Suit and tie for ESPYS; helmet and gloves for Denver

It's time for the NHRA's annual Western Swing. This is the part of the season when we tour the likes of Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Calif., on successive weekends.

Given a normal schedule, this three-race block is a real grind for the teams. However, this year it's especially tough since it ends up being the back end of a six-race, six-week stretch.

Halfway through this six-race deal, the U.S. Army Top Fuel team has graded out in average form. While we grabbed a big win in Norwalk, Ohio, two weeks ago, we also had a couple of first-round losses thrown in for good measure. That's never pleasant.

With that said, we still hold fifth place in the standings, which presently is good for a spot in the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship. There are only five races remaining before the cutoff for the Countdown (at Reading, Pa., at the end of August). You have to be in the top eight in points by then if you want to contend for the title.

Certainly, our goal between now and then is to gain some momentum and, perhaps, to even move up in the order. We want to be running as strong as possible before the start of the Countdown so we can seriously contend for our fourth straight crown. We have to do this for our soldiers.

Of course, the Denver race this weekend will offer so many challenges with the heat and thin air. Typically, you see a lot of parts used up out there as a result. We got to the finals last year, after winning in 2005, so hopefully we can have success yet again.

By the time you read this, I will have made a pre-Denver trip to Los Angeles to attend the ESPYS. I was nominated for the Best Driver award based off of last year's dramatic championship run.

No matter the results, I was honored to just get an invitation to this prestigious event. I'm proud that I could carry the NHRA flag among such notables as Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr.

Additionally, I became part of an elite circle of NHRA racers who have been nominated for ESPYS over the years -- John Force, Tony Pedregon, Greg Anderson and Melanie Troxel. I hope many more NHRA racers are recognized in years to come.

Well, I better get the old black suit ready for the big red-carpet walk at the Kodak Theatre. My wife and I are really looking forward to the evening. I'm sure we'll have a blast.

So, it's off to L.A./Denver. "The Sarge" salutes you all. We'll reconvene again next week just before traveling to Seattle. Until then, please stay well.

Four-time world champion Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher drives the U.S. Army-sponsored Top Fuel dragster in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and is providing a diary for ESPN.com throughout the 2007 season.