IndyCar 2014 silly season update, round 2

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A few more pieces have fallen into place for IndyCar 2014, with the biggest remaining domino on the market, the fourth Chip Ganassi Racing seat, now filled today with Ryan Briscoe.

Here’s what we know since our last update immediately after Fontana:

CONFIRMED CARS (21)

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (4 cars, Chevrolet): Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Charlie Kimball. Two former series champions and Indianapolis 500 winners, and four drivers with wins. A solid lineup, although Dixon’s the best of the lot.
  • Team Penske (3 cars, Chevrolet): Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Will Power. Montoya’s gotten several days testing in and is already up to speed. Meanwhile, Power is Vining and growing a mustache.
  • Andretti Autosport (4 cars, Honda): Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay. Munoz is confirmed although his number hasn’t been, but he’s worthy of the promotion from Indy Lights.
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2 cars, Honda): Simon Pagenaud, Mikhail Aleshin. Team nomenclature changes depending on partners and Aleshin confirmed since last update, a potential surprise driver in 2014.
  • KVSH Racing (2 cars, Chevrolet): Sebastien Bourdais, TBD. No changes, second car up for grabs.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2 cars, Honda): Graham Rahal, TBD. Second car will require additional funding if the National Guard deal doesn’t come through, but may not if it does.
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (1 car, Chevrolet): Mike Conway/Ed Carpenter. Ed does a great thing for the team with Conway addition; team a genuine contender on all circuits now.
  • Dale Coyne Racing (2 cars, Honda): Justin Wilson, TBD. His opportunity in a top-flight ride past for now yet again, so Wilson’s giant-killing display will have to occur once more. Francesco Dracone and Arie Luyendyk Jr. have tested the team’s second car, but neither appears a realistic full-season contender for that seat.
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (1 car, Honda): Josef Newgarden. Contract year for Josef and we’ll see how he develops.

ALL BUT OFFICIAL (1)

  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises: The Takuma Sato and Honda confirmations appear close to a formality at this point, even with Sato testing in Formula E.

LIKELY (1)

  • Barracuda Racing: Luca Filippi. Filippi seems to have the edge over JR Hildebrand at the moment, after we reported at Austin the Italian was close to a deal. But a signing does not seem imminent, as Hildebrand is still working on his own future. The team may need additional budget to close the gap for its first seat, and that could bring other drivers into the equation.

WILD CARDS (3)

  • Panther Racing: Will likely require a funded driver as team reorganizes over the offseason.
  • Dragon Racing: Per RACER.com, a likely Indianapolis-only entry for the month of May with the team’s full efforts focused on FIA Formula E.
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Also per RACER.com, Dennis Reinbold’s team seeks a full-season return after a truncated 2013.

FREE AGENTS

  • 2013 full-timers: Simona de Silvestro and James Jakes have their pick of seats at the moment and backing to support their efforts. Tristan Vautier and Sebastian Saavedra, meanwhile, don’t seem likely to appear on the 2014 grid.
  • 2013 part-timers: Alex Tagliani’s best shot has closed at Ganassi and a move to sports cars full-time seems all but inevitable, although with what team and car remains to be seen. Oriol Servia, JR Hildebrand and the rest of the drivers through to P39 from 2013, who knows.
  • Potential rookies: Sage Karam would seem to figure into the equation, even with his available support, but windows are closing rapidly. His best chance went out the window when Schmidt signed Aleshin for the second seat. The same concern exists for Conor Daly, who’d be an invaluable addition to the field but might need to find further support to make that dream a reality. Other Indy Lights hopefuls – Gabby Chaves, Peter Dempsey, Stefan Wilson, Jack Hawksworth and on down the line – might need a Christmas miracle at this point. 

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.