Countdown to 1 means any malfunctions will be truly costly

The Countdown to 1 has arrived!

The final phase of the NHRA's playoffs will begin in Las Vegas this weekend at the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals, to be staged at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (eliminations Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

The ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals is one of two races that will help determine the 2007 NHRA POWERade world champion.

The U.S. Army Top Fuel team enters the 22nd race of the year holding third place in the standings. With the points being reset after the race in Richmond, we're now only 20 points (one round of racing) behind leader Larry Dixon.

Dixon is one of three guys with whom we will be battling the next two weeks to decide the world title. The others are Rod Fuller and Brandon Bernstein. They're going to be a tough group, I can assure you. They're all great drivers with great crew chiefs and great teams. We'll have our work cut out for us if we're going to take our fourth straight crown, but that's the way it should be.

We're definitely up for the challenge ahead. Frankly, we need to win another championship for our hardworking soldiers.

In Vegas, we're going to be hoping that the mechanical woes that we suffered through the last three events are a thing of the past. You can never predict when part issues are going to rise up and bite you, but we do pray that we're done with them.

I certainly don't want to hear anymore about broken barrel valves, busted valve springs or about cylinders going out. It's about time that we have a fast, flawless race car.

The good news is we're going to a track where we've had success. We've won three times in recent years at The Strip. Personally, I love racing out there. The weather is typically ideal and the racing surface is perfect.

This weekend, we're going to be doing double-duty in Vegas since we'll also be participating in the Technicoat Top Fuel Shootout on Saturday. The Shootout is an all-star race-within-a-race featuring eight of the best-performing Top Fuel teams in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

The winner receives a handsome check for $100,000, which is not too shabby. We were fortunate to have won the 2005 version of the Shootout. Even though our main objective this weekend is to win the race as it relates to the Countdown to 1, we definitely want to get another Shootout victory.

Putting aside the big money that's on the table, when you win this special event you know that you have the beaten the best of the best.

By the way, having grabbed the top seed, our first-round opponent in the Shootout will be the always tough Cory McClenathan. Wish us luck!

To that end, it's time to get ready for the trip to Sin City. As usual, "The Sarge" salutes you all. We'll be right back with you next week just prior to the season finale in Pomona, Calif.

So, until then, y'all please stay well and remember to say a prayer for our soldiers.

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.