Sourced from www.nhra.com
Scelzi races into Countdown field with big win; Kalitta, Connolly also score
Four-time POWERade champion Gary Scelzi barged into the 2007 title race with a huge victory Sunday at the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals. Scelzi beat teammate Ron Capps at Virginia Motorsports Park to claim the Funny Car trophy and jump from sixth to second place in the rankings. Both he and Capps used their Sunday runs to earn spots in the Countdown to 1, the final two-race, four-driver sprint to decide the 2007 champion. Tony Pedregon and Robert Hight were already in the Countdown field.
Doug Kalitta won his first Top Fuel race in more than a year by beating Melanie Troxel, but it was Brandon Bernstein's first-round defeat of Bob Vandergriff that earned him the last Countdown berth in his class. He joined Larry Dixon, "Hot Rod" Fuller, and Tony Schumacher in the final four. Dave Connolly hoisted his fifth Pro Stock trophy in a row and secured the No. 1 spot in his category's chase. He'll lead Greg Anderson, stablemate Jeg Coughlin, and Allen Johnson into the final two events.
The Funny Car final was strictly for bragging rights as the heavy lifting had been done in the semifinals when both Scelzi and Capps moved around fellow Don Schumacher Racing driver "Fast Jack" Beckman to wrap-up the last two Countdown to 1 positions. It was a hard-fought day for both racers as No. 15 qualifier Capps fought past Hight, Gary Densham, and Tim Wilkerson to earn a chance at the race trophy and the '07 title. On the other side of the ladder, Scelzi slew a group of upset-minded veterans in Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon, and Tony Bartone.
When it came down to the finals, Scelzi and Capps were basically fighting for second place in the rankings, a valuable spot because it would place them 10 points off the lead. Scelzi was second off the starting line by a hundredth but he soon zoomed by a tire-smoking Capps to take the win with a 4.956 at 306.60 mph in his Mopar/Oakley Charger to Capps' resigned 5.935 at 207.11 mph in his Brut Dodge.
"It was a great day," Scelzi said. "[Crew chief Todd] Okuhara made all the right calls. He's just incredible. [Former tuner] Mike Neff got us here and I don't ever want to forget that. Mike and I are very close and I hope I can help him learn how to drive a Funny Car. He means a lot to me, and then Okuhara has slipped right into that role. I've had three awesome tuners in my career -- Alan Johnson, Mike Neff, and Todd Okuhara -- and each one I love dearly.
"Before the final I told Todd, 'You know, we're in the Countdown deal already but it would be even better if we were second in the points.' The only way to do that was to win so I told him to hop it up. I said, 'Put some more in there, you coward.' He started laughing and jumped in the box. Let me tell you, that thing was aggressive. That was probably the worst job of driving ever but we got the win light."
Scelzi improved to 4-0 in final rounds this year and 37-21 for his career. Capps drops to 3-4 on the season and 25-27 overall.
Pedregon maintained the Funny Car points lead for the second race in a row and will carry a slight edge into the Countdown to 1 segment. He'll start the sprint for the championship with 3,030 points, followed by Scelzi with 3,020, Hight with 3,010, and Capps with 3,000.
After finishing 2006 on the losing end of the closest points race in history, Kalitta has endured the worst Top Fuel season of his career in '07. Some of that pain was erased Sunday when he broke through for his first victory in more than a year (Memphis, 2006), which came when he outran Troxel by three-hundredths of a second, 4.647 at 316.08 mph against Troxel's 4.649 at 316.45 mph.
This was Kalitta's 30th career win in the Mac Tools dragster. Troxel is now 2-2 on the year and 4-11 lifetime.
"I was starting to wonder if we'd keep our streak alive," said Kalitta, who has now won at least one race in each of his 10 professional campaigns. "We've had a pretty tough year but we have Jon O [Oberhofer] tuning the car now and he's doing a great job. The guys are all working hard, and Dick LaHaie has been helping. Of course, Connie [Kalitta, uncle] is there. It's been a struggle but we're getting through it.
"I hope this is the start of something special. We'll go on to Vegas and see if we can repeat our performance here. This couldn't have come at a better time or at a better place. Any time you can beat the racers competing in this class and come away with the trophy it's a special feeling."
The Top Fuel points will be reset and show Dixon with 3,030 points, Fuller with 3,020, Schumacher with 3,010, and Bernstein with 3,000.
Connolly's incredible winning streak in Pro Stock has now reached five races, which ties him for the second longest run in class history behind Bob Glidden's nine-in-a-row back in 1978-'79. Greg Anderson also won five straight in 2004 as did Ronnie Sox in 1970-'71.
This one was over early as he pasted Vieri Gaines at the starting line by .046 seconds and roared away for his 17th career win with a 6.671 at 206.95 mph in his Torco/Seelye Wright Chevrolet Cobalt. Gaines carded a 6.679 at 206.92 mph in his Kendall Dodge.
"It seems like Richmond has such great drag racing fans, especially for Pro Stock, and they're always jammed up in the stands," Connolly said. "To pick up our fifth win at our sponsor's title race and join that elite group of racers is just incredible. It's something I never would have dreamed of.
"Things are just clicking for us right now. It was nice to sweep the first leg of the Countdown but we have two races left so that's what we're concentrating on. This team will be ready. We tested for two days before this race and we have a long testing schedule to complete before we head to Vegas. The work is definitely not done.
"To have both of our Cobalts in the final four is a real credit to Victor Cagnazzi and the team he put together, from the chassis shop to the engine department to the guys at the track. Me and Jeggy are just the lucky guys who get to drive the cars."
Gaines' last win was 138 races ago at the 2001 Dallas event. He falls to 2-5 in career final-round appearances. Connolly is now 8-1 on the year, which leads the class, and 17-12 for his professional career.
Connolly will lead the way into the Pro Stock Countdown to 1 with 3,030 points, followed by Anderson with 3,020, Coughlin with 3,010, and Johnson with 3,000.
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