LAS VEGAS --
Line was uninjured following a crash during a private test session earlier this month, but the team had to replace his Chevy Camaro with a new one, making for a steep learning curve on the eve of the fifth of sixth races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Bob Vandergriff (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and defending world champions Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) raced to victories last season at the popular event that will once again be televised on ESPN2HD.
"Obviously it was not great timing," Line said. "We had our Summit Chevy Camaro running good, and we struggled a bit this year, so it felt really good to finally have the car running good, and certainly as fast as anybody's, and now we've got to start over. It's just one of those things. But right now you have to somehow find enough strength to remain focused and be focused better than your opponents at this point in time. That's what's going to make you the champ or not."
A first round loss in St. Louis a week later sent him back to third, but he still only trails Coughlin by 50 points in what is expected to be a heated championship battle over the final two events. Edwards, who has a class-best six wins this season, is just 45 points behind Coughlin, who won the most recent event in Reading. Defending world champion Johnson is 73 points back in fourth place, but Line said he is only focused on his own performance in Las Vegas.
"You have to win, and you really need to win this race," Line said. "I've said that the last two races, and if we wanted to put ourselves in a better position we needed to, and just didn't make it happen. But I also think I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about the points because that's all that matters."
To even be in the championship hunt is nothing short of remarkable considering the team's struggles in 2013. Anderson has yet to post a win - putting his streak of 12 straight seasons with a victory in jeopardy - and Line had only one heading into the Countdown. But the team continued to work hard to turn the season around.
"We had to do something because the Countdown was upon us, and again, we wanted to be able to contend for a championship," Line said. "It's great competition in this class, and that's what brings out the best in you hopefully."
"To have to start over is tough and it wouldn't have been the path that I would have chosen," Line said. "But that's the way it goes, and you have to just deal with those things the best you can and make the best of it. That's racing, that's life. You've just got to make the best of it. Like I say, I feel like we'll have at least a competitive car. We're just going to keep working at it."
In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon is the series leader over tough competitors Doug Kalitta and Spencer Massey, who trail by 83 and 85 points respectively. Should Langdon increase his series lead to 151 points over second place at this event he will clinch the championship title. Several others are still in title contention, but will need a strong showing in Las Vegas to boost their title hopes, including fourth place points-sitter Morgan Lucas, defending world champ Antron Brown and four-time NHRA Toyota Nationals event winner Tony Schumacher.
In Funny Car, 15-time world champion John Force is the current points leader in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. He will slug it out with Matt Hagan and his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger on The Strip, but drivers like defending champ Jack Beckman and former world champs Robert Hight and Cruz Pedregon remain in contention and can all be wild cards in the title hunt.
The battle in Pro Stock Motorcycle will showcase the brewing rivalry between 2007 world champion and points leader Matt Smith and Hector Arana Jr. Smith has a 125 point lead over Arana Jr. and could clinch the championship title if he can add 26 more points to his lead at this event. Arana Jr., Michael Ray, Hector Arana Sr., and Krawiec all will be racing hard to keep the championship battle in the two-wheel category going for one more event.
Fans arriving early for the penultimate race-weekend will be treated to the traditional NHRA Fremont Street Experience Fan Fest, annually one of the best-attended pre-race festivities on the circuit. The Fan Fest will be held Thursday, Oct. 24th at 5 p.m. on Fremont Street and will feature the sport's top drivers participating in one of the biggest autograph sessions of the year and will also showcase a spectacular NHRA-themed light show over Freemont Street. Ticket giveaways and music will also be a part of this exciting kick-off event for the weekend.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they're granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family. Also in support of October's Breast Cancer Awareness month, Alexis DeJoria's Tequila Patron Funny Car team has partnered with Nevada Health Centers to offer free mammograms all weekend long in the Midway for female race fans over 40.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
Families can take part in a special ticket offer for children 12 and under, who will be admitted free in general admission areas with a paid adult.
The NHRA Toyota Nationals qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:15 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25. Qualifying continues at 12:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27.
Tickets are available for the NHRA Toyota Nationals online at www.LVMS.com or by calling (800) 644-4444.