St Louis Top Fuel Preview

TOP FUEL CROWDED AT THE TOP, TOUGH BATTLE LOOMS FOR WINSTON CROWN MADISON, Ill. -- Perhaps reading the flow graph generated by a 6,000 horsepower race car's data computer would be less complex than running the numbers for the odds on a ...

TOP FUEL CROWDED AT THE TOP, TOUGH BATTLE LOOMS FOR WINSTON CROWN MADISON, Ill. -- Perhaps reading the flow graph generated by a 6,000 horsepower race car's data computer would be less complex than running the numbers for the odds on a favorite to win the NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship this season. To simplify: It's pretty darn close. As many as seven drivers are within point blank striking range at the midseason mark, while every driver in the top 10 has a legitimate shot with the proper combination of success and luck over the final 12 events. Team Mopar's Mike Dunn has been the front-runner for the balance of the season, and is holding on to a slim 61 point lead over closest challenger Doug Herbert, driver of the Snap-on Tools dragster. Kenny Bernstein, Larry Dixon and 330 mph man Tony Schumacher anchor positions 3-5 with their consistently strong performances. Defending Winston champ Gary Scelzi sits sixth, only 178 points out of first. Five-time champion Joe Amato is 204 points back in seventh with a ton of potential. Dunn says it's one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory, and while he's not keeping a constant lookout over his shoulder, he and crew chief Ken Veney are mapping out a strategy. "We're not necessarily counting points but we keep an eye on it," said Dunn, who will lead his challengers into competition at the third annual Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 24-26, at Gateway International Raceway. "Kenny is real close. It's a long season and we don't have that big of a lead. Right now anybody can win it. There's some great competition out here. Between Kenny, Scelzi, Cory and Doug Herbert with Dick LaHaie there's a lot of great racers contending for this thing." With early season victories at Pomona, Calif., Gainesville, Fla. and Chicago, Dunn feels good about his chances heading into races where he has traditionally done well. He says that will be the key -- the thing that separates the champion from the rest of the pack -- the ability to be consistent down the stretch and get as many wins as possible along the way. "In the heat of battle you're trying to get those valuable Winston points, doing everything you can," Dunn said. "Sometimes you've got to run the car hard until it quits. We've won a couple of races this season by pushing our engines to the extreme maximum. We've also won by tuning the car for what we think the track will hold. It's a balancing act. That's just the nature of the business." Luck plays a key role too. "If I had to guess, in about 13 or 14 of my 19 career wins I've had some sort of lucky break that made the difference," Dunn said. "It's weird. Last year it seemed like we didn't have any luck and this year we've had a few things go our way. That's the one factor in racing that you can't account for and make plans around. You never know who's going to get the lucky breaks and who isn't." * Repeat Performance: In 1998 Dunn posted four runner-up finishes to Gary Scelzi during the last eight races of the season. He hopes to find a similar groove this year. "We want to get on a roll like we did last year," Dunn said. "Only this time we want to win races instead of finishing second. We feel pretty confident in the races that are coming up." * Lights, Camera, Action: Thursday and Friday qualifying and Saturday's final eliminations will be contested under the lights at the Sears Craftsman Nationals, a change from NHRA's traditional Sunday afternoon format. Dunn says it should be a real treat for spectators. "It's going to be like the old match racing days with that kind of Saturday night atmosphere," Dunn said. "I think the fans are going to get a kick out of it because everyone likes to see the flames and sparks. These cars are pretty awesome under the lights."

SEARS CRAFTSMAN NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION * Schedule: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. (CT) on June 24 and June 25. Final professional eliminations start at 4 p.m. June 26. Qualifying and eliminations for Federal-Mogul categories begins June 24 at 9 a.m. * Tickets: Tickets are available for the Sears Craftsman Nationals. Call (618) 482-2400 or Ticketmaster for ticket information. * On TV: ABC will televise one hour of race highlights on July 4 at 1 p.m. (ET).

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Dick LaHaie