Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: November 12, 2010
LAS VEGAS - Las Vegas is all about the numbers. Whether you're calculating the odds, working to hit 21, trying to roll your point, or simply trying to remember your room number, it's all about the numbers, and NHRA Full Throttle mathematicians certainly got a workout in Sin City during the 2010 edition of the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at the city's other famous Strip, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
With all four championship battles down to just a few rounds plus odds and ends of points that would either force the chaser to go a round further or fewer, every point was agonized over. Qualifying was a show unto itself as both session bonus points and position points were available and players sought to improve positions even incrementally.
Some, like Funny Car winner John Force, did just that; heading into eliminations, he had cut Matt Hagan's lead to less than three rounds. Force further capitalized by joining Tony Schumacher, Greg Anderson, and LE Tonglet in collecting championshipcrucial wins at the second-to-last event of the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series to give the title races a shake-up.
The Funny Car battle went as advertised: First-place Hagan and second-place Force faced off in the final; Force's win cut Hagan's lead to 37 points headed to the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.
Anderson entered as the Pro Stock points leader and only improved, going from 38 points to 115 ahead of Mike Edwards with a final-round defeat of teammate Jason Line. Edwards' hopes for a successful title defense took a hit when he lost on a holeshot to Greg Stanfield in round one and Anderson capitalized to his fullest.
Tonglet, who has reached the Pro Stock Motorcycle final at all five Countdown events and won four, cut leader Andrew Hines' margin from 72 to 34 when he defeated Matt Smith in the final.
The championship hopes of Top Fuel leader Larry Dixon improved when second-place Cory McClenathan lost in round one to Australian newcomer Mark Mariani, but Dixon's gain was only 20 points as he, too, dropped a cylinder, in round two, and fell to Dom Lagana. Schumacher then emerged as Dixon's newest threat by winning the event and moving past Cory Mac into second place. The U.S. Army driver is 85 back of Dixon, and McClenathan trails by 106. A driver can earn a maximum of 150 points at an event, so both are still technically, but not realistically, in the championship race.
Schumacher, who qualified No. 1 and set the national speed record at 325.14 Saturday, bettered that number Sunday. After defeating Bob Vandergriff Jr. with a 3.79, 324 in round one, Schumacher lowered the boom on Shawn Langdon with a 3.820, 325.61 to bump the record higher. Schumacher reached the final, his eighth of the year and 103rd of his career, by defeating Dave Grubnic with a 3.80 to earn final-round lane choice. He finished his fifth win of the season and 67th of his career with a 3.84 conquest of Lagana.
"It was a fun car to drive this weekend," said Schumacher. "I'm starting to feel a little bit of pressure again. We're in Vegas, and I'm not in the points lead, I'm not even that close, and all of a sudden, we have this fast car. The thing is amazing. It's just going down the track dead-straight perfect. We tested a couple of times this year, and we've been working on a couple of different things, and it was just an excellent combination.
"I'm looking forward to going to Pomona. Like I said it back in '06 and '07, it's kind of out of my hands. More than likely, I won't run Larry. If we do run each other, it will be in the later rounds, and it won't matter. We have to go out and set a national record and win the race, and he has to go out and get beat or not show up, and I'm pretty sure he's going to show up. We're a long way out, and we're a super long shot, but we're great at coming from behind."
The Funny Car final had fans on their feet to see whether Hagan would head to Pomona with a nearly insurmountable 77-point lead or if Force could carve it to less than two rounds. The final was over quickly as Hagan lit the tires and Force raced to a 4.23 victory.
"We won Pomona and came here in April and won," said Force. "We had the lead all year, but in Reading, we had the clutch pedal fall off, so I couldn't get the car in reverse and didn't get a chance to race, and [Hagan] took advantage of it. He's a great racer. I love the kid's personality. We talked every round before we raced. He's got big money behind him, and he's got a great team. Our attitude was we have to eat up every point. We got some points in qualifying that put us back in it, and we got him in the final.
"[Crew chief] Mike Neff has been unbelievable taking the lead on this car, and so have [co-crew chiefs] Austin [Coil] and Bernie [Fedderly] for allowing that. The kid has brought a young energy to fight this fight."
Force, who worked hard in qualifying to trim Hagan's lead to below three rounds, reached the final, his record 212th and 10th this season, by fending off Jeff Arend, Melanie Troxel, and Bob Tasca III. He got a scare against Troxel when his Castrol GTX Mustang lost traction downtrack, but he held on for a crucial 4.71 to 4.85 win.
Anderson and teammate Jason Line had more reason to celebrate beyond the Pro Stock championship jackpot as the event marked the return to the track of team owner Ken Black, a Las Vegas resident. Black had been sidelined by health issues all season, and his presence no doubt served as a great motivator. Any concerns about whether team orders would be in place to benefit Anderson were addressed when they left almost together, .022 to .033 favoring Anderson, and ran 6.654 to 6.656.
"I couldn't have drawn up this weekend on paper any better than what happened today," said Anderson. "It was a wonderful, wonderful day. I'm almost speechless, and I know that sounds odd for me. I hope this goes miles toward Ken's recovery. Now he's planning on attending Pomona. I can't think of better medicine for the man. This is why our team works so hard, because we want to do so much for Ken.
"We have a lot of pride, Jason and I, as does the rest of our team. I think we've proved over many years now that we don't have any team orders when we race each other, and we're not going to start now. If you're going to win, you have to feel good about yourself."
Both Summit Racing Equipment Pontiacs were bracket-like all day. Anderson ran 6.664, 6.663, and 6.677 to beat Rodger Brogdon, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and rookie Shane Gray, who red-lighted in the semifinals to advance Anderson to his seventh final of the year and 95th of his career. Line's matching entry ran 6.659, 6.651, and 6.652 to defeat Larry Morgan, Ronnie Humphrey, and Stanfield. Line's victory over Indy winner Stanfield was key because had Stanfield reached the final, he would have passed Edwards for second place and made Anderson's job in Pomona more difficult.
Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Tonglet closed the gap on Hines by reaching the final for the fifth straight time, and Hines' streak of final-round appearances was snapped at seven with a semifinal loss to Smith. The final went to Tonglet's blue Nitro Fish Gear Suzuki, 6.95 to 6.98.
"I don't want to wake up," said Tonglet. "It's just been an awesome year since Indy. We came into the Countdown in seventh, and after Indy, we were No. 2. We've been on a roll since then, and we have to keep the momentum going. The Harley team is going to be tough to beat. Andrew has been in this situation before. We just need to keep our heads on straight and see what happens."
Tonglet, whose playoff winning streak ended at the most recent event, in Reading, where he lost to Hines on a holeshot, kept the heat on the points leader despite losing his No. 1 engine in qualifying.
"We hurt the motor that we had run all year in the first round of qualifying and went to our backup Vance & Hines motor that only had three runs on it," said Tonglet. "At first, we couldn't get it to run right, but they kept telling us that the engine was a good one, and we kept after it. It seemed to come to life during today's eliminations."
Tonglet raced past Bailey Whitaker, reigning season champ Hector Arana, and Jim Underdahl with runs of 6.98, 7.00, and 6.94 to reach the final, the seventh of his likely rookie-of-the-year campaign.
Lucas Oil victories went to Jim Whiteley (Top Alcohol Dragster), Mickey Ferro (Top Alcohol Funny Car), David Rampy (Comp), Tony Mandella (Super Stock), Slate Cummings (Stock), and Steve Williams (Super Gas). Brad Personett scored his second victory of the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, and Tennessee driver Von Smith clinched the inaugural series championship.