READING, Pa. (Sept. 10) — Entering the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs in the 10th and final spot does have one distinct advantage for Scott Palmer — he’s got nothing to lose. It’s a point he plans to prove several times down the stretch run, beginning at this weekend’s 34th annual Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
“For the next six races, we’re going to be more reckless for sure,” Palmer said. “We will be 100-percent aggressive every race instead of constantly looking over our shoulder like we had to do this summer.
“In the Countdown, there are no oil-down penalties so the gloves can come off. We’re going from a strategic boxing match to a street fight. Now we get to just go and race hard and run the cars as hard as we can. It’s gonna be fun.”
Palmer’s regular season changed in mid-June when his team inexplicably failed to qualify for the Norwalk (Ohio) event.
“When we didn’t qualify in Norwalk because of rain, that really hurt us,” Palmer said. “From that race on, we were running defensively trying not to make a mistake that would knock us out of the top 10. We put ourselves in a bad position because from then on we had to be smart and not oil the track down and go backwards in the points.
“Ever since Norwalk, if we got a decent qualifying spot on Friday, we would just run to half-track the other runs, test some things and just make sure it would go down the track. We didn’t want to run it to the finish line and risk oiling the track down. In the end, oil downs were the difference. It’s why we’re in and Richie (Crampton) is out.
Now that the playoff field is set, Palmer and crew chief Jason McCulloch plan to go for broke. After all, they literally have nothing to lose.
“We’re in 10th place and people say ‘what do you think?’” Palmer said. “Well, we can’t finish any lower than 10th so we can only go up. As it stands now, we’re 100 points behind (points leader) Steve Torrence. Before the countdown, we were 700 points away from him. If some of the big teams struggle and we run to our capabilities, we can move way up. It’s possible.
“Robert Hight won the Funny Car championship from the 10th spot in 2009. Brittany Force won it all from sixth place last year and one of her crew chiefs was Jason McCulloch, who is now with us. Jason has always said, “If we are in the Countdown when we leave Indy, don’t ever count us out.’ He definitely has the mindset to win.
“We don’t intend to be 10th at the end of the year. It will definitely be a different mindset when we get to Reading. The whole thing changes now. We are going to try to get Tommy Thompson a trophy, that’s we are going to do. That’s our goal, to bring Tommy Thompson back a Wally in these next six races.”