JOLIET, Ill. - One-third of the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season has crossed the finish line at more than 300 miles per hour and despite what many prognosticators had forecast during the last off-season, six-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher, the 2008 Driver of the Year, is still right there, at the top of the championship points order.

It is a comfortable position for the driver of the U.S. Army dragster, who with 59 victories is the all-time wins leader in the 7,000 horsepower category. With 91 final round appearances he is quickly tracking the final class record that he doesn't already own: Joe Amato's mark of 99 career finals.

Schumacher won't admit it, but his body language says otherwise: that a championship title this season would mean way more to him than any of the others, including his unlikely first in 1999 and the five-straight that he and super-tuner Alan Johnson reeled off together during a remarkable run from 2004-2008.

Besides, he wasn't supposed to be in this position. Without Johnson calling the shots in his pit area, Schumacher was supposed to return to mortal status. At least that's what all of the sport's expert analysts had determined prior to the start of the season.

However, Schumacher and new crew chief Mike Green and the new U.S. Army team have refused to listen to the experts, and instead have won three of the last five races and moved from fifth to first place in the series standings. The Lake Forest, Ill. resident will try to maintain his momentum and give his hometown crowd a reason to cheer at the United Associates NHRA Route 66 Nationals, June 4-7 at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago.

Schumacher is the defending race winner in Top Fuel, along with Tony Pedregon (Funny Car), Kurt Johnson (Pro Stock), and Chris Rivas (Pro Stock Motorcycle). The race will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD.

"To be back in the points lead is outstanding," said Schumacher, a three-time winner at Route 66 Raceway. "We started this year with everyone telling us we'd probably never win another race. To be sitting here now with three wins in the first eight races is very satisfying."

He says his new team has bonded quickly and they are working well together. They have raced to victories at Houston, Las Vegas and Bristol, Tenn. They also earned semifinal finishes at Phoenix and Atlanta.

"There's not a guy on this team that would want to be anywhere else in the world right now other than at the track working on this U.S. Army car," Schumacher said. "That's really the secret to what it takes to win. If the team is working well and loving life, it doesn't get any better than that. Then, all you can ask for is a chance to win."

It is a concept that Schumacher has mastered in recent years -- winning. He says now, however, the biggest difference is that he doesn't hold a three-tenths advantage over the field like he did when Johnson was his crew chief. He says now, his team must be focused and work hard and really dig in every weekend to get the job done. He's enjoying the process more than ever.

"AJ is the greatest crew chief in the world -- I get it," Schumacher said. "We all understand it. But he doesn't win all the races by himself, because it takes eight guys to do it. It takes a driver to do it. It takes a whole select group and AJ understands that. It's everyone else who says he is the only one who can win races."

Schumacher knows to win the championship this season he will have to overcome perhaps his toughest competition. Antron Brown has won two races in his Matco Tools dragster and is highly motivated for a championship run. Brandon Bernstein has been powering to final rounds in his Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster and is a win waiting to happen. Veteran Cory McClenathan is back on the scene hungry as ever to get that elusive championship in his FRAM Tough Guard dragster. A revitalized Morgan Lucas has a new attitude and determination to win in his Geico Powersports/Lucas Oil dragster. And Larry Dixon, who is now driving the Al-Anabi Racing dragster for Johnson, has proven he can win for the brand new team led by crew chief Jason McCulloch.

"We won 15 races last year and right now there are a variety of teams winning," Schumacher said. "That's great for the sport. NHRA has a great product right now and races are being won by a few thousandths of a second. That's outstanding. You just have to step up, sit up in the seat, drive the car well and the crew has to do their job well."

In Funny Car, Ron Capps has led the points order all season in his NAPA Dodge Charger and claimed four victories along the way. However, hard-charging Del Worsham posted back-to-back victories in St. Louis and Bristol in his Al-Anabi Racing Toyota Solara and is a three-time winner at Chicago. Tony Pedregon and John Force also have strong records at this track and will be in the mix, as will Ashley Force Hood, Jack Beckman and Illinois native Tim Wilkerson.

Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line, Mike Edwards and Greg Anderson are the front-runners in Pro Stock, while defending series champ Eddie Krawiec, a two-time winner this season, Andrew Hines, Matt Smith and rookie Doug Horne are the favorites in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday, June 5, and noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 6. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 7.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals by calling Route 66 Raceway at (888)629-RACE (7223) or via www.route66raceway.com.

LUCAS OIL SERIES: The United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in eight categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 9 a.m. on June 4. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on June 5.

Note: Information courtesy of the NHRA.

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