start in his Budweiser dragster. Schumacher then held on to win by less than two feet, crossing with a 4.607 at 307.79 mph to Bernstein's 4.558 at 328.86 mph.
"Now that was exciting," Schumacher said. "The car was running so good all day but something went wrong down at the other end and she was hurtin'. I would guess it was mixing up the cylinders pretty good. I couldn't wait for the finish line to get there.
Schumacher moved past J.R. Todd and into fourth place in the POWERade Series point standings and he is all but assured of a berth in the Countdown playoffs.
"This Countdown deal...it's as if the NHRA made it with us in mind. This team always comes alive in the second half of the season and I look down the schedule and see a bunch of tracks where we've always done well in the past. Anything can happen at the end, and it would suck to lose because a stupid part breaks, but the format of this deal is perfect for us."
Fuller is the first Top Fuel pro to earn a spot in the eight-car Countdown playoffs. He currently leads the POWERade standings by 134 points while Bernstein moved back around Larry Dixon for second place.
Drag racing instructor Beckman won his second Funny Car race in a row and the third of his career in grand fashion; removing 14-time champion Force from the equation with a 4.829 at 320.97 mph. Force's Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang encountered engine trouble in the final and ended up engulfed in flames. He was uninjured.
Once everyone realized that Force was okay, the celebration ensued in the Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger R/T lane.
"We waited 13 races to get back to the final and now we've made it two in a row," Beckman said. "I get the win and John blows up and gets all the TV. I stopped my car and ran over to help him, at least that's what it looked like, but I really wanted to get on TV. Seriously, beating them was special and I'm glad he's okay."
Three races ago, Force was 15th in the points with just two elimination round wins on his ledger. A win (at Bristol), a semifinal (at Denver) and a runner-up Sunday (at Seattle) later and he's pushed his way into the Countdown to the Championship field, passing Cruz Pedregon whom he now leads by 44 points.
Force's daughter Ashley Force got into a pedaling contest with Kenny Bernstein in the quarterfinals and her Castrol GTX/AAA Ford Mustang veered into the left side retaining wall. She climbed from the car under her own power and was checked and released by track medical personnel.
"I was steering it a little too much and I got in trouble," said Ashley Force, who is 60 points back of her dad for the last playoff berth. "In testing you don't practice pedaling because you don't want to hurt the car or parts. You just work on going from A-to-B. But the best drivers are the ones that can pedal, that's why my dad's won so many championships, and I don't have that experience yet."
Funny Car points leader Ron Capps lost to Ashley Force in the first round but he still clinched a berth in the Countdown playoffs, the first in his category to do so.
Johnson left first in his quest for back-to-back wins but Connolly had tracked him down by the 60-foot timer and went on to win with a track record 6.649-second pass at 206.20 mph over Johnson's 6.682 at 206.23 mph.
"We needed every bit of that run because I missed the Tree a little there," Connolly said. "The car saved me that time. What a perfect time for [crew chief] Tommy Utt to put that tune-up in there. It was a long day but definitely worth the wait."
The top two qualifiers at the event, Johnson and Connolly were quick all day. Johnson's J&J Racing Dodge Stratus posted two 6.67s and a 6.66 in carrying him to his 12th career final. Connolly's Torco Chevy Cobalt posted a 6.69, a 6.66, and a 6.67 en route to his 24th final.
Currently third in the POWERade Pro Stock points, Connolly joined Greg Anderson and Jeg Coughlin in the Countdown playoffs, leaving just five spots open in Pro Stock.