Tony Schumacher is neither scared nor in awe of what fellow competitor Antron Brown is doing this year.
The driver of the U.S. Army dragster has seen it before, but that doesn't mean he's not impressed.
"It's amazing," said Schumacher. "This is a true rivalry. We have a battle. What's nice is I know I'm going to get a good race from him. He's not going to mess with me and I wouldn't mess with him at the line. Let the best man win. It's exciting.
Tony Schumacher blasted off earlier this season in his Army dragster. U.S. Army NHRA Racing/Auto Imagery
"He's running great right now. I don't care what place I'm in. I'm proud of him. To come from motorcycles and do what he's doing is amazing. I would be a jerk not to give him the credit he deserves. He's doing a great job."
Brown holds a 199-point lead over second-place Schumacher heading into the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend at Brainerd International Raceway.
Still, Schumacher isn't worried. While dominating all of last year, he knows how to come back from a margin. In 2006 he was 336 points behind the leader only to win the title. In 2007 they entered the inaugural Countdown to the Championship in fourth.
Category: Top Fuel
Hometown: Long Grove, Ill.
Sponsor/car: U.S. Army dragster
Crew chief: Mike Green
Career wins: 59
2009 wins/final rounds: 3/4
Current points standing: Second
This year Schumacher will have to win his sixth straight, and seventh overall, title with a different team. Former crew chief Alan Johnson started his own team after the 2008 season with Del Worsham and Larry Dixon.
The change in crew chiefs may have stalled Schumacher's early season success. He waited until the fourth event to earn his first finals appearance and win of the season as he bettered Cory McClenathan in Houston.
He went back-to-back with a win in Las Vegas over Brandon Bernstein that catapulted him into the points lead. Another win at Bristol, Tenn., was followed by a series of poor outings.
His only other finals appearance came in Seattle where he lost to Brown.
"I think my season has been amazing," said Schumacher. "We haven't won everything we could have won, but I do think with the crew changing and bringing in all new guys we're in second place and ahead of my old team. We're better than our points show. We're really close."
Schumacher will get a chance to show race fans how close when he returns to BIR, where he picked up one of his record-tying 15 wins last season with a victory over McClenathan.
"We plan on going on up there and winning," he said. "I will make sure to stop by the Zoo and visit with the fans.
"What a cool place to have a race and for the fans to show off their creativity. It's crazy back there. It's one of the only places where the drivers and crew sneak back and mingle with the groups. That's a cool place."
As for the rest of the season, Schumacher said the team needs to be a machine. With a spot in the Countdown solidified he doesn't see himself doing anything different.
"I've said for many years you get in the car and let your body do what it's supposed to do," said Schumacher. "There is nothing I can do different. Now, the crew may do something different.
"We're already in the Countdown. We need some momentum heading into those last seven races. All the points disappear when you get into the Countdown so it helps to have a good car and a good bit of knowledge to lead you to the end. I think we have that."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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