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Greg Anderson Looking For Lip-Raising Runs In Memphis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 4 2009
Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson appears to be back in a groove. (File photo courtesy the NHRA)

Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson appears to be back in a groove. (File photo courtesy the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Self-inflicted wounds to his confidence and left wrist have accompanied Greg Anderson to Memphis Motorsports Park, where NHRA Pro Stock points-leader Mike Edwards remains squarely in Greg’s grille.

And Greg’s head.

Anderson’s victory over former Funny Car driver Johnny Gray in the final of the 24th annual O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals last Sunday left him borderline apologetic –  certainly a strange circumstance for the three-time Pro Stock world champion.

“I’ve been dragging my lip, without a doubt,” Anderson said after scoring his second victory of the season in Race No. 2 of the six-event Countdown to 1 at Texas Motorplex in Ennis. “I told you (media) guys before – I need confidence. I just haven’t had it lately. I just haven’t had much go right. I haven’t had a lot of performance out of the race car and Mike Edwards has just kind of been making us all look bad, to be honest with you.

“We don’t like that. We like to be the performance leader and we haven’t been lately, so it’s driving us nuts.”

GAnderson’s concern is grounded in stats. Edwards continued his qualifying prowess Saturday at MMP, where he stood No. 1 after four rounds of time trials for the 22nd annual O’Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals via a quarter-mile pass of 6.552-seconds and 210.77 mph. Edwards’ elapsed time set a track record and helped him nail his 13th Pro Stock pole of the season.

“I look at it like we’re racing the track and the conditions no matter who our opponent is,” said Edwards, who earned eight bonus qualifying points for the weekend. “We’re going to try to turn everything we learned into (Sunday’s) tune-up.”

Anderson, meanwhile, moved from fourth on the provisional ladder to second after a pass of 6.555-seconds at a track-record speed of 210.97 mph during the third session at Millington, Tenn.  Anderson scored an additional six bonus points Saturday, giving him a total of eight for the weekend.

“We definitely had a better day (Saturday) than we’ve had over the last few weekends during qualifying,” said Anderson , driver of  the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP. “It seems to be a very happy car.  It made great runs (in Texas), although we couldn’t understand why it didn’t run faster. Now it appears those high-temperature, high-humidity conditions (last weekend) just don’t suit our engine package, because It’s just running better here. The car is still making good runs but the scoreboard is reading faster times, so it obviously likes these conditions a lot better.

“The good news is that it should stay cool for the rest of the weekend, and these weather conditions seem to have allowed us to close the gap a little on Mike Edwards. Naturally, we’re pretty pleased about that.”

Edwards, defending Pro Stock event winner at MMP, began the weekend as the hottest driver in the “Factory Hot Rod” category. The NHRA’s new 3-2-1 Countdown qualifying bonus points system clearly has played to the strength of Edwards, a 52-year-old resident of Broken Arrow, Okla. Edwards earned 10 extra points during the four rounds of qualifying in the Countdown opener at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., where he also won the event.

In Ennis, Edwards bagged the maximum 12 bonus points and finished with a 90-point total for the weekend. His lead over four-time class champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. was 65 points as the weekend began, with Anderson in third, 80 points behind Edwards.

“He’s absolutely got the baddest car that’s ever probably been in Pro Stock,” Anderson said of Edwards’ A.R.T./Young Life Pontiac GXP.  “Got us covered by five-hundredths (of a second)…that’s a ton in Pro Stock. You just go up there and do your job and…the only chance you got probably is a major miscue on his part or something crazy to happen.”

That was the case in the semifinals at The Plex, where Anderson upset Edwards in a race featuring a flickering set of Christmas tree staging lights that threw Edwards’ timing off. Anderson said he basically needed “a miracle” to beat Edwards…and the saints delivered.

“Just a bad break on his part,” Anderson said of Edwards, a four-time national event winner this season. “I don’t know how else I would have beat him. Just scraped and clawed and found a way to win.

