Swing takes swat at standings across the board

Updated: July 17, 2006, 10:23 PM ET
By Bill Stephens | Special to ESPN.com

The fireworks are only beginning.

On Sunday, when the dust had settled at the 27th Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway outside Denver, three out of the four professional categories saw new points leaders take charge. There were three first-time winners in 2006 -- one of them winning his first NHRA race overall -- and that was only the first leg of the grueling three-in-a-row Western Swing. Nobody is playing it close to the vest as the second-half of the '06 schedule is throttling up.

That's especially true for Doug Kalitta, who picked up his first No. 1 qualifying spot of the season and then advanced to the semifinals in eliminations. That was enough to squirt him past Melanie Troxel for the Top Fuel points lead by a margin of 22. Although Kalitta didn't win the event, he has been riding a surge of consistency and round wins over the last eight races highlighted by four victories and two semifinal finishes. Over that same stretch, Troxel has cooled off from her smoking hot start to '06 with only a single win and two runner-ups.

But the biggest star on Thunder Mountain on Sunday was young J.R. Todd, who won his first NHRA national event in only his ninth start and becomes the first black driver to win a Top Fuel event title. The 24-year-old native of Lawrenceburg, Ind., outran Tony Schumacher in the final round, 4.906-seconds at 291.63 mph to 4.966/306.33. Todd's win prevented Schumacher from picking up his second victory in a row following his win three weeks ago in St. Louis.

More than once this season, Funny Car points leader Ron Capps has dodged a major bullet during eliminations thereby preserving his position atop the POWERade standings. Following an early-round loss, Capps has seen his intrepid pursuer, 13-time champion John Force, stumble as well. It happened again in Denver. Capps was ousted in the first round by Bob Gilbertson, but Force got only as far as the second round where he was tripped up by Capps' teammate, Gary Scelzi.

Coming into Denver, Capps held a slim 44-point lead over Force. That lead is slimmer still, now 26, but Force had a solid gold opportunity to take over the top spot in the points had he moved to the semifinals. Instead, Force will have to wait until next week in Seattle to get another shot at moving past Capps.

Scelzi took the Mile-High crown by virtue of his final-round win over Cruz Pedregon, 5.132/301.94 to 5.820/202.82. It was Scelzi's first win of 2006 but the reigning POWERade champion still remains a distant 242 points out of the lead.

Greg Anderson relinquished his points lead in Pro Stock, but the fact that it was his teammate, Jason Line, acting as the culprit helped to minimize Anderson's trauma.

Line's runner-up finish to Dave Connolly (after Line dumped Anderson in the semis) gave him a 22-point bulge on his team captain, but Line could have fattened that advantage had Connolly not pulled off yet another display of his holeshot artistry.

With a reaction time only 8/1000ths of a second away from a perfect .000, the 24-year-old Connolly picked up his third win of the year and now trails Line by only 51 points in the Pro Stock standings.Connolly's great leave and 7.173/193.07 was enough to counter Line's quicker and faster 7.141/194.13.

It was only a matter of time before two-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Andrew Hines put together four winning rounds on Sunday. Thanks to his first national event win of the season, the rider of the Vance & Hines "Screamin' Eagle" Harley-Davidson has moved past Angelle Sampey for the category lead. Hines dispatched Matt Guidera in the final, 7.435/179.97 to 7.566/176.63.

Hines' lead is 28 points over Sampey and with the bike class skipping the race in Seattle next week, expect the Hines-Harley-Davidson vs. Sampey-Suzuki turf battle to heat up all over again in Sonoma, Calif., in two weeks.

Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.