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NHRA: Kopp Close to Clinching Winston Pro Stock Truck Championship

11 November 1998

POMONA, Calif. -- With one race remaining in the inaugural season of NHRA Pro Stock Truck competition, season-long points leader Larry Kopp has his prize in sight: the 1998 NHRA Winston championship trophy. Kopp, from Baltimore, needs only to qualify for the 34th annual Winston Finals, Nov. 12-15 at Pomona Raceway to secure the championship. The $1.7-million race is the last of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series for 1998.

While Kopp's objective seems simple enough, the Chevrolet S-10 driver isn't taking anything for granted. On two different occasions this season Kopp seemed to be in prime position to pull away from the pack and end the championship chase well before the final race. Try as he might, Kopp just couldn't break away from his competitors.

First round losses to Roy Hill at Seattle's Prolong Nationals and John Lukovich at Memphis' Pennzoil Nationals and a dreaded DNQ at Topeka's Parts America Nationals opened the door for top Winston points challenger John Lingenfelter. The Summit Racing Chevy driver took advantage of the opportunity and now has a mathematical chance of passing Kopp at Pomona should the five-time winner see his fortunes take a turn for the worse. "I made a few mistakes this season and I just hope they don't haunt me," Kopp said. "I know I am better and I know I can be better. I just have to do my job. We're going to Pomona with the same attitude we've had all year, and that's to win the race. No matter what happens, we've had an extremely good year and I'm proud of my entire team."

With victories at Atlanta, Englishtown, Chicago, Indianapolis and Dallas, Kopp says winning the championship would be an appropriate way to end his memorable season.

"It's almost unbelievable, what it's going to be like if we win it," Kopp said. "We're prepared to win it and we're here to do anything we can to win it. We just have to go out there, be confident, and do our job. Everything else will take care of itself."

While Kopp appeared to be on his way to a dominating season following his three straight victories early in the season, the competition gradually caught up to him. He says next season will be even tougher in NHRA's newest professional category.

"You're always going to have standout performers just like you do in any class," Kopp said. "That part of racing will never change. There's just always teams that are willing to work that much harder because they are dedicated to their programs and want to do a good job. I think this season the Pro Stock Truck front-runners have emerged. We're right there with guys like Lingenfelter, (Jerry) Haas, (Brad) Jeter and (Tim) Freeman."

Lingenfelter, who trails Kopp by 116 points entering the Winston Finals, remains positive despite losing a lot of ground in the points chase with a first round loss at the Revell Nationals.

"We just have to keep working and stay focused," said Lingenfelter. "You don't intentionally go to a race looking to screw up. It isn't that we haven't been working hard, things just didn't come around for us that particular weekend. We tested quite a bit before Dallas, worked on the engines and everything looked really good. For whatever reason, we didn't run good there. The championship race isn't over yet. We have one race left to catch him. As we've seen all year long, anything can happen."