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Todd, Burkart, Anderson, Stoffer Win as Points Battles Again are Shaken up

By Rob Geiger

J.R. Todd further helped his chances for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award Sunday with his third Top Fuel victory of the year. Todd used a career-best pass of 4.494 seconds to power past Melanie Troxel and take the trophy at the $1.5 million Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.

In Funny Car, Phil Burkart Jr. scored an unlikely win over red-hot Robert Hight to win for the first time in 53 races. Burkart defeated several superstars in his triumph: former points leader Ron Capps, reigning world champion Gary Scelzi, new points leader John Force, and Hight, who had won the last two national events. Three-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson won his 42nd title, and Karen Stoffer scored in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

He's only made 16 Professional starts, but it's unlikely that Todd will ever forget this day as he ran his final-round record to a perfect 3-0 with a string of career-best passes. After outrunning Cory McClenathan in the opening round, he lowered his personal-best time to 4.502 in a holeshot win against Tony Schumacher, then posted a career-best top speed of 327.82 mph versus Dave Grubnic. But he saved his best for last, dipping into the 4.4s for the first time to extinguish fellow Skull Shine racer Troxel with a 4.494 at 324.12 mph.

"I never thought I'd be standing here with three wins and people talking about rookie of the year," Todd said. "We were only going to run part-time this year, but [sponsor] Evan Knoll stepped up his involvement and said straight out he wanted to beat Tony Schumacher. I was like, 'Well who doesn't?' but he's given us what it takes to do it.

"Jimmy [Walsh, crew chief] has this thing running so strong. I knew all I needed to worry about was doing my job at the starting line and we'd have a chance. He came on a tune-up last week in Dallas when we ran a 4.54, and it showed today. To run a 4.51, 4.50, and a 4.49 in one day is awesome."

Although she came up short in the final, Troxel certainly had to have her spirits lifted by her runner-up finish. She led the POWERade points for the first 11 races of the season, racing to two wins and five runner-up finishes in the first 10 races. But since then, she had won just three rounds until she arrived in Reading and got her program back on track.

By advancing one round further than Schumacher, Doug Kalitta extended his lead over Schumacher from 33 to 52 points. Brandon Bernstein is 10 points back in third.

The happiest guy in drag racing has to be Burkart, who won for the first time since the Denver race in 2004. This one was a thriller, with both Burkart and Hight losing traction before they left the launchpad. The pedalfest was on from there, and Burkart reeled in his machine first, winning with a dubious 7.528 at 203.92 mph in his Halvoline/Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

"We sure didn't back into this win," Burkart said. "It was like being a boxer and having to fight four guys in one day. We start out beating the points leader in Ron Capps, then we get the world champ, then I race John Force, the best guy ever, and take him out in front of all my friends and family. I just don't think it gets any better than this.

"The final was nerve-racking. When you smoke the tires that early in the run, it's just about impossible to get them to hook back up. But I didn't see Robert, so I had the presence of mind to grab the brake handle and calm the tire speed down a bit. I pretty much rode the brake from there on out. It was a long, long trip, but we got the win."

Burkart moves to ninth in the points and is now 4-3 lifetime in final rounds. Hight, whose Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang crossed the centerline in the final, evened his season win total at 3-3 and his career tally at 5-5.

Force began the day 37 points behind Capps but ended up one ahead thanks to his semifinal run and Capps' first-round loss. Hight has crept to within 35 of the points lead.

Pro Stock's potential national record was passed from Anderson to Greg Stanfield to Jason Line and back to Anderson before finally settling in Line's hands. For that, the championship leader gained 20 bonus points. But Anderson did get the event win over a red-lighting Stanfield to gain a hard-fought 22 points in the standings. He now trails his Summit Racing teammate by 56 points.

Giving up three-hundredths of a second to Anderson after the semifinals, Stanfield knew he needed a good light to earn his first Pro Stock win. Unfortunately for the PiranaZ team, he was a little too eager and jumped the gun by -.017 second, handing Anderson his third win of the year and 42nd of his career. Anderson went on to run a 6.656 at 208.36 mph. His 208.91-mph top speed in qualifying set a national record.

"How tough is Pro Stock?" Anderson asked. "If I didn't win the race, I wouldn't have gained a nickel on Jason. Both of our cars are so good, and it's just exciting that our biggest competition comes from within our team. I need to be perfect for the rest of the year if I want to win my fourth title. It's back and forth with me and Jason, and I hope we stay friends through this. I think we will, but it's gonna be a fight.

"We were a little depressed last night when Greg [Stanfield] took the record. I didn't think we'd be able to get close today, but then Jason runs a 6.619 in round one and we follow up by running a thou[sandth] quicker. Then he comes back in round two and just puts it out of reach with a 6.609. It's awesome. You just don't see conditions like this but maybe once a year. You have to be ready to take advantage of it."

It seems more and more obvious that the Pro Stock championship will come down to Line and Anderson. Third-place runner Dave Connolly lost to Line in the quarterfinals and dropped 183 points back with three races left on the schedule.

After Angelle Sampey set a national elapsed time record during qualifying, it seemed likely that the winner's circle would have a female touch, but not many people would have thought that Stoffer would be the one hoisting the trophy. Nevertheless, that's exactly what happened as the Geico Motorcycle Suzuki rider powered past everyone, including Sampey, to collect her third win and first since last year's Houston event.

Stoffer gave up a hundredth of a second to finalist Geno Scali at the Tree but had made up the difference by 60 feet. Not long after that, former series champ Scali lost his engine, sat up, and watched Stoffer post a 7.097 at 187.94 mph to his 8.101 at 121.86 mph on the Performance Machine Suzuki.

"I think that door falling on my head knocked some sense into me because I've been driving great all season," Stoffer said, referring to an accident at the end of last year when her race transporter's rear lift door collapsed on her. "What a great weekend for us. The only thing we didn't do was set the e.t. record.

"This place must favor girls. Angelle seems to win here just about every year, and I rode to my first final here in 2002. Now I get into the Six-Second Club and win in the same weekend. This place and Houston have been very good to me."

Obviously racing without the burden of team orders, Andrew Hines, who led Antron Brown by eight points coming into this event, lost to Harley teammate GT Tonglet in the opening round on a huge .027- to .131-second holeshot. Tonglet, who is 13th in the points, lost to Scali in the next session.

Hines' loss allowed Brown, who raced to the semifinals, to take the lead for the third time this year. Brown now leads Hines by 27 points and Sampey by 64.