Wester Swing was one to remember

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From Darrell Russell's bid to win three in a row in Top Fuel to Warren Johnson's stunning failure to qualify in Sonoma, the NHRA's 2002 version of the Western Swing was a barnburner.

In the past, the three-race stretch of successive national events in Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif., has been the perfect place for class leaders to solidify their frontrunner status. But not this time around as three of the four professional categories featured a tightening at the top of the charts, making the last eight races of '02 all the more interesting.

Top Fuel

Larry Dixon
As he himself predicted, Larry Dixon's 259-point lead, which he enjoyed after the first 11 races, has dwindled away to just 98 points through the Western Swing. True, the biggest chunk of that came before the Western Swing started in St. Louis when Dixon failed to qualify and Kenny Bernstein won the race, but the Miller Lite driver still yielded another 59 points to the Bud King over the last three races.

The pressure is mounting at Snake Racing, so much so that crew chief Dick LaHaie switched back to the old Goodyear tires he was using at the start of the season. The group rebounded with a No. 1 qualifying effort in Sonoma but Darrell Russell ended their day in Round 2. Luckily for Dixon, Bernstein also exited the Wine Country in the quarterfinals.

Speaking of Russell, no one will reminisce about the Western Swing more than the NHRA's reigning Rookie of the Year. Driving Joe Amato's Bilstein Engine Flush System dragster, Russell came within an eyelash of becoming just the fourth driver in NHRA history to sweep the Western Swing, winning the national events in Denver and Seattle before bowing to eventual Sonoma winner Doug Herbert in the semifinals of that event by just six-thousandths of a second.

"It was a great run," said Russell, who moved into fourth place in Sonoma and is now just 27 points out of third. "The best part was we beat some of the big teams along the way so it's not exactly like we had anything given to us."

Russell and crew chief Wayne Dupuy went 10-1 on the Western Swing with half of those victories coming against teams that were ahead of them in the points. They were 2-0 versus Dixon, and had one win each over Bernstein, McClenathan, and Schumacher.

Also making noise on the Western Swing were Herbert and Andrew Cowin. Herbert's victory in Sonoma broke a 13-month winless spell, while Cowin moved up two slots to eighth place to take some of the sting off his miserable start.

Funny Car

John Force
While it's true that Team Force stayed 1-2-3 in the POWERade points during the Western Swing and that John Force himself extended his points lead over his nearest rival from 38 to 99 points, the 11-time champion isn't exactly jumping for joy these days.

Here's why: Despite winning Sonoma and watching Castrol teammate Tony Pedregon win Seattle and take runner-up honors in Denver, Force surrendered 13 points overall to Denver winner Del Worsham of Team Checker Schuck's Kragen. At the same time, he saw a big group of contenders - Mopar's Dean Skuza, Oakley's Scotty Cannon, Skoal's Ron Capps, and White Cap's Bruce Sarver - all going multiple rounds during the Western Swing.

Only a lunatic would predict anything but championship No. 12 for the sport's greatest driver but, if only to amuse himself, Force has set a personal goal of sweeping the top three positions in the field with his team cars, another feat that's never been accomplished. This goal might be hard to achieve.

"I lose sleep worrying about those other guys," Force said. "Skuza's whipped me three times this year. Worsham always has that look like he wants to rip my heart out. Capps and 'Ace' [crew chief Ed McCulloch] are back like they used to be, and we've all seen what [Sarver crew chief] Alan Johnson can do. He knows how to win championships. If I've made it look easy, I'm wrong, because there ain't nothing easy about this."

Pro Stock

Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Out of the frontrunners in Pro Stock, only Jeg's Mail Order pro Jeg Coughlin managed a win during the Western Swing, claiming the top prize in Seattle. The victory lifted the 2000 champion past defending and six-time champ Warren Johnson into third place in the standings. Coughlin entered the Western Swing 171 points out of first. He is now just 66 points back.

Jim Yates stretched the number of races he's held the POWERade points lead to seven by maintaining the No. 1 ranking throughout the Western Swing. But if anyone thinks the two-time series champion is happy with his performance of late, they'd better think again. The SplitFire/Peak driver had a miserable Western Swing with a DNQ and just two elimination-round wins in total. His triple-digit lead in the points from the start of the Western Swing has been whittled away to just 14 points. By the way, Yates is still winless on the year.

Greg Anderson, who together with Coughlin pose the biggest threat to Yates for the 2002 title, was solid during the Western Swing. The Vegas General Construction driver recorded five elimination-round wins and had a runner-up finish during the stretch and closed to less than one round of the lead, a position he's never held.

GM Performance Parts spokesman Johnson may have publicly said he wasn't too upset that his incredible streak of 303 consecutive races in which he qualified came to an end with his unlikely DNQ in Sonoma, but the 88-time national event winner was concerned enough about its affect on the points chase that he helped tune No. 16 qualifier Tom Martino Sunday morning in hopes of Martino knocking off low qualifier Anderson. It almost worked, as Martino ran a 6.818 to Anderson's 6.811, but a .015 starting line advantage gained by Anderson made it a moot point.

Pro Stock Motorcycle

Angelle Savoie
The top three riders coming out of the Western Swing - Angelle Savoie, Craig Treble, and Matt Hines - were the ones making all the noise. Savoie held onto the points lead through the two races in which the bikes compete but saw her lead trimmed from 99 to 82 points. The CVEC Racing rider was the low qualifier in Denver, snatching the honor from hometown hero Hines at the last moment, but Eagle One pro Hines got revenge when he beat his nemesis in the final the next day.

The tables were turned somewhat in Sonoma when Hines stole the No. 1 qualifier bonus from Savoie in the last session of qualifying, only this time Savoie couldn't return the favor in the final as she was eliminated earlier by eventual winner Treble of Team Matco Tools, who beat Hines in the trophy round.

Hines, who started the Western Swing in fifth place, earned the most points with 215, which moved him to third place. Treble was next with a solid 192-point effort, while Savoie held her own with a total of 175 points earned.

Unsponsored rider Antron Brown and Shawn Gann of Gann Speed Racing, fourth and fifth in the points, respectively, also had decent Western Swings, posting a quarterfinal and a semifinal finish each.

Kenny B. had an amazing run out West --- chopping Dixon's point lead to less than 100. I'm hoping it's going to be real, down-to-the-wire racing the rest of the way.
TRL , I hope so ............. i will be at Texas Motorplex when they come to town! Can't wait!
anything can happen for shure, I was at st. louis PDR and that was crazy stuff when Dixon didn't qualify, just goes to show you how tough it is, have fun at Texas Motorplex, by then it should be down to a thin wire:)
Originally posted by NateDogg
anything can happen for shure, I was at st. louis PDR and that was crazy stuff when Dixon didn't qualify, just goes to show you how tough it is, have fun at Texas Motorplex, by then it should be down to a thin wire:)
you got that rite...........and that will be in Oct..........down here in Texas............they run very low e/t and make passes at 325mph!
Gotta love that!
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