Now comes NHRA

Apr 10, 2007 6:31 AM

Last week it was the Champ Car World Series running on the street circuit of Downtown Las Vegas with those whizzing engines.

This week it’s the thunder of the NHRA Powerade Series drag racing on the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the high octane horsepower overload that allows these cars pass 330 mph in the quarter mile.

The Drag Racing weekend starts Thursday and runs through the Finals on Sunday. It’s the perfect place to take a family or friends and enjoy everything from the pure power of the racing to the accessibility of the drivers in the pits. Unlike most racing sports, the NHRA allows every ticket to be a ticket to the pits.

Like the traditional racing sports, you also get the rows and rows of merchandise trucks, sponsorship interactive games, and of course great food and drinks of which include my favorites such as a giant Ice Cold Bud Light at a fair price to wash down my with grilled corn on the cob still in its husk. Now that is fun, I don’t care where you’re from!

In the years past, we’ve featured several of the greats such as our friend Kenny Bernstein and chronicled the showmanship of John Force. Both are giants in NHRA history and have sort of passed the torch to their children while still racing themselves.

Bernstein gave the Bud King top Fuel dragster to his son Brandon while taking a few years off. Brandon has done well, being very competitive in his division. Kenny missed it so this season he came back, but returned to his roots and is now driving Funny Cars.

Bernstein currently ranks 12 in points, only seven ahead Force’s child. However, there is a big difference between the two racing family’s children. John’s kid is woman. Ashley Force has arrived with a big splash into the series, not only because she’s the daughter of the greatest NHRA star ever, but because she is drop-dead gorgeous.

It doesn’t get any better than a beautiful woman going 333 mph.

NASCAR’s new Tiger?

With the Masters just finishing and Tiger Woods not winning, there may be an awful lot if similarities when comparing this week’s NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Golf and NASCAR? Nothing comparable, however, Jimmie Johnson right now is about as close to Tiger as anyone in the sports world now, including Roger Federer in tennis. And, Roger only has to play one person to win!

Let’s just look at what Jimmie has done this year and wait on the track specific career dominance. Since leaving Las Vegas’ newly configured track with his third straight Vegas win, he has proceeded to win two of the next three events. Those last two tracks he’s won on may be the most opposite of any two on the circuit.

Martinsville is a flat half mile track where it seems like the bumper to bumper traffic never stops. Compare that to the flat out horsepower track of Texas where it’s wide open with several grooves to race on.

Atlanta and Las Vegas?

Now that’s another story. Both are very similar and will run very much the same with most teams using the same set-ups they used for each. You can also throw in Texas and Charlotte as being similar 1.5 mile high banked tracks, all owned not-so-coincidentally by Speedway Motor Sports, which figures they should give the fans the type of fast paced NASCAR racing they want to see.

Johnson on 1.5 mile tracks

Can you say perfect! He’s 2-for-2 in the win column. Last year in a similar situation (minus Vegas because of the old banking) Kasey Kahne didn’t stop until he took four of the six high banked track wins. In those six races, Johnson finished second four times, but no worse than 11. Over the last two seasons of combined efforts at Texas, Charlotte, and Atlanta, Johnson has an average finish of 4.42. That’s one of the more amazing figures of consistency in today’s NASCAR.

Can he keep it up?

Why not?

Lets be real about this. Those two races he won this year are still very fresh on the minds of the crew. Because of everything going Johnson’s way and the likelihood of him winning again, he has been installed as the 4/1 favorite. Generally 4/1 favorites are reserved for dominators of the road courses or the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr a few years ago in plate races. The last driver that low in a 1.5 mile high banked track was Jeff Gordon in the late 90s. Incidentally, Gordon was also the last driver prior to Johnson to win three of the first six races.

Who can stop Johnson?

You would think Kahne initially because of what he did last season. However, his team may have had the biggest drop off from the previous year that I’ve seen in a long time. It happens all the time in drag racing, but it shouldn’t happen this glaringly in NASCAR. Not with the money that Evernham gets from Dodge!

Kahne has gone from winning 4-of-6 last year at these tracks to finishing 35 or worse in this season’s first two attempts.

Kenseth the top Ford

Carl Edwards has performed well this season from the Ford camp on the 1.5 mile tracks with a 6.5 average finish in the two races, but Kenseth has been a force. Kenseth has had the best combined finish in the first two 1.5 mile tracks this season behind Johnson. Look for Kenseth to be the top Ford performer again. In Texas history, the scoreboard still reads Kenseth 1, Johnson zero.

All the rest of the contenders come from Chevy. Mark Martin is back in the No. 01 Army ride after two disappointing runs by Regan Smith in the COT. Martin was fantastic at Vegas and Atlanta with a 7.5 average finish.

Over Martin’s career at Texas he’s had six top 10 finishes that include one win.

Tony Stewart took the fall race at Texas last season. Jeff Gordon still has yet to win at Texas. It remains one of the few tracks Gordon has not won on over his career and the one where he has had his longest drought with 12 attempts and no wins.

One driver to keep an eye and take a shot with at high odds is Juan Pablo Montoya. Last month in Atlanta,

Montoya showed everyone he could handle a car and maximize speed by taking the high line to a fifth place finish.

It came with lots of accolades from his peers and has to give JP some serious confidence heading into this race.