Shawn Langdon was the top  qualifier in Top Fuel Friday at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Concord, N.C.  (Photo courtesy: NHRA)

Langdon (TF), Tasca (FC), Connolly (PS) and Smith (PSM) lead NHRA Gatornationals qualifying

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After struggling in the season’s first two races, defending NHRA Mello Yello Series Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon put everything together in Friday’s provisional qualifying for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

Langdon powered his Al-Anabi Racing dragster down the historic Auto-Plus Raceway at 3.786 seconds (320.58 mph) to lead the Top Fuel class.

“As long as the track allows it, you can really throw down some good runs,” said Langdon, in pursuit of his first career Gatornationals win. “We’re trying to make the best run we can on each session, and we thought a .78 was about all we could get away with. We’re trying to get as much information as we can in each lane to get ready for Sunday.”

Richie Crampton, who is among first-year drivers in contention for NHRA Rookie of the Year, was second quickest in Top Fuel at 3.816 seconds/320.58 mph in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster.

Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta was third fastest followed by Phoenix winner Antron Brown and Steve Torrence rounding out the top five.

Bob Tasca III paced all drivers in Funny Car qualifying with a top run of 4.103 seconds at 304.39 mph in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Ford Mustang.

Tasca won the 2009 Gatornationals – his first career Funny Car win – and was runner-up in the 2010 event.

“I don’t know what it is about Gainesville, but I love racing here,” Tasca said. “This place has been awfully good to me over the years. We set a record in my alcohol car and were on the pole that year. I got my first win here in Funny Car. It’s just a special place.”

Jack Beckman was second quickest (4.108/275.96) in Funny Car, followed by Chad Head, Ron Capps and Tony Pedregon.

Series leader John Force qualified 11th and Phoenix winner Alexis DeJoria was 12th overall after day one.

Dave Connolly was the provisional top qualifier in Pro Stock (6.476 seconds/213.98 mph), but No. 2 qualifier Erica Enders-Stevens set a new NHRA speed record with a burst of 214.69 mph.

Debuting their new Dodge Darts, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Allen Johnson qualified third and fourth, followed by fifth-quickest Shane Gray.

Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Matt Smith led his class with a run of 6.800 seconds at 196.96 mph

“We spent the off-season building and testing a lot of new parts and we made progress,” Smith said. “I’m excited about this season.”

Andrew Hines, Smith teammate John Hall, Michael Ray and Eddie Krawiec also qualified in the top five.

Qualifying continues Saturday in all pro classes at noon and 2:15 pm ET, with final eliminations starting at 11 am ET on Sunday.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.786 seconds, 320.58 mph; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.816, 316.97; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.819, 319.37; 4. Antron Brown, 3.836, 315.78; 5. Steve Torrence, 3.839, 319.22; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.847, 316.97; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.858, 320.28; 8. Clay Millican, 3.861, 308.71; 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.899, 306.67; 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.922, 303.50; 11. Brittany Force, 3.945, 308.92; 12. J.R. Todd, 3.974, 271.46.

Not Qualified: 13. Spencer Massey, 4.239, 208.52; 14. Bob Vandergriff, 4.264, 254.62; 15. Terry McMillen, 4.705, 163.39; 16. David Grubnic, 4.801, 149.70; 17. Pat Dakin, 5.152, 128.49; 18. Ike Maier, 5.872, 117.34; 19. Sidnei Frigo, 10.108, 69.25.

Funny Car — 1. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.103, 304.39; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.108, 275.96; 3. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.115, 300.46; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.121, 302.14; 5. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.127, 285.41; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.128, 307.23; 7. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.132, 303.78; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.148, 305.08; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.188, 299.60; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.189, 288.95; 11. John Force, Mustang, 4.380, 246.98; 12. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.799, 167.76.

Not Qualified: 13. Tommy Johnson Jr., 5.075, 147.96; 14. Blake Alexander, 6.388, 98.77; 15. Dave Richards, 7.109, 92.05; 16. Jeff Arend, 7.669, 83.02; 17. Courtney Force, 8.184, 73.00.

Pro Stock — 1. Dave Connolly, Chevy Camaro, 6.476, 213.98; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.483, 214.69; 3. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.484, 214.62; 4. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.487, 213.98; 5. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.495, 213.60; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.510, 212.56; 7. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.518, 213.30; 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.527, 212.90; 9. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.529, 212.66; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.533, 214.04; 11. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.536, 212.43; 12. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.541, 213.20.

Not Qualified: 13. Rodger Brogdon, 6.541, 212.53; 14. Jonathan Gray, 6.552, 212.16; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.581, 211.39; 16. Shane Tucker, 6.594, 211.53; 17. Kenny Delco, 6.613, 210.24; 18. Robert Patrick, 6.615, 210.28; 19. Lewis Worden, 6.652, 210.83; 20. Mark Hogan, 16.552, 45.53.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.800, 196.96; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.813, 195.68; 3. John Hall, Buell, 6.830, 195.05; 4. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.853, 196.16; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.856, 195.96; 6. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.857, 194.38; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.891, 195.45; 8. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.892, 194.46; 9. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.901, 196.02; 10. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.910, 196.10; 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.920, 193.82; 12. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.920, 193.27.

Not Qualified: 13. Katie Sullivan, 6.924, 192.85; 14. Fredrik Fredlund, 6.939, 193.99; 15. Mike Berry, 6.987, 188.91; 16. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.987, 187.73; 17. Eddie Reed, 6.989, 190.06; 18. Joe DeSantis, 7.009, 187.55; 19. Freddie Camarena, 7.055, 192.36; 20. James Surber, 7.095, 187.26; 21. Elvira Karlsson, 7.149, 185.92; 22. Hector Arana, 9.994, 81.91; 23. Odolph Daniels, 16.646, 43.73.

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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.