Anderson has little margin for error
Now that the halfway point has been reached on the 2005 NHRA POWERade calendar, it's time to review and recap the previous five months of action on the four professional categories.
Today we'll cover Pro Stock.
Current leader: Greg Anderson by 15 points
Greg Anderson's 2004 championship season was a record-smasher from any perspective. His new category standards have been well documented, and while it would have been hard for any team to maintain that kind of dominance, Anderson's tepid beginning to 2005 was sobering, to say the least.
At this year's halfway point he finds himself leading the standings, but not in the runaway fashion that became so familiar in '04. He didn't win a race until this season's seventh event (Atlanta), but then strung together two more and it appeared the magic was back. But it was his teammate, Jason Line, who picked things up from there, winning two straight and claiming the top spot in the standings for a brief period. He is currently a mere 15 points behind Anderson.
There's no doubt that Anderson will be at or near the top when the championship race is decided. He has been frank in admitting that his adversaries have closed the gap that he enjoyed over the past two years and parity -- virtually unknown in 2003 and 2004 -- is back.
Dave Connolly, the 21-year-old phenom who won the season's first race and led the points for the first time in his career, provided some real drama following the event in Columbus, Ohio, when his team owner, Mike Dzurilla, closed his racing operation without warning. The surprise development put Connolly on the sidelines -- until Evan Knoll, the owner of Torco Race Fuels & Gear, purchased the team and preserved Connolly's chances at the championship. Connolly is fourth in points heading into the second half and has shown he and his team can challenge for the POWERade crown.
Warren and Kurt Johnson are in the thick of the title chase after a 2004 season riddled with disappointments. Warren has two wins and Kurt has one -- a far cry from last year when the family patriarch was winless and his son tallied only a single victory. The Johnson team is determined to regain the Pro Stock leadership, and with Warren in the midst of his "School's Out" retirement tour, there is added motivation.
Warren Johnson and the other factory-supported teams campaigning Pontiacs will be switching from Grand Ams to new GTOs as the second half gets up to speed. The new machines are expected to be much slipperier aerodynamically than the cars they're replacing. Look for some big speeds from the new Pontiacs, especially at the sea-level tracks this autumn.
So who will set the championship pace with 11 races to go? Look for the Anderson, Line, Connolly, and Johnson & Johnson efforts to trade blows in the second half.
Possible spoilers? You'd have to go with Jeg Coughlin and Richie Stevens, the "Dodge Boys" who have come close to a first-half victory but have yet to make a major impact on the category leaders. Their crew chief, Bob Glidden, and the rest of their Schumacher Racing operation have to potential to make serious hay down the stretch.
Tomorrow: Pro Stock Motorcycle
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.
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