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Countdown ready to commence

O’Reilly Nationals, the first event of a six-race playoff, set to begin Friday in Concord

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012

The National Hot Rod Association’s Countdown to the Championship has arrived and it gets underway this weekend with the O’Reilly Nationals at Concord’s zMax Dragway.

The first of the six-race countdown – the NHRA’s playoffs are similar to NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup – gets underway Friday with qualifying in four classes. Antron Brown (Top Fuel dragster), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock car) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock motorcycle) are the top seeds. New champions are guaranteed in the two nitro classes: 2011 Top Fuel champ Del Worsham retired and Funny Car winner Matt Hagan didn’t make this season’s countdown.

Here’s what to watch for on a zMax track where four of eight national records have been set – two of which still stand from this event in 2011.

Top Fuel dragster

Standings: 1. Antron Brown (2,110); 2. Spencer Massey (2,080); 3. Tony Schumacher (2,070); 4. Steve Torrence (2,060); 5. Doug Kalitta (2,050); 6. Morgan Lucas (2,040); 7. Shawn Langdon (2,030); 8. Brandon Bernstein (2,020); 9. David Grubnic (2,010); 10. Bob Vandergriff (2,000).

Who’s hot: Brown has won two of the last four races (Denver, Sonoma, Calif.) and seems primed to make a strong run at his first championship. He’s been close before, finishing second twice (2001 and ’06) and third last season.

Need to know: Schumacher, a seven-time champion, ended a 32-race winless streak when he won at Bristol, Tenn., earlier this season. He followed that up with a victory last week at Indianapolis.

Funny Car

Standings: 1. Ron Capps (2,110); 2. Robert Hight (2,080); 3. Jack Beckman (2,070); 4. Mike Neff (2,060); 5. Johnny Gray (2,050); 6. Courtney Force (2,040); 7. Cruz Pedegron (2,030); 8. John Force (2,020); 9. Jeff Arend (2,010); 10. Tim Wilkerson (2,000).

Who’s hot: Mike Neff brings momentum to the race, having won for a third time last week at Indianapolis, and sits in fourth place in the standings. Only Robert Hight (four) and points leader Ron Capps (three) have won more than Neff.

Need to know: Wilkerson slipped into the countdown by seven points over Hagan after making it to the final round in Indy. Wilkerson made it despite a 10-point deduction for an oil violation in his finals loss to Neff.

Pro Stock car

Standings: 1. Allen Johnson (2,110); 2. Jason Line (2,080); 3. Greg Anderson (2,070); 4. Erica Enders (2,070); 5. Vincent Nobile (2,050); 6. Mike Edwards (2,040); 7. Ron Krisher (2,030); 8. V Gaines (2,020); 9. Larry Morgan (2,010); 10. Jeg Coughlin (2,000).

Who’s hot: Although she didn’t win at Indy – losing in the final against Dave Connolly – Enders has won three of the last seven races and is fourth in the standings.

Need to know: Defending champ Line has won just once, but has been as consistent as anybody. He’s second in points behind Johnson.

Pro Stock motorcycle

Standings: 1. Eddie Krawiec (2,110); 2. Andrew Hines (2,080); 3. Hector Arana Jr. (2,070); 4. Hector Arana Sr. (2,060); 5. Karen Stoffer (2,050); 6. Scotty Pellacheck (2,040); 7. GT Tonglet (2,030); 8. Michael Ray ( 2,020); 9. Shawn Gann (2,010); 10. Matt Smith (2,000).

Who’s hot: Krawiec (six) and Hines (four) have combined for all 10 victories on the motorcycle circuit. Hines (Indianapolis) has the most recent triumph.

Need to know: Either of the Aranas – Hector Sr. or Hector Jr. – could be a factor. Hector Sr. beat Krawiec in last week’s semifinals before losing to Hines.

Want to go?

O’Reilly Nationals zMax Dragway

Tickets: www. charlottemotorspeedway.com; 800-455-FANS

Schedule:

Friday

7:30 a.m.: Gates open

8 a.m.: Sportsman racing

2 p.m., 5 p.m.: Pro Mod qualifying

3 p.m., 5:45 p.m.: Pro Stock (car, motorcycle) qualifying

4 p.m., 6 p.m.: Nitro (Funny Car, Top Fuel dragster) qualifying

Saturday

7:30 a.m.: Gates open

8 a.m.: Sportsman eliminations

12:15 p.m., 2:45 p.m.: Pro stock qualifying

1 p.m.: 3:30 p.m.: Nitro qualifying

2 p.m., 4:30 p.m.: Pro Mod qualifying

Sunday 9:30 a.m.: Gates open 11 a.m.: Driver introductions

Noon: Nitro round 1

1 p.m.: Pro Stock round 1

1 :30 p.m.: Pro Mod round 2

2 p.m.: Nitro round 2

2: 45 p.m.: Pro Stock round 2

3:45 p.m.: Nitro semifinals

4 p.m.: Pro Stock semifinals

4:15 p.m.: Pro Mod semifinals

5:10 p.m.: Pro Mod finals

5:15 p.m.: Pro Stock finals

5:30 p.m.: Nitro finals

Scott: 704-358-5889

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