The third race in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship is the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, taking place Friday through Sunday, September 27th through 29th at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis. The event will feature all four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – with last year’s winners Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) returning to the track to defend their victories and try to move up in Countdown to the Championship points.
Like his teammate Brown, who failed to qualify for the first Countdown race at Charlotte, seven-time Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher has struggled in the first two races of the playoffs, exiting in the first round at Charlotte and the second round last weekend at Texas Motorplex. Adversity in the championship hunt is nothing new to Schumacher, who has staged near-impossible comebacks in the past.
“Basically, we’ve got to be flawless and miraculous the rest of the year,” said Schumacher. “But it’s been done so many times and we’re so used to that, we’ve just got to make sure we go into those last four with the right car, and it’s not quite there, yet. But we’re closer than we were before.”
In Funny Car, Matt Hagan still holds on to the points lead after two races, but saw that lead slip from 82 points to 51 following last weekend’s second-round exit. The 2011 Funny Car champ refuses to let that slip-up get him down.
“It’s like anything; you can’t get your head down,” said Hagan. “You win as a team, you lose as a team and you move forward as a team. I’m looking forward to getting to the next race. (Dallas) is behind us now and we just have to keep digging deep and working hard.”
Mike Edwards had led the Pro Stock category since April’s first race at Charlotte, but gave up the top spot last weekend to Texas Motorplex winner Jason Line. Edwards has also struggled in the first two Countdown races, losing in the semis at Charlotte and in the first round at Texas Motorplex. Still in contention in third-place, just 34 points back of Line, Edwards knows exactly what he has to do from here on out.
“We’ve had a solid race car all season, and know the only way to take advantage of the next (four) races in the Countdown is to win events and collect NHRA Wallys,” said Edwards. “Moving forward, we understand that the only way to control our destiny and the championship is we have to win races, and by winning is the only way you can make sure nobody can chase you down. We do not want to leave anything to chance and rest our hopes on other people.”
PSM rider Hector Arana Jr.’s lead has been cut to 11 points by 2007 champ Matt Smith, who advanced to his fifth final of the year at Texas Motorplex. Last year’s St. Louis winner Krawiec, currently fourth in points, moved up from seventh place in points after his first win of the season at Texas Motorplex. Arana Jr. has had two semifinal finishes in the Countdown so far, and knows he has a fight ahead of him.
“It’s going to be a fight to the finish,” said Arana Jr. “I knew it was going to be a long, hard Countdown, and these first two races have done nothing to change my mind. We’ve all got to dig deep and keep battling.”
Mello Yello qualifying sessions for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals begin on Friday at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. CT and continue Saturday at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. CT. On Sunday, eliminations get underway at 11 a.m. CT. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.
Quotes in this piece provided by the NHRA.
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