“Basically, what it comes down to is we haven’t had the performance. But if I would have lost early again, we probably would have been done for the Countdown. And we found a way to win, keep ourselves in it and buy a little time to try and find some performance in this car and try to get where Mike Edwards is – or at least get closer to him.”

Anderson’s victory in Ennis was his second in only four final-round appearances this season. Anderson and crew chief Rob Downing did not post their first win of 2009 until Race No. 16 at Brainerd, Minn., in mid-August. Anderson now has three victories in four final round appearances at the all-concrete Motorplex.

Edwards, who made his NHRA debut with a single event in 1982, has finished fourth in points two of the last three years. His four victories to-date in 2009 are a career-high, and raised his total to 19.

“Very impressed,” said Anderson, who moved from sixth to third in points after the weekend in Ennis. “I’ve known Mike for a long time and I respect the heck out of him. He’s very similar to what I am. He’s worked on cars all his life and then finally got the chance to drive, just like me.

“They’ve done a great job. They’ve had a great year. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him win the next four (Countdown races). It’ll probably be a heck of an upset if he doesn’t win the thing and I’m still betting he’s going to win it. But I’m going to do everything I can to try to hold him off, and so’s everybody else in this class. It’s neat. It’s kind of a different challenge for me. I’ve never ha d to race from that far of a disadvantage and I do feel like I kind of stole one (at The Plex). But I don’t think I’ve ever really stolen one like this before. I won the race but nobody is going to know how three months from now or a year from now.”

Almost in passing, Anderson noted that he played hurt _ with that injured left wrist _ on Sunday at The Plex. Anderson said he was working out on a chinning bar at a Dallas-area gym last Saturday when his hand slipped off. “It kind of tweaked the wrist and whacked me in the chin with the other side of the bar,” said Anderson, a 48-year-old resident of Charlotte, N.C. “It’s embarrassing. Stupidity. Just flat stupidity.”

Anderson’s wrist continues to be a legitimate issue at MMP. To accelerate healing of the wrist, Anderson has had it placed in a cast to restrict movement. Cleared to drive by NHRA medical officials on-site, Anderson is wearing a modified driver’s glove to accommodate the extra bulk of the cast.

“This racing deal…I don’t know what the percentage would be, but a lot of it is the mind,” said Anderson, who will face Mark Hogan and his Pontiac GTO in Round 1. “I made a stupid mistake and I injured my wrist. It just throbbed and hurt all day long. I guess it took my mind off of worrying about who’s in the other lane and how fast his car was and my car wasn’t. Just goes to show you that somehow you’ve got to get your mind clear and stop worrying…because it’ll tie you in a knot.”

Of course, Anderson is well-aware of what it’s like to be wheeling the “baddest” Pro Stock car on the planet. Anderson won three consecutive National Hot Rod Association championships from 2003-2005, a period during which he posted a combined 35 victories and 37 poles.

Anderson absolutely staggered the competition in 2004, when he claimed his second Full Throttle Drag Racing Series title with a record 15 wins and set single-season records for poles (16), most elimination rounds (76) and final-round appearances (19). He was a popular choice as Driver of the Year –  joining Funny Car icon John Force as only the second NHRA driver to win the prestigious North American award.

Anderson said Edwards’ performance this year similarly has been “very sharp” – and consistently so.

“He’s had a few hiccups along the road driving this year,” Anderson said, “but it’s a different mindset when you have a horse that strong – you can’t go reckless up there. You got to kind of lay back a little bit and make sure you don’t throw the race away. I know how that feeling is. I didn’t have killer lights those years that I had a great horse, but you can’t throw the race away and you can’t be careless. He’s in that position right now. It’s a hard place to race from. Still rather have it, have that performance. But it’s a tough place.

“There is definitely some horsepower difference (between his car and Edwards’). He’s got looks like a little more power than anybody right now, but it’s not all power he’s outrunning everybody with. It’s a lot of chassis setup, he’s doing a great job of driving –it’s the whole package.”

Mike Edwards. The guy remains squarely in Greg Anderson’s grille.

And Greg’s head.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 4 2009
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