CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals
By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com
Three-time Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi drove his Oakley Funny Car to a big victory Sunday at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway outside of Kalitta's 4.51 in Top Fuel was simply too much for runner-up Rod Fuller, who was racing in just his seventh event as a Pro. It was Kalitta's second win of the season. Line survived the closest race of the entire weekend, beating Jeg Coughlin to the finish line by four inches. Pro Stock Motorcycle newcomer Ellis cruised to his second victory in just nine races against a tragically late Geno Scali.
Three-time Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi drove his Oakley Funny Car to a big victory Sunday at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway outside of
Kalitta's 4.51 in Top Fuel was simply too much for runner-up Rod Fuller, who was racing in just his seventh event as a Pro. It was Kalitta's second win of the season. Line survived the closest race of the entire weekend, beating Jeg Coughlin to the finish line by four inches. Pro Stock Motorcycle newcomer Ellis cruised to his second victory in just nine races against a tragically late Geno Scali.
After winning the season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals, Kalitta had dropped to eighth overall entering this event. He gained back two of those spots with Sunday's victory, which was the 18th of his career.
"This worked out about as good as it could for our team because Tony [Schumacher] ended up going out right after I beat Doug [Kalitta], so Doug's lead in the points stayed the same. If anyone is still dumb enough to say anything about diving, then all I can say is they're beating a dead horse.
"This was a big relief for me personally because we've been struggling for a while. This car has a mind of its own. We've tried before to set up all three team cars the same way, but mine just does what it wants. After qualifying, we knew we wouldn't win today running 4.58s and 4.60s, so we duplicated Doug's setup, and today it took."
Both finalists started the day in the bottom half of the eliminations field. Of the two, Kalitta was the deepest on the grid, with his Jesse James/Mac Tools machine 10th overall. Still, he upset Morgan Lucas; his cousin and points leader, Doug Kalitta by .003-second in the second round; and fellow two-time series champ Larry Dixon in the semiís with a string of mid-4.5-second passes.
Competing in just their seventh race of the year, Fuller and the David Powers Homes/Valvoline crew reached their second final of the season with a strong run past Dave Grubnic, low qualifier and defending champ Tony Schumacher, and surprise semifinalist John Smith, whose quickest run of the day was a 5.91. Remarkably, Fuller is just 23 points out of the top 10.
Schumacher only gained one point on class leader Doug Kalitta this weekend. He still trails the Michigander by 25 points.
"When Force went out in the first round, I knew that it was very, very important to have a good day," Scelzi said. "He ain't gonna give you many chances like that. I mean, I was happy just to get the 20 points from the first round. Then we just kept on going round by round, and here we are. We all count points, regardless of what we might say. I was counting points in qualifying.
"Maybe we can make a horse race out of this thing. If we can just run like this and have some luck and maybe Force falters a time or two, we could be there. It's exciting. I haven't been in a championship chase since 2000.
"I had this in my pocket today," a suddenly emotional Scelzi said as he showed the gathered media a photo of the late Darrell Russell. "I needed to get this done. I wanted to do it in
Scelzi can clearly see Force in the points standings; this victory moved him up to second place, just 64 points behind the 13-time champ. Scelzi reached his 49th final by beating Bob Gilbertson, low qualifier Robert Hight, and Tommy Johnson Jr. with his Dodge Stratus R/T.
Medlen and the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang crew got past Gary Densham, Del Worsham, and Jeff Arend for Medlen's third trophy run despite an average reaction time in the first three rounds of a dismal .128-second.
The final numbers had Line winning with a 6.783 at 203.09 mph to Coughlin's 6.800 at 202.48 mph. It evened up the reigning rookie of the year's final-round record to 6-6 and helped him move up to third in the points, 24 behind second-place Warren Johnson and 49 off the pace of leader Greg Anderson, who assumed the POWERade lead for the first time this year.
"We should run all our races here," said Line, who scored his first victory at this event one year ago. "That one was close. I looked over after putting it into high gear, which I normally never do, but I could see him right there, and it looked like we were gaining on him. It was still very close at the other end.
"The chemistry on the entire team is the best it's ever been, and we're definitely going in the right direction. Each one of our personal attributes is what makes this team what it is. It's a good thing to be involved in."
Line and Coughlin drove expertly throughout the day. Sporting his new Summit Racing Equipment livery on his
On the other side of the ladder, Jeg's Mail Order Dodge Stratus R/T racer Coughlin was playing giant killer, rolling past "Tricky Rickie" Smith, Kurt Johnson, and series champ Anderson. The wins over Johnson and Anderson both came on holeshots. It had been 29 races since Coughlin had reached a final round, the longest stretch of his career. His last win came at this track at the fall event of 2003.
"Ken is missing in action, and everyone worked real hard to fill in the gaps," said Ellis, who went from eighth to second in the standings Sunday. "He's invaluable to this team, and it took five people to take the place of one man. We were putting oil in, and I asked George [Bryce, team owner] how much, and he said, 'I don't know.' Things like that happened all day. This win's for Ken, and we want him to know we really need him back.
"He's still in a lot of pain. I haven't talked to him yet, but Jackie [Bryce] called him and told him we'd won, and he said it was the best thing he could possibly hear.
"This was good for me because I'd been in a mental slump. I'm lucky the Bryces and the Smiths believed in me. I finally feel like I got it back at the last race, but the bike wasn't quite perfect. This race, it all came together."
Although this was just his ninth race on the NHRA circuit, Ellis was rock solid in guiding his G-Squared S&S Buell V-Twin past Matt Guidera,
Scali, who hadn't won a race or even been to a final since the 2003 event in Sonoma, Calif., came to life Sunday on his Trim-Tex Suzuki, beating points leader GT Tonglet, who red-lighted, Matt Smith, and Gainesville victor Steve Johnson to reach his 10th final.
In AMS TLR Pro Modified action, defending series champion Mike Ashley scored an unprecedented fourth consecutive national event victory by defeating first-time finalist Joey Martin. Ashley entered eliminations as the sixth qualifier and soundly defeated Mike Bell, Shelly Payne, and Frankie Taylor to reach his fifth final round in six races.
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