NHRA: Winston Points Battles Get Extreme at Sears Craftsman Nationals
19 June 1998MADISON, Ill. -- The chase for Winston championships will be seriously elevated as the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series reaches the official halfway point of the season at state-of-the-art Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis.
Points races are intense in nearly every professional category with several drivers in the top-five only a handful of points out of first place. The midseason race will sound an alarm for drivers who are within striking distance but need several good finishes to make a strong run at the title. With only 11 races remaining on the schedule drivers will be able to evaluate their positions and develop an appropriate strategy for the remainder of the season.
Drivers in all five professional categories will be seeking a win at the second annual Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 25-28. The $1.7 million race is the 11th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Joe Amato, Ron Capps, Warren Johnson and John Smith are defending professional category winners of the race.
Amato, from Exeter, Pa., earned both ends of the track record at the new facility and defeated Gary Scelzi in a close Top Fuel matchup. Amato has been one of the hottest drivers on the circuit lately, recording back-to-back victories at Dallas and Englishtown, N.J., and has a newfound confidence in his team's summer setup. In addition to Amato, other drivers to watch include Winston points leader Cory McClenathan, Scelzi, and FRAM Route 66 Nationals and Pontiac Excitement Nationals winner Kenny Bernstein.
Capps' debut with new crew chief Roland Leong last year at this event produced magic from the start, as the duo combined their talents to defeat Cruz Pedregon in the final. Capps, from San Diego, has been strong so far in 1998, winning the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. and Castrol Lone Star Nationals in Dallas. Hoping to deny Capps' Copenhagen Chevrolet Camaro a return to the Winner's Circle will be Winston leader John Force, Pedregon, Chuck Etchells and FRAM Route 66 Nationals winner Whit Bazemore.
Duluth, Ga.'s Johnson used a holeshot to defeat Jim Yates in a very close Pro Stock final one year ago. Johnson and Yates are one-two in Winston points this season with a strong group of drivers looking for their second victory, including Jeg Coughlin Jr., Mark Osborne and Mike Thomas.
Smith, of Champlan, Minn., had a great weekend in Pro Stock Motorcycle defeating Angelle Seeling, Matt Hines and Dave Schultz to record his only victory of the season. Smith is currently third in the Winston standings, just behind Hines and Seeling.
A first-time Pro Stock Truck winner will be crowned. Larry Kopp, from Baltimore, Md., has been the driver to beat so far this season, recording wins at three of four races. In addition to Kopp, Chevrolet S-10 drivers to watch will be hometown favorite Jerry Haas and Summit Racing's John Lingenfelter. David Nickens and Bill Henderson lead the Team Mopar trucks, while Roy Hill and Sondra Sikes are the top Ford Ranger drivers.