John Force sets another national record en route to NHRA Winternationals win; alBalooshi, Line also triumph

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John Force started the weekend of the season-opening NHRA Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., by setting a pair of national records and ended it Sunday with yet another new record en route to his 139th career Funny Car victory.

After setting new national records for elapsed time (3.966 seconds) and speed (324.12 mph) earlier in the weekend, Force broke his still- fresh elapsed time record with a 3.965 second effort (at 323.58 mph) in Sunday’s final round of eliminations, defeating arch-rival Matt Hagan.

Force ended last season by extending his own record of NHRA championships, earning his 16th in 24 seasons. And with this being the final season of long-standing sponsorship and support from Castrol GTX motor oil and Ford (Force drives a Mustang), Sunday’s performance makes it abundantly clear he’s determined to go for his 17th Funny Car crown this season.

“We’re back in the game,” Force said. “Everything’s just going right. … I’m just excited. There’s a lot going on (with potential new sponsors for 2015), and man, what a good time to flex your muscles.”

In Top Fuel, Khalid alBalooshi won his third career national event, defeating top qualifier Doug Kalitta in the final round. alBalooshi finished in 3.974 seconds at 324.36 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, while Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster lost traction at mid-track and slowed to 5.368 seconds at 143.40 mph.

“We had a strong day today,” said alBalooshi. “It’s a good win. … Doug’s car was the best car all weekend, so it made it a very big day for us to take him down in the final and get the trophy.”

alBalooshi, who finished 11th as a rookie in 2012 and eighth last season, leaves Pomona atop the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Top Fuel points standings for the first time in his career.

Jason Line won the Pro Stock class, defeating V. Gaines in the final round. Line and his Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro covered the 1,000-foot lane at 6.526 seconds at 212.06 mph to defeat Gaines’ Kendall Oil Dodge Avenger (6.533 at 212.56 mph).

It was Line’s 32nd career NHRA win and his third at the Winternationals.

“My day was great,” Line said. “It’s a huge deal to start the season off with a win. It’s a big deal. The last few years we’ve struggled and wasn’t what we had hoped for. We worked really hard over the winter and I think we improved. This sport is just crazy hard right now. It’s tough to separate yourself out here it’s so competitive.”

Line said he would give his winner’s trophy to longtime teammate Greg Anderson, who is at home recovering from heart surgery and will miss the first three months of the season.

“I’m forever indebted to him,” Line said of Anderson. “He gave me an opportunity that nobody else would.”

The next NHRA national event, the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix, Ariz., will be held Feb. 21-23.

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Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.