Jane Miller: In NHRA, it all comes down to this
Two races remain before the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and two points races also remain in the IndyCar season.
But for the NHRA, the big weekend is at hand.
The drag-racing series makes its final cut in the Countdown this weekend at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
A total of 10 racers makes the finals this year, as opposed to eight a year ago. This is the second season the NHRA has used the playoff format to decide its champions.
Here's the situation in each of the four pro classes:
- Top Fuel: Tony Schumacher has clinched the top seed, which carries a bonus of 20 points when the points are reset at the next race. And let me just say right here, regardless of the Countdown format, if Tony Schumacher doesn't win the Top Fuel title after the year he is having, it is a crime.
Still in contention for the final two spots in the TF top 10 are David Grubnic, Doug Kalitta and Morgan Lucas, all within 10 points of each other.
- Funny Car: The field is already set and 2005 champion Gary Scelzi is not a part of it.
Tim Wilkerson has clinched the top seed.
- Pro Stock: Eight spots are clinched, Ron Krisher is in if he qualifies and Greg Stanfield and Warren Johnson will battle for the final position.
Greg Anderson has not clinched the top spot but is in first place going into the race.
- Pro Stock Motorcycle: Matt Smith is in good position to retain the No. 1 spot. Craig Treble makes the cut by qualifying. Steve Johnson, Karen Stoffer and Hector Arana will vie for the final two positions.
There's dual pressure on the non-qualified drivers this weekend - the urgency of making the Countdown and the importance of winning the U.S. Nationals.
"We're going to Indianapolis this weekend with the same objective as we had back in 1971, and that is to win the race," Warren Johnson said in recalling his first U.S. Nationals experience.
". . .We went to Indiana with the mind-set of going to work and finishing the job, and lo and behold, a few years later we were able to get it done.
"It's no different this year. As long as we can minimize any errors, we should be in good shape."
ESPN2 will televise 10 hours of programming devoted to the most prestigious race on the schedule.
Monday's elimination rounds will be shown from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.
WHAT NEXT? Reed Sorenson's decision to join Gillett Evernham Motorsports leaves two questions to be answered:
What will become of Patrick Carpentier and does this open the door for Dario Franchitti to return to a Cup ride at Ganassi?
In a perfect world, Chip Ganassi would find sponsorship enough to run three teams again and would hire Carpentier and keep Franchitti, and have a little team/family of ex-open-wheelers.
It would be a shame to have Carpentier left hanging in this Silly Season game of musical drivers' seats.
He's done a really nice job behind the wheel and built a fan base with his winning personality.
BUD SHOOTOUT: I'm not big on changing tradition, so obviously I'm not thrilled about the Budweiser Shootout format makeover.
Pole winners, sorry. You're out. The top six drivers from each of the four manufacturers get in.
As points stand now, that would put A.J. Allmendinger, David Reutimann and Travis Kvapil in and Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman out, since they're changing manufacturers next season.
TESTING: For the second time in the last three weeks, Dave Blaney and the Caterpillar Inc. team spent Monday and Tuesday testing at Gateway International Raceway in Madison.
Jane Miller is the Peoria Journal Star motorsports columnist. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.