Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: November 12, 2010
Journal code: NDRG
What happened in Vegas? Tony Schumacher rolled sevens and took full advantage after Larry Dixon's engine crapped out. John Force drew an inside straight to claim the weekend's pot even though Matt Hagan refused to fold. Greg Anderson and the Summit team enjoyed a full house and a winning hand while Mike Edwards left empty-handed. LE Tonglet pulled the handle on another jackpot while Andrew Hines' wheels just kept spinning.
The results of all of that means that we'll all once again head to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona with four Full Throttle championships still to be decided and further proof that the Countdown to the Championship is doing exactly what its designers had hoped for: creating unparalleled drama that lasts right through to the end of the season.
The Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals again will decide the season champions, and, similar to last year, two of the classes could very well go down to the final round, and the other two may take just a round-win or two to salt away, but the drama is there, and the pressure is still on thanks to another hold-your-breath event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
A whirlwind weekend getaway to Las Vegas can simply overpower the senses. Any trip to Sin City can leave one feeling fairly well-depleted, not just in the pocketbook, but this one literally was exhausting, mentally and physically. Whether you were burning up brain cells trying to keep abreast of the crucial session-by-session developments and bonus-point distribution in qualifying that could well play a part in an outcome, holding on for the last nitro-powered lap on a pair of qualifying days that both stretched late into the Nevada night by numerous fires and other incidents, or gnawing your nails to the quick by the time the Funny Car final came to the line, it was a stunning event that left everyone emotionally and physically spent.
You'd have thought that once second-place Cory McClenathan lost in the opening round of Top Fuel that points leader Dixon - a 9-5 favorite at the casinos - could starting writing his awards ceremony speech, but then along comes Schumacher to reassert himself as the hurdle between Dixon and another championship. When Dixon's engine went sour in round two against long-shot Dom Lagana, Dixon had to watch Schumacher continue his torrid qualifying pace and pass Cory Mac for second, making Dixon's job at the Finals just a bit tougher.
After falling just two points shy to Schumacher last year, it's going to take an epic collapse for Dixon, Jason McCulloch, Alan Johnson, and the Al-Anabi team to not win the championship. Frankly, I can't see it happening. The Al-Anabi team, like any humans, can make mistakes, parts break, things happen, but they don't happen enough to top-tier teams like theirs to tilt the playing field that significantly.
That being said, anyone whose memory goes back to 2006 remembers what Schumacher did in Pomona at the season finale to win the championship on the final pass - "The Run" - of the season, so I guess it's proper to never say never.
In Funny Car, the oddsmakers had Force and Hagan picked equally at 5-2 atop the betting pack, and both reached the final in a pivotal battle. A Hagan win would have all but ended Force's hopes of a 15th championship, and a Force win would keep the war very much alive heading into Pomona. Force had already done a yeoman's job before Sunday, earning enough session-bonus and position points in qualifying to whittle Hagan's lead to under three rounds, then lopped off another 20 points by beating him in the final.
With a 37-point deficit and Hagan wheeling a national-record-setting car, it's going to be near impossible for Force to knock 17 more points off the lead in qualifying. He'd have to be low in every session and have Hagan fail to earn any points or hope that Hagan's earnings are minimal and that he's well down in the qualified field. That's a lot to ask for. Hagan, on the other hand, will be trying to earn three more points than Force and put him two rounds down before Sunday. You can bet that our calculators will be getting another workout.
Unlike Dixon, Anderson was able to take full advantage of Edwards' miscue and race to a huge lead in Pro Stock. Anderson, who was the oddsmakers' 7-2 favorite, lived up to that billing, and with team owner Ken Black in attendance for the first time this year since suffering a stroke during the off-season, the Summit team made Black doubly happily by getting both cars to the final, where Anderson defeated Jason Line to earn a 115- point edge on Edwards.
Edwards is going to have to hope for an Anderson DNQ - not likely, since Anderson has qualified for every field since the 2003 season - or a first-round loss by the Summit driver. Even then, it's likely going to take a national-recordsetting event victory to overcome him. We've seen the record set before in Pomona, and we know Edwards is capable, but I just don't see an Anderson fold.
Hines must be getting awfully tired of seeing Tonglet in his rearview mirror; the pesky and persistent rookie won again - his fourth victory in five Countdown playoff events - to further narrow his deficit to the Harley-riding points leader. Matt Smith derailed what looked like a for-sure fifth straight final-round meeting between Hines and Tonglet by knocking off Hines in the semifinals, and Tonglet's win means that the points battle, like Funny Car, is down in the 30s.
There were other champions at the event - and I don't just mean in the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series and NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. The warriors of the NHRA Safety Safari did an amazing job when the bright lights on our Strip came courtesy of exploding engines, and they tirelessly worked to clean up mess after mess and allow the racing to continue. Multiple delays caused by oildowns in Top Fuel and a crash in Funny Car put Saturday's finish more than four hours behind schedule, and the final qualifying sessions were contested in the cool night air at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but still yielded impressive performances.
"The people who work on the Safety Safari are working all the time," said Ashley Force Hood, the low qualifier who ran 4.05 despite the oil bath the track got. "Between the weather, accidents, and incidents, it seems that they never get a break. It shows it was a perfectly good track despite all those obstacles, and despite the long time and late night, it was the track that we wanted, and the track that they always give us."
And, despite what they say, what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas, and you can bet that the Safety Safari will bring their "A" game to Pomona to set the table for what no doubt will go into the history books as another fantastic finale.