COMMENTARY | There are only two races left in the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, the first one taking place this weekend, October 24 through 27 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Through most of the season, second-generation Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr. held the points lead in the two-wheel category, but he lost the top spot to Matt Smith following the event in St. Louis.
"We started off the season strong, but in all honesty that doesn't really matter if you don't have your stuff together for the Countdown," said Arana Jr. in a recent teleconference. "I don't know if we lost focus or we lost some of our better motors and just a couple little mistakes on the starting line, and next thing you know you're in second place. We'll get back into it. We've finally got some good motors back together, and we know what we have to do, and it's not impossible to win, but it's definitely going to be very, very, very tough, and we're going to have to be flawless these next two races and have a little bit of luck on our side. We have our fingers crossed, and we're going to do everything we can to get this Lucas Oil Buell to the championship. "
Arana Jr. isn't the only competitor who had someone sneak up from behind: 2011 Funny Car champ Matt Hagan is having déjà vu circa 2010, when the legendary John Force came from behind to take his 15th title from Hagan's grasp. Force has been on a hot streak so far in the six-race Countdown to the Championship: in four races, he has two wins in three final-round appearances. With two races left, Hagan, currently second in points, knows exactly what he has to do - win.
"Nothing but respect for that man," said Hagan of Force. "He built fuel Funny Car racing. Without John Force it's hard to say that there's NHRA. He's that type of guy. But honestly I think it's going to be really hard for him to keep moving forward like that. You see a lot of guys come out, win back to back and then they struggle. I've kind of grouped my guys together and told them, I said, you know, these guys, they come out here and they win the next two races and we can't catch them, then you tip your hat to them and go over there and you shake their hand and tell them they did a hell of a job. But if they fumble the football, man, we've got to pick it up and run with it. There's no room for error. We've got to have two good races, he's got to have one bad, and it's got to play out that way."
Hagan continued, remembering, "It did for me in 2010, man. I came out of this points lead in Reading 65 points ahead just like John did just now, and he come back and spanked me again, man. It's very doable, it's possible. You have to be confident. Confident, cocky, call it whatever you want to be, you have to be driven to win. I mean, if you're not confident, and I think I read a sports book the other day that said if you're not confident, you find a way to lose, and we're not going to find any ways to lose, we're going to find a way to win out here."
Two-time Pro Stock champ Jason Line, currently third in points, has had a Countdown run similar to Force's, improving from sixth in points on the strength of a win and a runner-up performance. After an accident in testing, however, Line goes to Las Vegas with a new car that he's unsure of.
"Based off testing so far, I'd say a severe disadvantage, but it's not over yet," said Line of his new Chevrolet Camaro. "Yeah, it wouldn't have been in my plan, I can tell you that much. Like I said, the gray Camaro that we were racing there, it was fast and running really good. Very predictable and consistent. To have to start over is tough. It wouldn't have been the path that I would have chosen. 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. "
In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta sits second in points behind Shawn Langdon, a spot he's all too familiar with: Kalitta has finished second in points three times previous. With two races left on the schedule, Kalitta feels he has three options.
"Obviously there's not too many rounds left, so it's definitely time to lead, follow or get out of the way,"
said Kalitta. "I personally feel that we're up for the challenge, and I look forward to going to these next two races and hopefully running towards the front of either one of the two. Anything can happen. I mean, we've seen over the years how the points have gone at the last two races. You've just got to stay upbeat about what we're doing, and I'm confident, and yeah, I feel real comfortable going to the next two with the group of guys that I've got and making some good out of it."
Qualifying for the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway begins Friday, October 25 at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. PT, and continues Saturday, October 26 at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m. PT; final eliminations take place at 11 a.m. PT on Sunday, October 27.
Source: "NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Teleconference: Hector Arana Jr., Jason Line, Matt Hagan and Doug Kalitta," NHRA Media, October 16, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers the NHRA at Examiner.com.
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