Thursday, October 29, 2009

NHRA standings tight heading to Las Vegas

Here’s what to watch for and who to root for at the National Hot Rod Assn. drag races at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend.
The Countdown to One playoffs have two rounds left. The first is at Las Vegas and the season ends at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Nov. 15. The standings in the top fuel and funny car divisions are tight and history could be made in the final two races of the season.
First, Larry Dixon is second in the NHRA top fuel standings, 47 points behind Tony Schumacher. Dixon is no stranger to championships, but it would be nice to see someone else win the top fuel title. Schumacher has won five in a row. Talk about a dynasty. And to think NASCAR fans are tired of seeing Jimmie Johnson win the Chase every year.
Schumacher even alluded to Johnson’s pursuit of a fourth straight Cup championship and how he knows what Johnson is talking about when he says he doesn’t want to talk about points anymore.
It sounds like Schumacher is tired of seeing his name atop the top fuel standings at the end of the season.
Dixon, a Van Nuys High graduate and driver for Al-Anabi Racing, has the best shot of catching Schumacher.
“I like where the Al-Anabi team is in the playoffs right now; I like the car and everything else that’s going on,” Dixon said. “The team is making great calls, and the whole package is going well. There have been a few dumb things that have happened that have kept us from winning. Sooner or later, those things will run out, and we’ll be able to get our Al-Anabi car back in the winner’s circle. The way the points are, if we win both races, we’ll win the championship. I’m not wishing anything bad on anyone, but if we take care of our own business, everything else will take care if itself.”

On the funny car side, it’s hard to choose between Ashley Force Hood and Jack Beckman. Force Hood is second in the funny car standings, a mere 13 points behind leader and John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight.
She has a chance to become the first woman driver to win an NHRA funny car championship. That would be neat to see, even if she is downplaying it a bit.
“It’s not a big deal to me,” she said, “and I think the reason is because I had nothing to do with being a female. I’m just a race car driver. I have a team of men that work on my car [and] if you’ve ever seen me work on an automobile, you know I wouldn’t be second in points if I was on the crew. It’s them and me, together as a team. We are the ones going for that championship, not just me as an individual.”
Beckman is in a distant sixth place in the funny car standings, but he is only 86 points out of first. He has to work his way through quite a traffic jam to get to the top of the funny car standings and is running out of time to get there.
One thing in his favor, though, is that he won the NHRA funny car portion of the races at Las Vegas in 2006. If he can duplicate that feat again, he will be in a good position at Pomona.

“It’s interesting. We’re actually excited about Vegas this weekend,” said Beckman, who lives in North Hills. “We have an enormous uphill battle. We really need to win seven of the next eight rounds to have a legitimate shot at the championship. Everybody on the team knows that and we’re plugging away with that as the goal.
“We don’t want to finish fifth or fourth or third; we want to finish first. We still have a shot, and we need to hope that the two John Force cars stumble at both races.”

Photos: Top, Larry Dixon is in second place in the NHRA top fuel standings and is looking to snap Tony Schumacker's streak of five straight NHRA top fuel championships.

Middle, Ashley Force Hood is 13 points out of first place in the NHRA funny car standings. She is looking to become the first woman driver to win an NHRA funny car championship.

Bottom, Jack Beckman is sixth in the NHRA funny car standings, but he is the 2006 funny car champ at Las Vegas. He will need another championship run to stay in championship contention with two races remaining in the NHRA season.

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