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Todd Upsets Shoe Again; Medlen, Line, Ellis Also Score

By Rob Geiger,

Top Fuel rookie J.R. Todd upset three-time POWERade champion Tony Schumacher for the second time in three weeks Sunday in the trophy round of the $1.3 million Fram-Autolite NHRA Nationals. Just as he did in Denver 14 days ago, the 24-year-old Todd simply outran Schumacher, taking this win in 4.619 seconds at 309.27 mph to Schumacher's 4.679 at 316.01 mph.

Eric Medlen, Jason Line, and Chip Ellis joined Todd in Infineon Raceway's winner's circle. Medlen took the Funny Car crown against fellow Californian Tony Pedregon, 4.854 to 5.021. Pro Stock points leader Line got a holeshot victory over veteran Vieri Gaines, and Ellis benefited greatly from Pro Stock Motorcycle finalist Antron Brown's red-light start for his second win of the year.

Racing in just his 11th national event, Todd is now 2-0 in final-round appearances in his Skull Shine dragster with both wins coming against Schumacher. The two men have faced each other in each of the last four national events, with each man winning twice.

Schumacher took the Christmas Tree with a fairly sizable .071- to .095-second reaction time advantage, but his U.S. Army rail started to spin its tires a few hundred feet into the run and although he did an expert job of pedaling the car and getting his tires to hook back up, the stutter was enough for Todd to streak by for the win.

"You couldn't write it any better than this," Todd said. "Beating Tony and that team once for your first trophy ever is like a dream. To do it twice in three races is unreal. I can't even believe this is happening. You work so hard just to get to this level and you don't even think what it will be like to actually win.

"I knew when Evan Knoll stepped up and gave us the backing to run full-time that we were really increasing our chances to win rounds and maybe even a race. This is beyond my expectations. Two races ago people were asking me where the driver was. Now they're screaming my name. It's so cool.

"I'm not thinking about rookie of the year. I'm more excited about being three rounds out of the top 10. If we can finish in the top 10 and keep running like this, the rookie of the year deal should take care of itself."

This was Schumacher's fourth final in a row and he moved up another spot in the championship standings to third place overall. He now trails POWERade leader Doug Kalitta by 106 points. He entered the race 150 points back. After her third first-round loss in a row, former points leader Melanie Troxel is now 82 points behind Kalitta and just 44 ahead of Schumacher.

Breaking a winless streak that dated back to last year's Memphis event, Medlen came through in the Funny Car final despite racing down the less desirable right-hand lane. After leaving with a slight .012-second advantage at the starting line, his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang drove away from Pedregon's tire-hazing Q Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, taking the stripe in 4.854 at 316.30 mph to Pedregon's 5.021 at 271.62 mph.

"This is very special for me," said Medlen, who was born in nearby Modesto, Calif. "Mimi (mother) is here and Jerald Camarillo, who taught me how to rope, is here. All my relatives from Oakdale [Calif.] where I grew up. You know, you always want to do well when it's your home race but it usually works out where you have a bad weekend. Not this time.

"People ask me how aggravating it is to go a year without winning but I don't even think like that. I'm out here having fun and we have a car that could have and should have won several times so you feel like you're right in there any way. Man, it's hard to win these things; that's the deal. It's not for lack of trying."

This was Pedregon's first loss in four final-round showings this year. His runner-up finish did lift him from fourth to third in the points. Ron Capps still leads John Force at the top of the standings, although Force did trim 18 markers of his deficit, which is now down to 70 points. Both Force and Capps lost to teammates Sunday, Capps to Whit Bazemore in Round 1, and Force to Medlen in the quarterfinals.

No one beats themselves up about driver performance more than Line does but he came through Sunday with a huge holeshot win over Vieri Gaines in the Pro Stock final. Line left with a .045-second reaction time to Gaines' .076-second start and then held on to take the win by .02 seconds. Line's 6.672 at 207.15 mph was enough to beat Gaines' quicker but losing 6.668 at 207.05 mph.

"This is a very, very satisfying win for me," Line said, "especially doing it on a holeshot. Both of our cars ran great all weekend and between our two cars and V.'s car, I think we probably had the three best cars on the property. To be the one standing here [in the winner's circle] is probably the best feeling I've had as a driver.

"We haven't talked about the championship as far as Greg and I go other than the fact we want to make sure one of us wins the championship. It's a unique deal for me because I came on as the second car in support of Greg's car and now I'm ahead of him in the championship. Really, we've both struggled this summer; Greg's just struggling a little more at the moment. What would be great is if both of us turn it on and have a great stretch run together."

The normally gregarious Gaines might be a tad bit mellow after letting this one slip away, especially when he remembers that his last NHRA win was 109 races ago at the 2001 Dallas event.

Line's victory helped him pad his lead in the POWERade points to 64 over his Summit Racing teammate Greg Anderson.

Ellis remains perfect in final-round appearances after Antron Brown handed him his fifth career win and second of the year with a -.009 second red-light. Brown will be re-living this one in his head for quite awhile after Ellis broke his motor halfway down the racetrack and had to abort his run. Still, Ellis' coasting 8.863 at 88.41 mph was more than enough to give him the victory.

"They say motors always run really good right before they blow up and I guess that's what happened today," Ellis said. "We ran so quick early in the day and we just kept pushing it because we felt like if we didn't, we couldn't win. From the looks of things, I think we broke the crank. That was my favorite motor and I hate to see it die, but at least it went out a winner.

"To go into the sixes is a big honor and it used to just be me and Andrew. Now there are two more in that six-second deal and that just tells you how competitive everyone else has become out here. Man, it's tough to win a round, let alone a race."

Brown actually had lane choice going into the final on his U.S. Army Suzuki, which was a bit of a surprise considering Ellis ran the quickest pass of all-time earlier in the day when he posted an incredible 6.911 in Round 1 on his Drag Specialties S&S Buell V-Twin. The time was so quick that Ellis failed to back it up to make it an official record, but it was stunning nonetheless.

The win lifted Ellis past Brown and into third place in the POWERade points. Andrew Hines is still the leader by 33 points over Angelle Sampey. Both Hines and Sampey lost in the quarterfinals.