Track speed marks fall as Route 66 Raceway becomes one of fastest on NHRA circuit

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When Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., opened in 1998, it was considered state of the art, the first National Hot Rod Association racetrack with surround, bowl-like seating.

During this past weekend’s record-breaking O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, the suburban Chicago track became one of the fastest racetracks on the NHRA circuit.

Numerous track speed records were set over the four-day event. Most notable were four Funny Car drivers that covered the 1,000-foot racing surface in under four seconds for the first time in track history: Ron Capps (3.988 seconds at 320.28 mph), along with Bob Tasca III (3.988, 316.97), Jack Beckman (3.983, 319.52) and Del Worsham (3.999, 318.99).

Other notable achievements included:

* 15-time Funny Car champ John Force posted his best Route 66 career time of 4.010 seconds at 316.67 mph.

* Morgan Lucas set a track record for Top Fuel qualifying on Saturday (3.737 seconds at 322.19 mph)

* Steve Edwards set a track record in Pro Stock at 6.542 seconds at 210.64 mph, his 10th No. 1 qualifying position of the season.

Rain was an impediment at times during the weekend, but not an insurmountable obstacle as hometown favorite Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won their respective categories in Sunday’s final eliminations.

Of particular note was Schumacher’s winning finish, the 72nd NHRA event win of his career. Rather than wait to see if the track would have a post-race fireworks display, Schumacher wound up giving an impromptu one of his own.

No sooner did he cross the finish line to win the Top Fuel event, the 8,000-horsepower motor in Schumacher’s dragster exploded in a fiery blast. While neither he nor anyone else was injured, it provided one of those “ooh, aah” moments that put a memorable cap on the event.

“It’s always great to have a hometown win here in Chicago,” said Schumacher of his fourth career win at Route 66, and which also put him back atop the Mello Yello Series Top Fuel season standings.

Schumacher was especially concerned that Millican was so hungry for his first career Top Fuel win.

“When you look back in Top Fuel history, whenever anybody gets their first win, it’s against me,” Schumacher said. “But I told myself today that this is not going to be an ongoing trait. We’re going to stop it right here and now. I don’t care when or if Clay wins a race, but just not today. Not here at my home track.”

The NHRA continues this coming weekend with the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, from July 4-7.

F1 2017 driver review: Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 5
Races: 20
Wins: 5
Podiums (excluding wins): 8
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 5
Points: 317
Laps Led: 286
Championship Position: 2nd

2017 was supposed to be the year Sebastian Vettel finally fulfilled his ambition of emulating Michael Schumacher by returning Ferrari to its championship-winning heyday.

Instead, it ended in disappointment and frustration – once again.

Ferrari arguably made a greater step across the change in technical regulations for 2017 than any other team, living up to its pre-season tag as favorite by winning the opening round in Australia in fashion.

Vettel and Ferrari led their respective championships following the Monaco Grand Prix as the German ended a 16-year win drought for the Prancing Horse in the principality, and even heading into the summer break, a shot at both championships was looking good.

However, cracks had started to appear. Vettel’s remarkable antics behind the safety car in Baku sparked controversy after driving into Hamilton, suggesting the tension of the title fight was beginning to take its toll on the German.

The final run of flyaways was where things really fell apart for Vettel, though. Singapore looked to be a slam-dunk win, only for a start-line crash also involving teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen to put 25 free points in Hamilton’s pocket.

Reliability woes then struck in Malaysia and Japan – two more races Vettel could realistically have won – to make it game over in the title race, with Hamilton wrapping things up in Mexico.

Vettel only finished the year 46 points back from Hamilton, proving the impact the three bad races in Asia had. Realistically, this was a title race that should have gone down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Vettel remains a four-time champion, level with Hamilton, who had just one to his name back in 2013 when his rival secured his fourth.

Ferrari’s internal issues will come under the microscope over the off-season, and Vettel himself knows there is plenty to work on. Staying cool under pressure and not letting things boil over as in Baku is the most obvious area for improvement.

But there is reason for hope. If Ferrari can keep up with Mercedes and repeat its impressive step into 2017 through the upcoming off-season, we may well be treated to another Vettel/Hamilton scrap at the front of the field, perhaps settling once and for all who is the greatest driver of the post-Schumacher era.

Season High: A crucial win in Hungary despite battling with a broken steering column.

Season Low: Letting tensions flare in Baku and hitting Hamilton behind the safety car.