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With three ra ces down and three to go in the Countdown playoffs,

           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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