Our NHRA Full Throttle season is coming down to two races before the Countdown to 1 playoffs begin following our Daytona 500/Indy 500 – the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend. After that, the final six races will determine who is the champion in all of NHRA's four pro classes: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock car, and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
It's been kind of a fun battle for me and the NAPA Auto Parts team because we led at times by several digits during the first 16 races of the season. We started the season with our mindset being that we will focus on one run at a time and go up and try to be the best car and make the best run of that session. Well, that plan won us five races this year.
But, we also had to look out a little bit in the future and, honestly, because of the testing moratorium set by NHRA (only four test days allowed), we had to do some testing during race conditions. Also, with the Countdown looming and knowing that we still had to win races and rack up points, there was a little more going on inside my head personally.
My good friend Tommy DeLago, who tunes my new teammate Matt Hagan's car, is kind of fighting to stay in the top 10 (they're in 11th right now), while my “old” teammate Jack Beckman is pretty solidly in the top five. You want your teammates to be in the Countdown. There's nothing better than to go into this Countdown and have two other teammates in there with you. We can go up and stand on the stage Sunday morning knowing that we each have a shot at earning some points for the championship run.
Not that it was a distraction, but it surely has been in our minds. There are five championship-caliber cars battling for those last three spots in the Countdown: Robert Hight in 12th, Hagan in 11th, Cruz Pedregon in 10th, Mike Neff in ninth and John Force in eighth.
We decided to do a little bit of testing during the Western swing of races (Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Calif.) and we ended up with a win and a semifinal out of the first two races.
Right now, it's getting down to where we have to focus on regaining the points lead we held for most of the year. We're now in second because of our quarterfinal finish in Sonoma. We're 28 points behind Tony Pedregon, but we really want to earn the 20 bonus points that NHRA awards to the regular season leader going into the Countdown. We found out this year that every single point is going to count more than ever. And, to be honest, after leading the standings like we had been earlier in the year it was good to get those competitive juices flowing again mixing it up with Tony and Ashley Force Hood (third in points) for the top spot. She's 97 points behind us.
In a way, I'm glad to have that competition among us three, because it gets us back in that race mode that we're going to have to be in when the Countdown starts. Some people may wonder if we're disappointed that we lost the points lead, but the answer is no. It's actually got us back on our toes and not on our heels.
We know to win a championship you have to race offensively and not defensively. That may have lost us championships in the past by racing defensively when we had the points lead.
Obviously, everybody knows the Countdown is coming. It's much like the Chase in NASCAR. There's going to be a lot of good teams that won't be in the Countdown and they're going to look to be spoilers. It's going to be very interesting to see who makes it in and who doesn't.
We have two official test days left and we're going to have to use them wisely before and during the Countdown.Ron