Legendary Force starting to peak at the right time
Too old? Washed up? Fourteen-time Funny Car champ John Force is anything but. Two wins in four weeks -- including Sunday's victory at Sonoma -- have re-energized the unflappable Force, writes Bill Stephens.
The NHRA's new playoff system is an elimination process. That's the biggest difference between the Countdown to the Championship and NASCAR's Chase for the Nextel Cup.
It starts with the NHRA's biggest event -- the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend at Indianapolis. In the 18th of 23 annual events, the top eight racers in each pro category will begin competing for the championship.
It means the 17th event, the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Reading, Pa., on Aug. 16-19, is the last chance to make it to the playoffs.
Starting at Indy, the standings are reset, with points awarded in 10-point intervals from the first- to last-place finishers for the eight contenders in each class: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Indy begins the Countdown to Four over the next four events. The drivers who rank in the top four in each class after the Richmond race on Oct. 7 will compete for the title in the last two events: Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif.
Points are reset again at Las Vegas with a 10-point margin between the four competitors in each category.
"The one thing most of the drivers wanted was to keep the top eight in it until the end,'' said six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein. "No one was complaining about going to the top-eight playoff. But a lot of teams and crew chiefs don't like cutting it down to four in the last two races.
"It's a brutal way to end it, but this always has been a brutal sport. You line up at 23 events and can lose in the first round each time."
-- Terry Blount