Suddenly, odds against Anderson

COMMERCE, Ga. -- The 2004 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock picture has had but a single driver worth mentioning if the topic is dominance: Greg Anderson.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based racer has won every race but one over the course of the season's first six national events, but maybe even more impressively, he has qualified No. 1 at all six races in '04 and the last five races of '03, 11in a row in all.

There was speculation that he could break two longstanding qualifying marks should his remarkable streak continue: tallying 23 consecutive Pro Stock poles and scoring the low qualifier award at every race of the year -- both having been accomplished by Hall of Fame driver Bob Glidden. In 1979 and 1987, the 10-time champion was the No. 1 qualifier at each race of those two campaigns.

But at this weekend's Summit Racing Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga., Anderson's qualifying roll hit a roadblock by the name of Larry Morgan, whose 6.796/202.91 bettered the reigning series champion's 6.802/203.98 for the top spot heading into Sunday's eliminations. But Anderson's troubles are far from over.

In Friday's first qualifying session, his Pontiac Grand Am broke a valve lifter, damaging the engine. He swapped in his backup motor which is a slightly less powerful unit and ended Friday in the No. 3 slot, with Morgan and Anderson's teammate, Jason Line, in the field at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. On Saturday, Anderson made the decision to have his No. 1 motor taken back to his Charlotte shop, get repaired, and have Line run the engine in on the shop's dynomometer Saturday evening. Then, bring the powerplant back to Commerce for eliminations on Sunday.

"I have to admit, I'm concerned," said Anderson when qualifying finally ended Saturday afternoon. "We have issues that extend beyond the engine and that makes me worry a little. Our backup engine isn't a bad one and we never really got the car to perform the way it should. It's not the way we like heading into eliminations."

Inexplicably, Anderson has had more than his share of rough luck at this event, despite having spent 11 years working as crew chief for Warren Johnson at WJ's nearby shop. Anderson has never won here and has been runner-up for the past three years, losing to three different drivers in the final round.

"I don't know what it is about this place," he says. "I wish I knew but we haven't done very well here, have we?"

The most coincidental element of this weekend's qualifying surprise is that Morgan's crew chief is Glidden, who will hold onto his formidable qualifying milestones, at least for another year. For now, however, Anderson's race against the clock to get his primary 500 cubic-inch engine back into his car for Sunday's eliminations may be the most challenging race he's faced all year.

Bill Stephens covers the NHRA for ESPN and ESPN.com.