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ASHLEY FORCE DELIVERS FOR NHRA ON LENO: Funny Car rookie Ashley Force looked like a seasoned veteran during her appearance with car enthusiast Jay Leno on The Tonight Show Monday night. The daughter of NHRA icon John Force, who was back at the Tonight Show studios 11 years after his own appearance with Leno in 1996, was poised beyond her 24 years as she followed up Everybody Loves Raymond and 'Til Death star Brad Garrett with her own five-minute segment filled with race highlights and plenty of laughs. She joked about her accident in Seattle: "You know when you have a really bad day at work ... " Click here to read more about her appearance and view the photo of the Force family with Jay Leno.

QUALIFY OR BUST: With qualifying no longer a foregone conclusion-four Countdown drivers DNQ'd at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals-and the stakes having been ratcheted up significantly by the aforementioned Countdown, the pressure has never been greater on driver performance on Fridays and Saturdays at NHRA POWERade Series races.
    There are even big consequences for drivers who DO qualify-remember Doug Herbert made it into the Countdown by only three points over Dave Grubnic-so qualifying position may be as important for some drivers as simply qualifying.

NHRA FAN BASE PROPELS FORCE TO 'AOL'S HOTTEST ATHLETE' TITLE: AOL's Hottest Athlete contest is done and the winner is NHRA POWERade Series rookie Ashley Force. In a testament to the viral power of the NHRA fan base-there were 285,586 click-throughs from to the contest on plowed through Danica Patrick and Jenny Finch en route to the women's title, and then trounced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to win the overall title.

FOR MIKE ASHLEY, U.S. NATIONALS A WIN-WIN-WIN SITUATION: Funny Car driver Mike Ashley won the biggest race on the POWERade Series circuit, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, and moved up from sixth place in the standings to second place. Yet there was a still-greater moment for him on Labor Day 2007.
    Mike was driving a Chip Foose-designed car, with dozens of colorful handprints and two footprints on the hood, that paid tribute to the loss absorbed by friends Donnie and Hollie Faulkner, whose child Erik Blake was stillborn on May 24, 2007.
    The car will be auctioned off at the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction January 12-20, with the proceeds going to the Erik Blake Faulkner Foundation, which will aid parents dealing with a similar loss.


O'REILLY NHRA MID-SOUTH NATIONALS, MEMPHIS MOTORSPORTS PARK, SEPTEMBER 14-16: Doug Kalitta, John Force, Kurt Johnson and Andrew Hines look to defend their 2006 titles at this second event in the Countdown to Four.

O'REILLY NHRA FALL NATIONALS, TEXAS MOTORPLEX, SEPTEMBER 20-23: The third of four races in the Countdown to Four, defending event winners include Brandon Bernstein, Robert Hight, and Richie Stevens Jr. Also, for the first time since 2000, the Pro Stock Motorcycle's will return to compete at Texas Motorplex.

TORCO RACING FUELS NHRA NATIONALS, VIRGINIA MOTORSPORTS PARK, OCTOBER 5-7: The Countdown to Four fields will be set when the POWERade Series returns to the East Coast, where Cory McClenathan, Eric Medlen, and Jason Line won in 2006.

NHRA SPORT COMPACT FALLNATIONALS, OLD BRIDGE TOWNSHIP RACEWAY PARK, OCTOBER 6-7: The drivers of the Xplod Series return to this historic track to fight for points that will lead to the year-end world championship. Look for records to fall in the cool fall weather. This also marks the last race for the Eastern Region Sportsman Championship.

40: That's the number of career wins for both Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon. The 40 wins are tied for 10th most all-time in POWERade Series history and second most on the all-time Top Fuel wins list (Joe Amato, 52).

FUNNY CAR DRIVER RON CAPPS, CURRENTLY ON THE BUMP (FOURTH PLACE), AFTER LEADING IN POINTS MOST OF THE SEASON, ON THE COUNTDOWN: Capps was a first-round loser at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the first race of the four-race playoff that will halve the field of eligible championship contenders from eight to four, and that dropped him from first to fourth place:
    "I still love the concept of the Countdown. I'm looking forward to these next three races because I love the format and the pressure of the Countdown. You have to have a level of confidence without being cocky in this sport, because you can be humbled so quickly. Right now it's a pivotal time for everybody, because with three races left to get into the top four, pressure is the word of the day. And every run is going to be very important. I think it's going to bring the best out in everybody and I really look forward to getting further up in that top four."