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Schumacher wins Indy again; Ashley, Connolly, Treble get first Big Go wins
Reigning POWERade champion Tony Schumacher surged into the Countdown to Four points lead Monday with his sixth Mac Tools U.S. Nationals victory in the last eight years. Schumacher drove away from runner-up Larry Dixon to take the stripe with a 4.575 at 331.94 mph to earn a spot in the winner's circle with emotional Funny Car victor Mike Ashley, new Pro Stock points leader Dave Connolly, and stunned Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Craig Treble.
Schumacher's win stamped his U.S. Army team's dominance on this event since the turn of the millennium. Ashley had a race on his hands for only a moment before final-round opponent Robert Hight lost power. Connolly had to chase Anderson down and pass him to get his fifth win of the year, while Treble benefited from a red-light by Matt Smith, who clearly had the better motorcycle in the final round.
The charmed life of four-time Top Fuel champion Schumacher continued as the new points leader went from 184 points behind leader Rod Fuller one race ago to a 31-point advantage over Dixon with just three races left in the Countdown to Four. His 4.575 at 331.94 mph easily got the job done in the final as Dixon posted a resigned 4.748 at 268.44 mph.
"I guess we're a really good pressure team," Schumacher said. "The guys know they can rely on each other and it all comes together so well. Alan [Johnson, crew chief] is fantastic. We ran 4.50s all day except for when it was just too hot there in the semis and we had to do what we needed to do to get down the track. I knew when he didn't turn golf on TV he was really serious about what he was doing today.
"I'm a fan of the Countdown right now. I said when they unveiled this deal that as long as the right guy is holding the championship trophy at the end of the year, whoever that may be, then I'll be happy. We were behind in the points but we wouldn't have been that far back under the old deal because we wouldn't have been testing things; we would have been going harder after every point. Nothing was given to us today. This was a hard win to get, trust me."
This weekend was Schumacher's from the start as he qualified No. 1 with a 4.477 at 333.66 mph in Friday's opening session and then marched right through the pack Monday, beating Clay Millican, Cory McClenathan, Melanie Troxel, and Dixon for his 40th career win. Schumacher and Dixon are now tied for second on the all-time Top Fuel wins list behind Joe Amato's 52 wins.
Running a special tribute body in memory of good friends Donnie and Holly Faulkner's baby son Eric Blake who passed away earlier this year, Ashley was the emotional favorite in the Funny Car final.
Fortunately for his supporters, which included the Faulkner family on the starting line, they didn't have to wait long to see who would win as Hight's Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang encountered trouble early in its run. Ashley might have been tough to beat any way as he posted a 4.894 at 323.74 mph to Hight's coasting 8.072 at 104.08 mph.
"It was very, very emotional and I knew when I decided to do this tribute car that it would add a bunch of pressure to the day," Ashley said. "I just wouldn't allow myself to think about what it all meant too much. I just did the best I could all weekend for Donnie and Holly.
"This is the Super Bowl of drag racing. To win Indy is unreal but then you add to it the recognition we can bring to the Eric Blake Faulkner Foundation and it makes it stratospheric. This is a day I'll always remember and appreciate. I'm so proud of my team and the generosity of Evan Knoll and Jim Jannard and all our other sponsors to step aside for a race and let us banner this car. What a group I have behind me.
"We've had big ups and downs this year but this is a team that goes for it every week. We started this team from nothing and just to make the Countdown field was impressive to me. We have some wins and we have some DNQs, but remember, the home run record is usually set by the same guy who led in strikeouts for the season."
Hight did escape the day as the Countdown to Four points leader. He's now 21 markers ahead of Ashley, who jumped up to second place with his third career win.
The Pro Stock final was the closest of the day as Connolly overcame Anderson's slight .023- to .034-second starting-line advantage to take the biggest win of his career by .008-second. Connolly had caught Anderson by the 60-foot timer and went on to post a 6.710 at 206.32 mph to Anderson's 6.729 at 205.79 mph.
Connolly's father Ray Connolly won the U.S. Nationals in 2002 in the Super Gas category. This was Dave's 14th career win, while Anderson falls to 50-23 lifetime in final rounds.
"I can never remember having a car that has the field covered by four hundredths of a second," Connolly said. "It's a real tribute to [team owner] Victor Cagnazzi and the organization he's put together. To win back-to-back races for the first time it seems like we're peaking at the perfect place in the schedule, especially with the Countdown starting. It's just an awesome feeling right now.
"I knew Greg had won 19 rounds in a row at this race going into the final but I still felt pretty confident. That team has been the class of Pro Stock for four years so it's remarkable to get in front of them for once. It really hasn't sunk in yet.
"Dad and I are always trying to out-do each other. He got the first U.S. Nationals win but you're only as good as your last race in this sport so I got a leg up on him now. One day hopefully we can both win this race together."
Anderson and Connolly entered the race first and second in the points with Anderson enjoying a slight 10-point edge. With his win and superior qualifying effort here, Connolly moved ahead of Anderson by 14 points.
He doesn't have a sponsor, but Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Treble does have his first U.S. Nationals trophy to go with a No. 2 ranking in the POWERade points. Treble survived final-round opponent Matt Smith's stout 6.977 at 189.63 mph in the final when Smith fouled out by .003-second on his Torco Buell V-Twin. Treble posted a game 7.037 at 190.83 mph to take the win.
"I'll take a win here however I can get it," Treble said. "I was lucky three outta four rounds today but all I know is that 20 years from now someone will look in the record books and say, 'Hey, Craig Treble won in 2007.' It's there forever now.
"I was one round win away from not even making the Countdown to Four but Matt Guidera beat Chris Rivas in Reading and saved my butt. He's my hero because now here I am No. 2 in the world. So what do I do to thank him? I beat him in the first round today. I owe him a beer. Heck, I owe him the whole brewery."
This was Treble's second win of the year and 11th of his career. Smith falls to 3-5 in 2007 and 5-7 overall.
Smith can take some solace in the fact he pumped his lead in the Countdown to Four up to 51 points. Treble went from the bottom of the eight-driver championship group to the No. 2 position with his win.
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