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Pro Stock Clinched At Pomona, But Not Much Else

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 10 2011

Jason Line has clinched the Pro Stock championship but everything else in the NHRA is up for grabs this weekend in Pomona . (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Jason Line’s victory party after clinching his second NHRA Pro Stock world championship lasted about as long as it took to clear security at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas for his return flight to Charlotte, N.C.

“Well, we took the redeye home,” said Line, who secured his second title via a semifinal finish at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 30. “We’re trying to find more power. That is the name of the game. We never really stop. For us, that’s at least half the fun. We’re not going to take a whole lot of time off.

“(Teammate) Greg (Anderson) and I are going on a USO tour to Germany at the end of the season, and that’s probably going to be about it for us.”

That said, Line is the only Countdown to the Championship entrant who can actually take a breath heading into this weekend’s season-ending 47th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. The first of four rounds of qualifications is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Pomona, Calif., where Line began the season with a victory during February’s 51st annual Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals.

Line wheeled his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP to back-to-back wins at Pomona and

Jason Line will not be resting this weekend.

Gainesville, Fla., and a third-place result in Commerce, Ga., to quickly establish himself as the “Factory Hot Rod” driver to beat. Through 21 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events, Line has posted six wins in eight final-round appearances and racked up seven poles.

Despite red-lighting against Allen Johnson in the semifinals of the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas, Line became the first of four professional drivers to clinch a 2011 world championship.

“It was really gratifying,” said Line, who earned his first championship in 2006. “It’s kind of a strange deal because I just lost. I red-lighted. The story of my life – I’m never quite on time. I’m either early or late, one of the two.

“It’s sort of bittersweet. Obviously, we lost the round and felt like we had a car to go to the final round with and didn’t quite do that. At the same time, here across the street Dan Wheldon loses his life less than a week before that. So a lot of those things are going through your head at the same time.”

Line was referring to the multiple-car crash during the IZOD IndyCar Series season-finale that claimed the life of Wheldon, the two-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, on the LVMS oval on Oct. 16.

“You might be happy, but there is still time to, I guess, think about things and reflect and realize how lucky we are to be doing what we’re doing,” Line said. “It was a great feeling, but like I say, it was a little bit bittersweet.”

And the emotional connection did not stop there. Clinching in Vegas allowed Line to secure the championship hardware in the hometown of KB Racing team-owner Ken Black, who continues to recover from a stroke suffered in December 2009.

“Obviously, that’s a huge deal,” said Line, who has won at least one race for eight consecutive seasons. “To show off for Ken is a great thing. We wanted to win the race and do it and clinch the championship in championship style. It didn’t quite happen, and I guess everything doesn’t have a storybook ending. But still it’s been a great year, and to do it there in their hometown in front of all of their friends means a lot to us.

“Without them, none of this would be possible. We owe everything to them.”

Pro Stock’s storyline at Pomona will shift to the battle for second place between 2009 world champion Mike Edwards and Anderson, the four-time champ. Edwards will begin the weekend with a 21-point lead over Anderson, which equates to basically one round of racing with four to go. Anderson has posted five career victories down NHRA’s home quarter-mile.

Rookie of the Year candidate Vincent Nobile is fourth and will try to give Southern California-based team owner Nick Mitsos a hometown victory. Allen Johnson and Erica Enders sit fifth and sixth, respectively.

Defending event winners are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Single qualifying sessions began Thursday and continue Friday, with the final two qualifying rounds set for Saturday. Final eliminations will begin on Sunday morning. Meanwhile, ESPN2 HD’s qualifying coverage has been moved to early Sunday morning, from 12:15 a.m. to 2 a.m. (EST). Eliminations coverage will continue to air during a three-hour show starting at 7 p.m. (EST) on Sunday.

Line entered the 2011 NHRA Countdown to the Championship second in Pro Stock points. He then drove to consecutive final-round appearances, including victories at Texas Motorplex in Ennis and Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., in the first three races of the six-event playoffs.

“It feels unbelievable to win my second championship,” said Line, a 42-year-old native of Minnesota living in Mooresville, N.C. “Timing is everything in our sport, and we got hot at the right time. The second championship definitely means more to me because as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to appreciate it and realized how hard these things really are to get.”

Line indicated he won’t be bound by team orders in pursuit of another NHRA 60th anniversary pewter Wally. “This is the most races I’ve ever won in a year,” said Line, whose car is tuned by Rob Downing and Tommy Utt. “And obviously, I get the chance to win even more. Again, to go out in championship style is my goal _ it’s our goal _ so hopefully we can do that. And just as important is to get Greg into second. So we have a lot of work to do for the weekend, and we’re doing everything we can to make that happen.

“Yeah, it’s really important. If you want to be the best you should have to do it every week. So that is our goal.”

Turning to next year, Line is anticipating the return of four-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. to the class in a Dodge Avenger. Coughlin exited Pro Stock in 2010 after wheeling the JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt.

“Well, I think we’re definitely rivals – more rivals than friends, probably,” Line said. “It’s a great thing that he’s coming back in. Come on in, the water’s fine. Being in a Dodge is a good thing also. Dodge has put a lot of effort into Pro Stock, and hopefully our GM is up for the task. But I think it’s a great thing. He’s obviously a fan-favorite and good for the sport. I think that there’s nothing bad about that at all, so we look forward to it.”

Line said he understood that General Motors’ ongoing game plan for Pro Stock will feature the Chevrolet Camaro body, despite remaining shelf life for the discontinued Pontiac GXP.

“I think it’s (Camaro) deep into the works, and hopefully we don’t have to race the Pontiac too much longer,” Line said. “Obviously, we need to be running a brand that’s a little more relevant, or at least one that exists.

“I think probably you’re looking at early to middle of next year us being in a Camaro. I think that we actually have two more years that we can run the Pontiac, but obviously that is not something we want to do. We want to be in a Camaro as soon as we can.”

When Jason Line won the NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock world championship title two weeks ago in Las Vegas, he kept a Countdown to the Championship streak alive in the “Factory Hot Rod” class. During the Countdown Era (since 2007), no top seed from the regular season has gone on to win the Pro Stock world championship. Below are the regular-season leaders and the eventual NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock world champions, with regular-season points finish in parentheses:

NHRA Pro Stock world champ/NHRA regular-season top seed

2011 Jason Line (2nd)/Greg Anderson

2010 Greg Anderson (4th)/ Mike Edwards

2009 Mike Edwards (3rd)/Jeg Coughlin Jr.

2008 Jeg Coughlin Jr. (3rd)/Greg Anderson

2007 Jeg Coughlin Jr. (3rd) Greg Anderson

PRO STOCK POINT STANDINGS

1. Jason Line, Pontiac GXP, 2,592; 2. Mike Edwards, GXP, 2,424; 3. Greg Anderson, GXP, 2,393; 4. Vincent Nobile, Dodge Avenger, 2,344; 5. Allen Johnson, Avenger, 2,338; 6. Erica Enders, Chevrolet Cobalt, 2,337; 7. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 2,275; 8. Greg Stanfield, GXP, 2,238; 9. Shane Gray, GXP, 2,186; 10. Ron Krisher, GXP, 2,167.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 10 2011
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