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Del Worsham feels like a rookie again.

After almost 20 years spent mostly in a Funny Car, Worsham made the transition to a Top Fuel dragster this season. He padded his lead in the Full Throttle point standings after his first-place finish at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals on Sunday in Joliet, his fifth victory of the season.

“Crazy,” Worsham, the 1991 NHRA rookie of the year, said of his success. “I’m surprised by it, but I guess I shouldn’t be with this caliber of a team.”

Worsham, 41, isn’t a complete stranger to the Top Fuel category — he split time between Funny Car and Top Fuel in 1993 and ’94 — but he still faced a steep learning curve when he agreed to drive Sheik Khalid Al Thani’s car. Worsham said the dragsters are different today than when he drove them in the past.

“The car throws something new at you constantly,” said Worsham, who beat David Grubnic with an elapsed time of 3.978 seconds at 299.40 mph in the final round. “It’s just a little different style, but the basics of racing are the same. Some of the runs are absolutely easier [than Funny Car]. Sometimes with that dragster, it’s so long, it’ll go straight down there. But sometimes it requires some driving. About the time you think everything’s going to be smooth and easy, it’s not that easy at all.”

Crew chief Brian Husen said he was shocked by how quickly Worsham adapted to Top Fuel. Worsham won the second event of the season and twice in the first four weeks.

“He’s pretty natural at what he does,” Husen said. “It’s a bit of a surprise that he’s in first place, but we have pretty high expectations over here. We didn’t come out to finish in the top three this year — we came out to win a championship.”

Because Worsham continues to feel more comfortable with each passing event, he said he truly believes a championship is within reach. He’s learned that he must be careful not to oversteer his dragster, and he has a better sense for what a winning run feels like.

After such a successful start to the year in a Top Fuel car, Worsham might never be allowed to return to his Funny Car.

“I’m very happy. It couldn’t have turned out any better,” he said. “You wait 20 years trying to get to this level, and here I am. I am a very lucky guy.” obd2

In other results from the Route 66 Nationals:

◆ Mike Neff extended his lead in the Funny Car division with his fourth win of the season, beating Jeff Arend with a final-round time of 4.246 seconds at 299.40 mph. Neff was only challenged in the quarterfinal round, when he beat Bob Tasca III by .011 seconds.

◆ Greg Anderson (6.670 at 207.18), who entered Sunday fifth in the Pro Stock points race, took a step toward a comeback with a win over Erica Enders in the final round. With the victory, Anderson has now won at every track in the country.

◆ In the Pro Stock Motorcycle division, LE Tonglet beat Chip Ellis with a time of 7.047 seconds at 188.46 mph. Tonglet entered the weekend sixth in the standings; Ellis was 15th.
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