Burkart continues to play spoiler
Dallas, Sunday: Gary Scelzi may, or may not, win the POWERade Championship in 2005. If he doesn't, and his chances did indeed take a hit here in Dallas where he entered the race with a 43 point lead over John Force but left trailing Force by 36, he may well look back at two first-round races he lost to Phil Burkart. In each case, he most certainly could have, and rightfully should have, won.
Back at the season opener in Pomona, when snow still covered the ground over much of America, Burkart faced Scelzi in round one at the Winternationals and ran an impressive 4.769, while Scelzi posted a gigantic and much quicker 4.717. Burkart, however, won that one on an enormous hole-shot when Scelzi was simply late at the tree. Here in Dallas, 20 races and eight months later, Burkart again faced off against Scelzi in round one, with the points lead potentially at stake. This time Scelzi was sure not to be late at the lights.
On this day in Texas, Burkart ran a very strong 4.865, while Scelzi clocked in with a quicker 4.833, but instead of dropping this one on a hole-shot Scelzi instead jumped the start and fouled out. Burkart, who was enormously confident going into the round, strongly felt that much more than luck was on his side.
"I was so focused this morning, I felt like I could see everything," Burkart said. "We ran well in our last qualifying run, which got us back on track and gave us the confidence that we could run with Gary today. Our goal wasn't to make him red light, I don't think you can make anyone do that, and it wasn't to win on a hole-shot. Our goal was to run well enough to force them to beat us, and to have a confidence about us that maybe people could feel, or at least see.
"Gary has the weight of the world on him right now, coming in here with the points lead with only two more races left after this one. I know I get nervous before every round, and I was nervous today because we really wanted to make a move to get back in the top ten, but I can't even guess what it feels like to have a 40-point lead with three races left and the championship in the balance. I feel bad for him, that he lost that way, but I'd also like to think that maybe he felt like he really needed a great light to beat us. I know this, you don't see too many guys red light when they think they have a walk-over. They knew they'd get a fight from us."
The fight for Burkart then moved on to the second round, where he faced teammate Del Worsham. Burkart, in his special edition Techron / CSK Toyota faced off against Worsham in his traditional Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Monte Carlo. At stake was a strong move back toward 10th place for Burkart, while Worsham was looking at jumping ahead of Tony Pedregon (whom he beat in round one) to get back into 8th.
As is always the case, both CSK teams plotted their strategies independently, and all Burkart could do was try to get a jump at the tree, keep it in the middle, and hope to beat the boss.
The first two pairs of Funny Cars in the second round raised eyebrows and sent crew chiefs running for last minute tweaks, as both Ron Capps and Whit Bazemore lost in tire smoking upsets. As the final pair, Burkart and Worsham headed to the line to see which team car would advance to the Dallas semi-final.
Burkart did the first part of his job well, getting a jump on Worsham at the tree, though both drivers left nearly equally well. The two cars paced each other for 1,320 feet, putting on a great race. At the end, Worsham pulled ahead and his 4.906 was enough to overcome Burkart's reaction time advantage and his 4.953 E.T..
"I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've left on Del in all the times we've raced," Burkart said. "Sometimes it's just hard trying to get up for beating the boss. But, this time we all wanted this round. The red team wanted it badly, and our Techron team wanted it too. We gave them a battle, but he came around me and got the win light."
With two races remaining on the schedule, Burkart still has a chance at that top ten spot, though it will be difficult. He trails No. 10 Cruz Pedregon by 70 points (four rounds,) but also has Tim Wilkerson in the way, 19 points ahead and in 11th.
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