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Reigning NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series world champ Tony Schumacher, winner of two of the last three races and runner-up at the other, holds an almost insurmountable lead over his nine rivals as he races toward a sixth NHRA POWERade Top Fuel world championship. Antron Brown Started playoffs: 2nd Currently: 3rd (-179) Round-wins: 4 The driver of the Lee Beard-tuned Matco dragster lost an important first-round match with fellow Countdown player Larry Dixon in Memphis - just his fourth firstround loss in the season's first 21 races - and relinquished his position to Cory Mac.
MID-COUNTDOWN With three ra ces down and three to go in the Countdown playoffs, W ith the conclusion of the O’Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals presented by Pennzoil in Memphis, the 2008 Countdown to the Championship playoffs have reached their halfway point: three races in the books, three races to go. With an off weekend ahead before the teams charge back into battle at the Virginia NHRA Nationals in Richmond, here’s s a mid-playoff analysis of Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock. by Phil Burgess Of the four Pro classes, Top Fuel is the only one in which the race is just about over. Reigning NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series world champ Tony Schumacher, winner of two of the last three races and runner-up at the other, holds an almost insurmountable lead over his nine rivals as he races toward a sixth NHRA POWERade Top Fuel world championship. It’s not over, but the fat lady is clearing her throat. Tony Schumacher Started playoffs: 1st Currently: 1st Round-wins: 11 Brandon Bernstein Started playoffs: 6th Currently: 6th (-201) Round-wins: 4 Even though “The Streak” ended in Dallas, the reigning world champ looks Bernstein also has done his best work against fellow playoff contenders, notching three unstoppable en route to what would be his fifth straight and sixth overall NHRA wins, but his one loss against a Countdown driver was a painful .005-second holeshot to Top Fuel title. He shrugged off losing his 500-point pre-Countdown to 1 lead and Doug Herbert in the semi’s in Memphis that conspired to keep him winless for the has steadily built from the reset 30-point margin to a comfortable 166-point season. Bernstein has averaged more than three wins a year since his injury-shortened advantage. A huge part of his success is not just in winning rounds but in 2003 debut, so it’s more than a little surprising to see the Bud car on the verge of going denying round-wins to his fellow Countdown participants. All 11 of his round- winless since 1999, when Bernstein’s father, Kenny, was shut out. He is just 35 points wins have been against fellow playoff contenders — in effect, each is a 40-point out of what would be a career-best second-place finish after three third-place rankings. win — and his only loss, in the final in Dallas, was to non-Countdown runner J.R. Todd. About the only place the team has not shined is in qualifying, where it has started no better than sixth and earned just nine of a possible 24 points. Doug Herbert Started playoffs: 8th Currently: 7th (-240) Round-wins: 4 Cory McClenathan Started playoffs: 5th Currently: 2nd (-166) Round-wins: 5 Herbert’s points deficit is exactly equal to the number of rounds remaining, so, despite his morale-boosting runner-up in Memphis, “DougZilla” will have to be Cory Mac has made the biggest leap among Top Fuel playoff contenders, and he content to rampage his way into the top five. His semifinal holeshot victory against has done it in opposite fashion from Schumacher, winning all five of his rounds Bernstein in Memphis proves that he is still among the best leavers in the class. against non-playoff contenders. He beat the guys he is supposed to beat but is not stopping his fellow Countdown rivals from gaining points; he has lost all three of his head-to-head matches with them. Rod Fuller Started playoffs: 5th Currently: 8th (-263) Round-wins: 1 Antron Brown Started playoffs: 2nd Currently: 3rd (-179) Round-wins: 4 Fuller and crew chief Rob Flynn had the right idea: get to Schumacher, and get to The driver of the Lee Beard-tuned Matco dragster lost an important first-round him early. Unfortunately for them, they lost back-to-back first rounds to Schumacher match with fellow Countdown player Larry Dixon in Memphis — just his fourth first- in Dallas and Memphis. Other than a first-round victory against Doug Kalitta in round loss in the season’s first 21 races — and relinquished his position to Cory Charlotte, “Hot Rod” has been stone cold. Mac. The loss to Dixon dropped him to a sub-.500 record (2-3) against playoff players. He is almost nine rounds out of first with only 12 rounds available, so, barring some winning first-round dates with the points leader, he’s out like a shout. Larry Dixon Started playoffs: 3rd Currently: 4th (-190) Round-wins: 3 Doug Kalitta Started playoffs: 9th Currently: 9th (-298) Round-wins: 1 Even though his Don Prudhomme-owned, Donnie Bender-tuned U.S. Smokeless Kalitta has now gone a schedule year without an event win. He had hoped to gain rail has been the star of qualifying — with two No. 1s and a No. 8, he has earned playoff momentum with a gutty and emotional Indy runner-up to Schumacher, but 19 of a possible 24 points in the last three events — Dixon is 190 points back that failed to materialize, suffering back-to-back first-round losses in Charlotte and and might as well be 1,900 back. He has won just an average of one round Dallas. at each event, two of his three round-wins were against non-playoff participants, and his only other win was his recent first-rounder against Brown in Memphis. He has lost two potentially game-turning head-to-head meetings with Schumacher, in round two in Charlotte and Dallas. Hillary Will Started playoffs: 7th Currently: 5th (-191) Round-wins: 5 Dave Grubnic Started playoffs: 10th Currently: 10th (-351) Round-wins: 0 Behind only Schumacher, Will has earned the most points of the Top Fuel playoff After barely missing the playoffs last season, Grubnic barely registered a blip this participants with 208 additions to her ledger. Of her five round-wins, three have time as he failed to win a round and missed the field in Dallas, where his DHL
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