When the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season started, rookie Alexis DeJoria had high hopes for her Tequila Patron Funny Car team, but she would never have guessed that at just the 10th race of the season, in Bristol, Tenn., she would make her first final-round appearance of her young career.

“The feeling is unreal,” DeJoria said. “We were very appreciative to go past first round considering how we have been plagued with first-round losses all year. We may not have won the race, but I’m really happy with the final round. I have the utmost confidence in my team and crew chief, and I knew we were capable, but it was still a shocker to happen in my young nitro car career.”

As the NHRA heads to Route 66 Raceway for the 15th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, the rookie looks forward to returning to a track where she raced during her sportsman days and building on her team’s momentum coming off their success at the most recent event.

“Having raced at Chicago before, I’m comfortable there, which means I can concentrate on driving and giving the fans exciting racing under the lights at Route 66,” DeJoria said. “I'm just really looking forward to getting back out there and seeing what the car is capable of doing and hopefully go more rounds.”

Not only is DeJoria heading to a track where she is comfortable, but she’s also heading to a track where her crew chief, Del Worsham, won last season in Top Fuel and earned three victories during his 20-year Funny Car career. Needless to say, the young Tequila Patron team is confident heading into Chicago.

“That final round was a huge confidence builder for all of us involved,” DeJoria said. “It was something that we definitely needed. Plus, to be heading straight to a track where Del has won so many times, it really makes me look forward to racing even more.”

Mike Neff (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also 2011 winners of the event that will be televised on ESPN2.

DeJoria’s recent performance not only gave her team the confidence boost it needed, but it also gave her a boost in the highly touted rookie of the year battle between her and fellow Funny Car competitor Courtney Force. These two are leading the rookie battle, and with DeJoria’s recent performance, it makes the race for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award closer than it has been all season.

“Of course, I would appreciate winning the Road to the Future Award greatly,” DeJoria said. “We all want to win rookie of the year, but I hope it comes down to who has the best car/driver/team and who performs the best. So we’ll just have to wait and see; there is a lot of racing left this season.”

DeJoria is outside of the top 10, but Force is sitting in ninth place with seven races to go before the Countdown to the Championship cutoff after the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus in Indianapolis. Force’s teammate and brother-in-law, Robert Hight, leads the Funny Car standings, and her other John Force Racing teammates, Neff and dad John Force, are third and eighth, respectively. Ron Capps has been riding a hot streak and is coming off his sixth final-round appearance in a row, which has moved him to second place; his Don Schumacher Racing teammates Johnny Gray and Jack Beckman sit fourth and fifth, respectively. Bob Tasca III is sixth, Cruz Pedregon is seventh and Jeff Arend is 10th, but no drivers should feel secure in the top 10 just yet because reigning Funny Car champ Matt Hagan is slowly climbing near the top 10, as are Tim Wilkerson, DeJoria, Bob Bode and Tony Pedregon.

Competition in Top Fuel this season is closer than it has been in years. Six different drivers have won in 10 races: Tony Schumacher, who broke a 32-race winless streak at the most recent event, and his DSR teammates FRAM pilot Spencer Massey and Matco Tools driver Antron Brown as well as Kalitta driver David Grubnic, GEICO pilot Morgan Lucas, and Capco Contractors driver Steve Torrence, who claimed the first victory of his Top Fuel career and followed with another win two races later. The top 10 points battle is in constant motion, and although Doug Kalitta, Brandon Bernstein and Clay Millican haven’t earned wins this season, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be fighting to be in the winner’s circle Sunday afternoon at Route 66 Raceway.

Mike Edwards won the Pro Stock final in Bristol by beating Allen Johnson by mere inches, proving that the close competition in the factory hot rod category is as exciting as advertised. Anderson leads the points standings, and his Summit Racing teammate Jason Line is right behind him in second, but Edwards and Johnson are creeping up to compete with the dominant duo. Erica Enders will return to Chicago, where she earned a runner-up finish last season, still in hot pursuit of her history-making first victory. Vincent Nobile, Ronnie Humphrey, Rodger Brogdon, Shane Gray and Ron Krisher will aim to move up in the top 10 points standings.

Pro Stock Motorcycle returns to action at Route 66 Raceway, and the class is looking for its first non-Harley winner of the season. Points leader Eddie Krawiec and his teammate, Andrew Hines, have been dominant on their Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rods and had luck on their side in a few final rounds, leaving the other teams eager to take out the duo.

DeJoria and the rest of the stars of the NHRA will return to zMAX Dragway for the Sept. 14-16 O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. Fans can buy three tickets and receive one free! Call 1-800-455-FANS (3267)!