Danica who? Women already winning NHRA races

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While much focus and ink has been drawn to Danica Patrick’s pole position and eighth place finish in this year’s Daytona 500, on the other coast two women have already opened the year in Victory Lane in the NHRA.

In her second season, John Force’s daughter Courtney (right) led off the year with a win in the Funny Car division in Pomona, Calif. The win was Force’s second, after her first win in her 15th career start last year at Seattle. Courtney’s 24 and her 26-year-old sister, Brittany, is a rookie in the Top Fuel dragster category this year.

Always outspoken, John Force told AZCentral.com leading up to last weekend’s race in Phoenix that the Danica discussion is overdone.

“I get that Danica got the pole is a big deal, but it is not like she delivered the baby Jesus,” he said.

While the Force daughters progress in their years, Pro Stock also has a female winner so far in Erica Enders-Stevens. Her breakthrough season came a year ago with four wins and a career-best fourth place finish in the final points standings. She won her class at Phoenix last weekend.

“Coming off the season we had last year and starting the way that we did this year, it was kind of a gut check in that we wonder if we can ever get it done again,” Enders-Stevens said. “ But our guys proved that they can pick up where they left off, and I’m excited.”

In the NHRA, success for female drivers is nothing new. Shirley Muldowney paved the way with a legendary career that included three Top Fuel championships (1977, 1980, 1982). Angelle Sampey has also won NHRA titles in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Melanie Troxel is one of only 14 NHRA drivers to have won in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.

The two Force daughters follow in the footsteps of their older sister Ashley Force Hood, who was a race winner in Funny Car and has since stepped out of the cockpit to focus on motherhood.

The NHRA races next in Gainesville, Florida from March 14-17.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.