Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Notes From All Over

Stepping Up: The final pass of the 2006 NHRA Powerade Drag Racing season will undoubtably be remembered as the single greatest pass in the history of the sport.

Not only did Tony Schumacher need to beat red-hot Melanie Troxel in Sunday’s Top Fuel final, but he had to do so while setting a new World Record with the quickest quarter-mile in drag racing history. Nothing less would allow him to steal the 2006 Top Fuel championship from Doug Kalitta.

Amazingly, Schumacher and crewchief Alan Johnson did exactly that; recording a 4.428- second run at 327.98 mph to beat Troxell and win the championship by a paltry 14 points, erasing a championship deficit that once stood at 336 points. Their gutsy final-round performance completed the greatest comeback in NHRA history, and gave the U.S. Army team its fourth NHRA World Top Fuel title, and third in a row.

Most teams would have wilted under the pressure of Sunday’s final round, overpowering the rear wheels and watching their flickering championship hopes go up in smoke. But Schumacher and Johnson aren’t “most teams.” Say what you want about the resources made available by Schumacher’s father, mega-team owner Don Schumacher. Say what you want about a semi-trained monkey being able to win races in Alan Johnson-prepared machinery. The bottom line is still the same. Schumacher and Johnson took on the best the NHRA had to offer – including a number of other teams with the best equipment and racing minds money can buy – and came away victorious.


Speaking Of The Army: Can there be any plausible explanation for MB2 Motorsports bumping the U.S. Army to associate sponsor status last weekend at Phoenix, in favor of Principal Financial Group? It was, after all, Veteran’s Day weekend; one of our few chances to say thank you to the men and women who have defended this country (and the collective freedom that we all take for granted) for so long.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but it seems to me that if there was one weekend where the black and gold U.S. Army logo deserved to be on the side of Joe Nemechek’s #01 Chevrolet, last weekend was it.

Decision Time At RYR: Robert Yates spent most of last weekend dancing around reports that he may sell the #88 half of his two-car operation to Dale Earnhardt, Inc., later this week. Finally, just before the green flag flew over Sunday’s Checker Auto Parts 500 in Phoenix, Yates revealed that while cutting-back to a one-car team is an option, his preference is to expand.

“We’re going to run a really good 38 team (next year),” said Yates. “We also have an opportunity to run a very good 88 team, and we’re looking at opportunities of growing it into four teams. I have looked at (selling), but I don’t think that’s going to be the deal. It’s going to be expanding, instead of getting rid of anything.

“Everybody will know as soon as we can get it all figured out, but it looks pretty good right now. Everybody needs to know where they’re headed when they come home from Homestead. That’s our agenda, and I think we can meet that timeline.”

No Surprise: To the surprise of absolutely no one, J.R. Todd was presented with the 2006 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award at the annual POWERade Series awards ceremony, recognizing him as NHRA drag racing’s Rookie of the Year.

Todd won three times and made four final-round appearances in the 2006 Top Fuel campaign, eventually finishing eighth in championship points despite running only a part-time schedule. He easily outdistanced fellow freshman Hillary Will, Alan Bradshaw and Max Naylor for the honor. Past winners of the Road to the Future Award include Brandon Bernstein, Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi, Doug Kalitta and the late Darrell Russell, and Todd will do nothing to lower the standards of that elite group.

Homestead Driver News: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his 255th career Nextel Cup Series start Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway; all of the with the sponsorship of Budweiser. The day before, he will make his first career start with Budweiser colors in the NASCAR Busch Series, running the familiar red Budweiser paint scheme for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Darrell Waltrip Motorsports will field a second NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entry this weekend for Michael Waltrip, who will run a #12 Jani-King sponsored Toyota Tundra at Homestead as a teammate to David Reutimann.

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