Castroneves increases IndyCar title lead to 49 points over Dixon (VIDEO)

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Championships come through hard work, dedication – and some breaks that wind up going in your favor. Today on the streets of Baltimore, Helio Castroneves certainly got those breaks.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was forced to pit for a new nosecone on Lap 2 after sustaining front wing damage on the opening lap. Then during another stop under yellow at Lap 41, he tagged one of his own crew members as he was coming into his stall, which brought out the black flag for him.

An outbreak of incidents kept him from serving the drive-through penalty under green until shortly after a restart with 15 laps to go. But even despite all of those problems, Castroneves came home with a ninth-place result.

Meanwhile, his two main title rivals found calamity. Scott Dixon finished 19th after a restart incident with Will Power that put him in the frontstretch wall, while Hunter-Reay lost power on his car and was scored 20th.

Thus, with three races remaining in the season, Castroneves’ lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship over Dixon has increased to 49 markers – while Hunter-Reay fell behind both Baltimore race winner Simon Pagenaud and teammate Marco Andretti to fifth in the standings.

“If you guys had said I was going to finish in the Top 10 after the first lap, I’d be like, ‘I’ll take it, give it to me,'” Castroneves told NBCSN after the race. “I’m still dreaming really, really big. We have three races to go and there are still a lot of points left in the game. We’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing.”

Following his run-in with Power, Dixon – who had survived an earlier spin on a prior restart after contact with Graham Rahal – tried talking with an IndyCar official about getting his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda back to pit road so his team could fix the damage.

However, that request was ultimately denied and Dixon was out of the race – the latest problem for the New Zealander after a controversial pit road penalty cost him the win at Sonoma one week ago.

“I was just annoyed that – it’s clearly stated that every time, they’ll bring the car back to the pits unless it’s 10 laps to go,” Dixon said to NBCSN at the time. “We’re fighting for every point at the moment. There’s a little bit of suspension damage, but definitely something we can repair.

“I have no idea why they haven’t brought it back to the pits, but that’s just [INDYCAR Race Director] Beaux [Barfield] making it up as he goes every time and there’s absolutely no consistency. Rahal takes me out, there’s no penalty, and then [Power] slams us in the wall. Man, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.”

For Hunter-Reay, the defending race winner at Baltimore, Sunday was a grind. He fell all the way back to 20th at the end of Lap 1 after he had a problem with the anti-stall mechanism on his No. 1 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.

From there, it was all about trying to come back, and Hunter-Reay did manage to make his way into the Top 10. But just after the halfway point of the race, his battery went dead.

With his car unable to get in neutral, he could not return to pit road for a re-fire and his afternoon came to an end.

“I believe in miracles, but that’s probably what it’s going to take now [to clinch the championship],” said Hunter-Reay, who is now 74 points off Castroneves. “Hard work and fighting hard probably isn’t going to do it from here.”

NHRA: Schumacher, C. Force, Kramer No. 1 qualifiers at Phoenix

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NHRA press release

The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continued Saturday as Courtney Force set both ends of the Funny Car track record at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the second of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Force took over the top spot in the category with a record run of 3.826 seconds at 335.98 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro during her second pass of the day. After recording seven No. 1 qualifiers in 2017, she is aiming for her first event victory since Houston 2016.

“That last pass today was pretty incredible, we have run well here in the past and I’m excited to be back in that top spot,” Force said. “We are hoping to turn this consistency into a win, we just have to keep being consistent on race day.”

Force is set to face off against Del Worsham in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Ron Capps sits second after a 3.844 at 330.80 in his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T during the final pass of qualifying on Saturday. The defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight qualified 11th after a 3.927 at 329.26.

Schumacher led the category with a run of 3.649 at 334.65 in his U.S. Army dragster posted during the first qualifying session on Friday. Schumacher also set the Top Fuel national speed record at 336.57 with a time of 3.667 seconds during his second pass on Friday. After securing four No. 1 qualifiers in the 2017 season, Schumacher locked in his first of the year in day two of qualifying.

“We earned our three points and kept the top spot so it’s been a great weekend for us so far,” Schumacher said. “The car continues to be great and [crew chief] Mike Neff is comfortable and knows what the car is doing, so I think tomorrow is going to be great day.”

He will go head-to-head against Greg Carrillo in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Steve Torrence qualified second after a 3.665 at 331.45 in his Capco Contractors dragster, while the defending world champion Brittany Force qualified in the 14th spot.

In Pro Stock, Kramer took over the top spot after driving to a 6.522 at 210.80 run in his American Ethanol Dodge Dart during the fourth qualifying session of the weekend. He secured the first No. 1 qualifying position of his career as Kramer also chases his first-ever victory in the class.

“It feels great to get that first No. 1 qualifier, and we had a great package put together this weekend and that was able to move us to the top,” Kramer said. “There were definitely some tuning adjustments from Pomona, but we went back to our old game plan with that KB power and it was a great combination.”

Kramer matches up against Alan Prusiensky in the first round of eliminations. Erica Enders is second in the qualifying order after a 6.527 at 209.98, while Alex Laughlin sits in the third spot.

Eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations.

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.649 seconds, 336.57 mph vs. 16. Greg Carrillo, 4.227, 220.91; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.655, 331.85 vs. 15. Steven Chrisman, 4.089, 281.30; 3. Clay Millican, 3.664, 335.23 vs. 14. Brittany Force, 3.828, 253.52; 4. Leah Pritchett, 3.679, 334.15 vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.809, 318.77; 5. Richie Crampton, 3.683, 325.30 vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.788, 326.63; 6. Billy Torrence, 3.697, 331.45  vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.742, 328.78; 7. Blake Alexander, 3.705, 332.59 vs. 10. Terry McMillen, 3.740, 325.85; 8. Antron Brown, 3.712, 333.66 vs. 9. Mike Salinas, 3.737, 326.32.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Kebin Kinsley, 5.118, 136.79; 18. Terry Totten, 8.158, 69.73; 19. Terry Haddock, 10.095, 91.23.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.826, 335.98 vs. 16. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 5.089, 173.99; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.844, 330.80 vs. 15. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.551, 182.82; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.845, 332.43 vs. 14. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.244, 235.27; 4. John Force, Camaro, 3.864, 332.51 vs. 13. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.120, 307.79; 5. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.866, 317.27 vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.971, 316.75; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.879, 329.91 vs. 11. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.927, 329.26; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.888, 333.25 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.927, 329.42; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.919, 324.20 vs. 9. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.926, 330.88.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 7.402, 91.58.

PRO STOCK: 1. Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.00 vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.94; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.527, 209.98 vs. 15. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.659, 208.55; 3. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.529, 209.59 vs. 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.640, 209.69; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.530, 211.66 vs. 13. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.581, 209.82; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.531, 211.03 vs. 12. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.567, 210.08; 6. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 210.60 vs. 11. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.553, 210.14; 7. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.534, 211.63 vs. 10. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.550, 210.41; 8. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.542, 210.05 vs. 9. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.550, 211.39.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Joey Grose, 6.720, 206.64.