Fast Nine shootout set for Indy 500 pole

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The final battle for the Indianapolis 500 pole will be an all-Chevrolet affair.

The “Bowtie Brigade” has taken charge of Pole Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with all five Andretti Autosport drivers (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, E.J. Viso, Ryan Hunter-Reay), all three Team Penske drivers (Will Power, Helio Castroneves and A.J. Allmendinger), and owner/driver Ed Carpenter set to go for the pole at 6:30 p.m. ET. Those drivers will only get one qualifying attempt each in the Fast Nine showdown.

The fastest Honda belonged to Alex Tagliani of Barracuda-BHA, who will start 11th on Race Day in the middle of Row 4.

Will Power’s (pictured) average of 228.844 miles per hour was more than enough to claim the top spot before the Fast Nine, with Hunter-Reay’s speed of 228.282 good for second and Munoz’s speed of 228.171 good for third in that period.

The final hour of qualifying saw some dramatic bumping as drivers aimed to lock themselves into the Top 24. In the end, the big heroes were NBC Sports Network’s own Townsend Bell for Panther Racing and James Jakes of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, who both made the show in the final 10 minutes on their third and last attempts of the day.

Bell qualified 20th on his first attempt, but that was scratched in a bid to better his position. Unfortunately for him, the second attempt was slow enough to take him out of the field. But with 8:45 to go, Bell took the green flag on his third attempt and recovered the speed, posting a average of 225.643 mph — and knocking out Jakes and putting Josef Newgarden on the bubble.

The proverbial ball was then in Jakes’ court, and the British driver took the green for his final attempt with less than four minutes to go. Jakes, whose first attempt was disqualified, put together a solid run of 225.809 mph across his four laps to knock out Newgarden, who could only watch as he was in the qualifying line behind multiple cars.

Also making the field late was Ryan Briscoe, who won the Indy pole last year with Team Penske but had to scrap to make the Top 24 today with Chip Ganassi Racing. Still, Briscoe made it in with an average of 225.265 mph on his final attempt.

Michel Jourdain Jr. was the final qualifier at the 6 p.m. end time, but was not fast enough to get into the field, allowing Simona de Silvestro to stay at the 24th position.

Indianapolis 500

Pole Day Results (6 p.m. ET — Top 24)

1. 12-Will Power, 228.844 mph

2. 1-Ryan Hunter-Reay, 228.282

3. 26-Carlos Munoz, 228.171

4. 3- Helio Castroneves, 227.975

5. 20-Ed Carpenter, 227.952

6. 25-Marco Andretti, 227.893

7. 2-A.J. Allmendinger, 227.761

8. 5-E.J. Viso, 227.612

9. 27-James Hinchcliffe, 227.493

10. 4-J.R. Hildebrand, 227.441

11. 98-Alex Tagliani, 227.386

12. 11-Tony Kanaan, 226.949

13. 22-Oriol Servia, 226.814

14. 19-Justin Wilson, 226.370

15. 7-Sebastien Bourdais, 226.196

16. 9-Scott Dixon, 226.158

17. 10-Dario Franchitti, 226.069

18. 14-Takuma Sato, 225.892

19. 83-Charlie Kimball, 225.880

20. 16-James Jakes, 225.809

21. 77-Simon Pagenaud, 225.674

22. 60-Townsend Bell, 225.643

23. 8-Ryan Briscoe, 225.265

24. 78-Simona de Silvestro, 225.226

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.