Two Races To Go…Yeah, It’s All About The Points
The turn of events at last week’s Arizona Nationals would have been the last thing anyone would have predicted when Top Fuel points leader Spencer Massey, in his Don Schumacher Racing’s Fram ride, was unable to qualify at such a crucial point of his championship drive.
Going into Phoenix, the 29-year old, Ft. Worth native had a 65-point lead over teammate Antron Brown. He had been to all three Countdown Finals (Charlotte, Dallas, and Reading) winning in Texas and from all appearances; it looked like momentum was clearly on his side.
Even racing against a world record couldn’t stop him from winning. He was at the height of his season, up to that point.
The Phoenix heat and a new track surface took its toll on Massey’s dragster and he soon found himself out of the top qualified 16 and on the sidelines for Sunday, suffering from excessive tire spin on his four qualifying attempts.
The normally effusive Massey was down, obviously, but only now can he really appreciate all the hard work that got him this far.
Seeing the year-end NHRA Full Throttle prize of $500,000 gives plenty of enticement to hold on the lead for dear life. Especially since second place pays only $100K, and then $50K for third. That kind of drop-off puts more emotional emphasis on winning those rounds and moving forward to get the big check. Drag racing is so final.
Al-Anabi Racing’s Larry Dixon won the Phoenix Top Fuel tilt against DSR’s Brown in the finals and Massey, who was not a player on Sunday, still finds himself only two rounds out of the lead.
Actually, you can only say at this point, only five Top Fuel drivers have a real shot at the NHRA Full Throttle Championship. Brown, Dixon, Massey, Del Worsham and Tony Schumacher share a 91-point spread and are the only serious ones mathematically in contention.
Brown has a 20-point lead over Dixon. Second place Dixon is ahead of Massey by five points. Third place runner Massey has a 26-point lead over Worsham and Schumacher needs 40 points to advance from his position in fifth.
“It’s a shame about Spencer,” reflected Brown. “But he’s not out of it by any means – he’s right behind Larry now. Remember, we made up 85 points today!
“There are eight rounds of racing left (each worth 20 points) and our goal is to win at least six. We’ll just keep our heads down and keep marching. We’re going to do what we’ve done all year – work hard and do the best we can.”
There are still plenty of spoilers that can cause havoc in the category. Brandon Bernstein, Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, David Grubnic , Morgan Lucas, Bob Vandergriff and Hot Rod Fuller could very easily discover something in the clutch can and run the gauntlet in Las Vegas.
There’s no doubt about the competition level. It’s just a matter of who will step up and derail one of those five.
It’s the same in Funny Car, only tighter. Jack Beckman rose to the occasion at Phoenix in his last ditch effort of staying in the NHRA Countdown pursuit and, benefitting from his Sunday win, took over the points lead, the first time of his career.
He lived up to sponsor’s credo of “Nothing Beat Aaron’s” in the Valley of the Sun and sounding just like his NASCAR contemporary, Michael Waltrip, he had plenty to say about his Dream Machine.
“I said before the race we were three rounds back with 12 rounds left – and we really needed to win this one to put us in a good position in the Countdown,” he explained.
“Obviously, we did our part and our main competitors had their issues, so we did even better than just improving our position.
“I’ve always said I wanted to be able to control our destiny. I’m happy to be the points leader, it’s a testament to the excellence of my Aaron’s/Valvoline crew led by Rahn Tobler (crew chief) and John Collins (assistant crew chief), but the reality is with two races left and the points so tight we are definitely back in the hunt. My goal was to go into Pomona within a round or two of the lead – we might be even better than that.
“You always hear a round win is a round win; they’re all equal, but that’s not true in the Countdown. When you race someone you’re fighting with, like we raced Robert (Hight) in the second round, it’s really a potential 40-point swing – the 20 you get for winning and the 20 you deny him. These are the must wins!
“And it doesn’t matter if the driver in the other lane is a DSR driver. As you saw on Sunday when Johnny (Gray) took out Matt in round two, we always race straight up at DSR, and it’s a testament to Don Schumacher that he insists on this.”
The Funny Car points allocation is extremely tight at the top. Those drivers in real contention are Beckman, who has a modest five-point lead over fellow DSR teammate Hagan. Hagan has a 17-point lead over John Force Racing’s Mike Neff. Cruz Pedregon is 26 points behind Neff and JFR president and Auto Club driver Hight trails Pedregon by only 10 points.
That’s 58 points that separate the top five.
Of course, we can’t discount drivers Jeff Arend, who is 123 points of the lead, and Ron Capps, who had his qualifying streak of 105 races snapped in Phoenix when he failed to qualify, is 139 points out. Bob Tasca, 141 away from the lead, follows him closely. All those positions can change in just one round of eliminations.
Each one of the back half of the Top 10 would have to win non-stop for the remainder of the season and that still may not be good enough to pull off a Countdown heist.
Funny Car has those fast five vying for the Funny Car Full Throttle Series Championship.
Pro Stock is waiting to crown Jason Line as champion. With only two races left, the KB Racing driver has a 188-point, or a nine-round. lead with only eight rounds to go. All he needs is to check out of Las Vegas with a 150-point lead and he takes home all the hardware and a pretty big check of $250K.
The real battle in the Pro Stock category is now for second. Greg Anderson entered the Countdown ‘red hot’ winning three of the four races before the Countdown, including the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indy. Since then he has only won two out of the 16 rounds of racing. At Phoenix, he broke a fuel line and with Vincent Nobile winning his first race in the Countdown has put him right into the mix.
Now Nobile is only five points away from Anderson. After him is Erica Enders only eight points behind Nobile in fourth. Mike Edwards is only seven points in arrears of Enders and that’s your top five.
There are no safe rounds in Pro Stock and Allen Johnson, Shane Gray, Roger Brogdon, Greg Stanfield, Ronnie Humphrey, Kurt Johnson, and Ron Krisher will see to it that none of the names above will have it easy going head-to-head in eliminations.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle class has turned into a three-man race with Harley-Davidson’s Screamin’ Eagle rider, Eddie Krawiec at the top over a fiery Hector Arana, Jr., who has reached the finals of three of the first four Countdown races winning two of them, including Phoenix.
There’s only 10 points between Krawiec and Arana, Jr. and in a distant third, 97 points away is Matt Smith.
Legitimately, it’s those three going for the Pro Stock Motorcycle crown.
After him is Karen Stoffer, Andrew Hines, Jerry Savoie, defending champ, LE Tonglet, Michael Phillips and Hector Arana, Sr. They may not be in the chase for the championship, but are still scrambling to grab any advantage they can in hopes of moving up in the year-end standings.
All these scenarios will be played out next week at the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals in Las Vegas. There’s eight rounds left in the season leading to be a ton of disappointment for many of the teams who will miss out on their chance for drag racing history as being a champion.
Opportunities like these aren’t taken for granted and rarely come. Now, it’s down to two races