Schumacher now covets NHRA pole

A couple of days ago drag racer Tony Schumacher said his goal this weekend was to be ranked second or third after today’s final qualifying sessions.

At the time, the winner of the past three NHRA Top Fuel championships seemed serious about shying away from the No. 1 position.

If he wasn’t kidding it was because his Alan Johnson-tuned dragster has won the pole for 10 of this year’s previous 20 Powerade Drag Racing Series events but was eliminated in the first round by the 16th and slowest qualifier in six of those races.

Schumacher lost in the first round only 10 times in the previous three seasons.

“The number 16 cars have beaten me like a red-headed stepchild,” he said. “It’s mostly been little things that have hurt us or those cars stepping up to run their best of the weekend.”

Schumacher blew his game plan to shreds Friday when he won the provisional pole with a 4.482-second run at 327.59 mph in the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals before an estimated crowd of 20,000 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He also shifted his outlook. The 37-year-old Schumacher now prefers that his low time will hold up after today’s last two qualifying sessions because of this year’s new Countdown to One format for determining season champions in each of NHRA’s four professional categories.

The system has left only the top four in points over the past four NHRA events eligible to win the title Schumacher has claimed four times. Their points have been reset at increments of 10 to begin a two-event run to the title.

If qualifying is unchanged today, Schumacher will earn eight bonus points compared with the six that overall points leader Larry Dixon would receive as the No. 3 qualifier.

“No matter what happens, with only two races (to determine the champion) it’s going to be close, and those two points could be huge,” Schumacher said.

The other Top Fuel contenders are Las Vegas resident Rod Fuller, who is seventh in qualifying, and Brandon Bernstein, one spot behind him.

Schumacher believes spending three days testing at the speedway last week should have stamped out any mechanical gremlins.

He said the team used a different engine on each of seven runs.

Schumacher has lost in the opening round in each of the past three events, all since he won the prestigious U.S. Nationals on Labor Day.

Without the new format he would be 174 points out of the lead.

“I like (the Countdown) so long as whoever wins it does something really good at these last two events,” Schumacher said.

“I would hate it if three of us lose in the first round and the one who ends up with the championship lost in the second round. Winning the championship that way wouldn’t seem right after what we went through last year.”

The Chicago-area native is referring to what many in drag racing call “The Run.”

In the last year’s finale in Pomona, Calif., he had to win the event and set a national elapsed-time record. He did both and won the championship by 14 points.

“We qualified No. 1 10 times last year and that’s what got us the championship,” he said.

He hopes to say the same thing after this season.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0247.

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