By Rob Geiger, www.NHRA.com

Tony Schumacher charged back into the championship chase with his fourth win of the year, this one over J.R. Todd, Sunday at the $1.8 million ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. He now finds himself 45 points behind Doug Kalitta. Third-year Pro Stock driver Jason Line captured the first POWERade championship of the season After collecting the $200,000 champion's check, Line shared the limelight with race winners Schumacher, "Fast Jack" Beckman (Funny Car), Richie Stevens (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Beckman was thrilled to score his first win in just four professional starts. Stevens used a cosmic .002-second light to bag a big holeshot win over Line, while Hines regained the points lead for Harley-Davidson by dismissing teammate GT Tonglet in the final.

Although he took out the points leader in the semifinals and went on to win his fourth race of the season, Schumacher was slightly upset that he didn't set a world record in the final, which would have put him 20 points closer to the lead. His 4.469 at 313.58 mph in the U.S. Army dragster was more than enough to beat Todd, who posted a 4.550 at 320.81 mph.

Previously, world records weren't in the mix at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway due to the fact the facility is 2,100 feet above sea level, but near-perfect conditions allowed Army crew chief Alan Johnson to tune his car for maximum performance. Schumacher ran a 4.445 during qualifying, which was the seventh quickest of all time.

"We picked up 44 points today. If we do that again in Pomona I lose the championship by one point," Schumacher said. "That's why the record was so important for us to get. I don't mean to be disappointed but we wanted it so much. It just dropped a hole at 800 feet and blew out the burst panels a little later and that was enough to kill our chance.

"It's still a big win. That was probably the biggest win light of my career. We did everything we needed to do except set the record and I don't know that any of us expected to even have a chance to set one here. We were 330-something points back and if we do manage to pull this off we will have definitely done it the hard way."

Schumacher has some work to do to win his fourth championship but he has already promised several attempts at a national record at the season finale in Pomona.

Perhaps the biggest celebration in a day full of big moments went to Beckman's Matco Tools Dodge team as the cancer survivor and drag racing school instructor drove away from a tire-smoking Tommy Johnson Jr. to win the Funny Car trophy. Beckman took over the seat of his ride from Whit Bazemore just four races ago.

Beckman rode crew chief Todd Okuhara's expert tune-up to steady wins over Gary Densham, Del Worsham, Tony Bartone, and Johnson. His passes were all within four-hundredths of a second of one another.

"One of the things about drag racing is that it will eat you alive if you let the lows get to you, so I want to temper myself on this high," Beckman said. "I always said I want to be a dignified racer and accept defeat and victory equally but I kind of blew the roof of that deal just now. It was just such a feeling.

"[Team owner] Don Schumacher made the move a few races back in an attempt to prepare for next year. I know it couldn't have been easy for Whit but he was a class guy all the way along. I hope he tears it up over there in Top Fuel next year.

"We had a pretty good bracket car today but I'm still not comfortable in there yet. I need to see 20 or 30 more finish lines before I get close to feeling good in there. The thing is, even veterans get surprised because these things never run the same. I've got nine professionals behind me [his crew] and that's why I won today."

John Force added 27 points to his Funny Car lead over Ron Capps and will now carry a 71-point advantage into Pomona. Robert Hight is two points behind Capps in third. Both Capps and Hight lost in the first round. Hight's Mustang broke on the burnout.

A 20-1 longshot with the local oddsmakers, Stevens rewarded the true believers with a big win over new champ Line. The first professional graduate of the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League to win a national event, Stevens earned this one at the Christmas Tree, posting a pair of .007-second lights and his stellar .002 in the final to claim his sixth Wally.

Line had the better car, running a 6.735 at 204.57 mph in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO. But his sluggish .090-second light allowed Mopar pro Stevens to win with a 6.789 at 202.85 mph.

"We had a great day," Stevens said. "I knew I had to be on the Tree with the guys I was racing and I guess I pulled it off. Three double-oh lights is pretty good and like I always say, when it's your day to win one of these things it's your day no matter what.

"It's special to get two wins in a year. We moved back into the POWERade top 10 and I'm pretty sure we're guaranteed a spot on the stage during the awards ceremony now. I just moved into my house in New Orleans after we rebuilt it from Hurricane Katrina and now I've got two nice new trophies to put on the mantle so that's great."

Line's championship was his second overall and first in three years as a professional. He won the Stock title in 1993. The title will remain in the KB Racing camp for the fourth straight year as his teammate Greg Anderson won it all from 2003-2005.

Back-to-back defending Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Hines regained the points lead at the perfect time by riding through a tough field and beating teammate GT Tonglet in the final. Hines went from 27 points back to 37 ahead of Antron Brown with his third victory of the season and eighth of his career.

Hines looked every bit the rider that won the last two championships Sunday, posting the quickest pass of each elimination round as he mowed down Tom Bradford, Brown, Ryan Schnitz, and Tonglet.

"I wasn't really happy being behind in the points coming in here, especially coming off a first-round loss to GT in Reading," Hines said. "It's been a fun ride over the last four years and to already have two championships under my belt is phenomenal. It's a real testament to this team and the people behind me.

"Every point seems so crucial this year. It was tough the first time we won the championship because they added weight to us in the middle of the season. This year they gave the Suzukis more cubic inches and they've been right there with us. It's hard to compare the different seasons but this one has been the toughest. If we hold on now and win it all it will be very special."

At a 98-point deficit, Angelle Sampey is mathematically alive in third place but not likely to win her fourth title this year.

SPORTSMAN CLASS WINNERS:

Super Stock: Greg Luneack (Vista, Calif.)

Stock Eliminator: Clark Holroyd (Chino, Calif.)

Super Comp: Kevin Kleineweber (Phoenix, Ariz.)

Super Gas: Bob Harris (Trabuco Canyon, Calif.)

Also:

Justin Lamb of Henderson, Nev., was the highest-finishing sportsman-class local driver at the NHRA ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals on Sunday, Oct. 29, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Lamb, 18, was defeated in the fifth round of Super Comp eliminations by eventual winner Kevin Kleineweber of Phoenix. A total of 180 cars were entered in the Super Comp class, which went eight rounds to determine the winner.