GLENDORA, Calif. -- Chase to the Finish Line Take the parity of the NFL and the Wild Card races in Major League Baseball, throw them into a hat and what you'd be left with is as competitive an NHRA season as has been experienced in some time, maybe ever.
The $50 million NHRA POWERade Series in 2005 has been a Wild West shootout with multiple lead changes and points races closer than the blink-of-an-eye finishes that are routine in the sport. And with the season winding down now to the final six of 23 events, the table has been set for a thrilling musical chairs-like race for the POWERade Series world championships.
"Nobody can break away and get the clean air and get away from everybody," said Gary Scelzi, currently in third place in the tightly-packed Funny Car standings where just 71 points separate first from fifth place. "It could still happen, but right now one through four is right there, and even fifth place is right there. With six races left, the whole idea is if somebody jumps up with three in a row, now we're the ones chasing the rabbit . There's no dominating anywhere."
Why all the competitive points races? Well, with teams expanding and dollars pouring in from all corners, the playing field in a sport once almost completely dominated by a select few of the haves has become incredibly deep and competitive.
Look no further than John Force, the icon of NHRA drag racing, for a perfect case in point. With the backing of Ford and Castrol, he has built one of the most successful teams in the sport, but what's good for the team isn't always good for the individual.
The winner of an NHRA record 118 races and 13 POWERade Series world championships isn't just worrying about the "guys over there" anymore, he's also lining up against two of his own - Robert Hight and Eric Medlen - two guys with access to all of the intelligence that has made Force the winningest driver in the history of the sport.
So here is Force, even with more wins this season (4) than any other Funny Car driver, in the unusual position of looking up in the POWERade Series standings at his own son-in-law, Hight, who is the runaway favorite for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award. Medlen, meanwhile, has emerged in the second half of the season as the hottest driver in the class with a stretch of three wins in four races that included a victory over the boss in the finals of the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the crazy rollercoaster ride this 2005 season has been more than the week-by-week standings where there have been a total of 24 lead changes and 16 drivers - including three different riders in the last three events in Pro Stock Motorcycle - who've been in first place of their respective class for at least one week:
TO FOLLOW IS A BREAKDOWN BY CLASS:
Top Fuel (through 17 of 23 events): Lead changes: 4; Points leaders: 3 (Scott Kalitta, Tony Schumacher, Doug Kalitta); Current Standings: Doug Kalitta 1,280, Tony Schumacher 1,276, Larry Dixon 1,181, Dave Grubnic 1,057, Brandon Bernstein 1,041.
Funny Car (through 17 of 23 events): Lead changes: 6; Points leaders: 5 (Tommy Johnson, Phil Burkart, Whit Bazemore, John Force, Robert Hight); Current Standings: Robert Hight 1,134, Ron Capps 1,104, Gary Scelzi 1,099, John Force 1,087, Eric Medlen 1,063
Pro Stock (through 17 of 23 events): Lead changes: 10; Points leaders: 4 (Dave Connolly, Allen Johnson, Warren Johnson, Greg Anderson); Current Standings: Greg Anderson 1,340, Warren Johnson 1,267, Kurt Johnson 1,208.
Pro Stock Motorcycle (through 11 of 15 events): Lead changes: 4; Points leaders: 4 (Andrew Hines, Steve Johnson, GT Tonglet, Antron Brown); Current Standings: Andrew Hines 850, GT Tonglet 835, Antron Brown 746.
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