Top Fuel veteran Doug Herbert defeated “Hot Rod” Fuller in Wednesday’s rain-delayed final of the 23rd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals to earn the final spot in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.

Funny Car racer Tony Pedregon, Pro Stock ace Dave Connolly, and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Guidera also scored big wins in the last regular season race of the season, while Cinderella hopefuls Del Worsham, V. Gaines, and Chris Rivas all came up short in their bids to make the Countdown playoffs.

In the biggest race of the event, Herbert launched with a stellar .039-second reaction time and zoomed down Maple Grove Raceway in 4.562 seconds at 323.43 mph to take the win over a back-pedaling Fuller, who ran a 4.709 at 324.98 mph.

Once as low as 16th in the points, Herbert spent 15 of 16 races this season outside the POWERade top 10. He entered this event knowing he needed to win the race and hope that former eighth-place racer Dave Grubnic advanced no further than the quarterfinals. Remarkably, both things happened with Grubnic losing a close race to Morgan Lucas in Round 2 and Herbert scoring his first victory in almost three years, a span of 65 races.

“Wow, nothing like a little drama, huh?” Herbert said. “I was ready for this race. It was the biggest round of my life and I didn’t want to have any regrets. I was ready, the team was ready, and we went out there and got it done.

“The Countdown to the Championship was designed to bring extra excitement to the sport and it’s definitely done that. Grubnic is my buddy and I hated that it knocked him out but he already called me to say congratulations. Now if we can get our act together we can make a real run at the championship. There is no team as fired up as this one, I promise you that.”

Fuller will enter the next phase of the playoffs – the Countdown to Four – as the top racer in the category. He’ll be joined by Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon, Brandon Bernstein, J.R. Todd, Bob Vandergriff, Whit Bazemore, and Herbert. This select group will have four races to make the four-man Countdown to One that will decide the 2007champion.

Force posted a quick 4.792 at 320.10 mph in the final but it was all for naught as his -.038-second red-light start gave the win to former employee Pedregon. Pedregon made a leisurely 6.061-second pass at 151.99 mph to score his second win of the year and 34th of his career.

“It was certainly worth the wait for us,” Pedregon said. “Mentally, I’m spent. We had to get up to race so many times only to have it start raining again. It stresses you out. The other thing was the track was totally different after all that rain so Dickie [Venables, tuner] and the guys did an excellent job of reading it today. To run a 4.78 right off in the semis probably helped us win the race because John had to look at that number and try to do something.”

Del Worsham’s dreams of making the Countdown to the Championship ended in the semifinals when he was beaten by Pedregon, 4.789 at 318.99 mph to Worsham’s pedaling 5.772 at 200.38 mph. The end result was that Jim Head held onto the eighth and final playoff spot in Funny Car.

The eight racers eligible for the for the Funny Car championship, in order, are Ron Capps, Robert Hight, Force, Pedregon, “Fast Jack” Beckman, Mike Ashley, Gary Scelzi, and Head

After eliminating V. Gaines from Countdown consideration in the semifinals, Connolly powered to his 13th career victory by defeating Johnson in the Pro Stock final. Connolly was sharp at the starting line, leaving with a .005 to .050 second advantage, before racing away from a tire-shaking Johnson to win with a 6.643 at 207.43 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt to Johnson’s 6.857 at 206.80 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt.

“It was one of those long deals when Mother Nature rolled in,” Connolly said. “Torco needed the win to pay for the hotel bills this weekend. Nothing against my partner Jeg Coughlin, but we had to get that point to get around him.”

Connolly’s win moved him around teammate Jeg Coughlin into second in the final regular season standings. He’ll join Greg Anderson, Coughlin, Allen Johnson, Jason Line, Kurt Johnson, Warren Johnson, and Larry Morgan in the chase for the championship. Morgan made the field by 11 points.

Guidera and Sampey were side by side for most of the way down the track in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final but Sampey’s Suzuki was slowly drifting towards the centerline. Not wanting to lift, she tried to coax it back into the center of the lane but eventually clipped the 1,000-foot cone, which is an automatic disqualification. Guidera takes his first NHRA win with a 6.971 at 188.02 mph on his Buell V-Twin.

“My team is unbelievable,” Guidera said. “Mohegan Sun brought in Rich Manning, and it’s been five races that we’ve been getting to know each other and we’re finally starting to gel.”

Matt Smith, Andrew Hines, Sampey, Karen Stoffer, Chip Ellis, Eddie Krawiec, Peggy Llewellyn, Craig Treble are the eight riders who will fight for the 2007 title.