UPDATED: Hight (FC), Kalitta (TF), Johnson (PS) and Johnson (PSM) storm to wins in NHRA Gatornationals

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It’s a good thing tomorrow isn’t Christmas because John Force might not give son-in-law and John Force Racing president Robert Hight a present.

After all, Hight got a bigger present Sunday, beating his boss and father-in-law in the Funny Car finals of the 45th Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals Sunday in Gainesville, Fla.

Hight beat Force, who had qualified last in the 16-car field, to the finish line with a performance of 4.074 seconds at 314.46 mph.

“If you’d have told me this morning that John and I would be in the final, I don’t know if I’d have taken that bet,” Hight said. “Our teams have worked really hard and work well together, but we were struggling.

“Fortunately for me, the Auto Club team did a good job. I wasn’t on my game in the first round or the semis. Luckily, I had a great race car.”

Force lost traction shortly after the starting line, shutting his motor down and coasting to a 6.435 seconds/118.29 mph finish.

The win evens the all-time elimination round record between Force and Hight at 15-15 overall and 2-2 in final rounds.

Hight has now won 30 times in 47 final round appearances. It was also his second win at Gainesville, having also done so in the 2012 event.

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta defeated Antron Brown.

Kalitta turned in a performance of 3.830 seconds at 323.74 mph, compared to Brown’s 5.106 seconds/147.50 mph showing.

“We’ve been trying to get a win all year, and we’ve been right on the cusp,” Kalitta said. “We have great support amongst all four of our teams. It’s great that they can all get in there and celebrate on the starting line.”

Kalitta and Brown are now 1-1 against each other in final round appearances, but Brown still holds an 18-13 overall elimination round record vs. Kalitta, who earned his 34th national event win and third Gatornationals triumph.

In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson stormed to his second straight Gatornationals win, besting Erica Enders-Stevens.

Johnson recorded a time of 6.566 seconds at 211.73 mph, to Enders-Stevens’ showing of 6.551 seconds at 211.96 mph.

Johnson and Jeg Coughlin were the first Pro Stock drivers to debut a new Hemi-powered 2014 Dodge Dart this weekend, replacing the Dodge Avenger, which both drove the last three seasons. It obviously passed its first test for Johnson.

“This shows what a great job the Mopar engineers and SRT did when they developed the new Dart,” Johnson said. “It’s also a testament to our crew. For the last two weeks they’ve worked non-stop, without a day off to make sure this transition was a success.”

With his 22nd national event win, Johnson is now 3-2 in final round battles and 12-7 in overall elimination round finishes against Enders-Stevens.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, veteran rider Steve Johnson, who finished runner-up in last year’s Gatornationals, rallied back in this year’s event to defeat Scotty Pollacheck.

Johnson turned in a performance of 6.912 seconds at 191.32 mph, to Pollacheck’s effort of 7.093 seconds at 190.81 mph. It was the first win by a Suzuki rider in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle since 2011.

“Last year, I got to the final here and lost to Hector Arana Jr., and I felt like I should have won it,” Johnson said. “We’ve been close a few times, but we finally broke through.”

The win evens the career record between the two riders at 3-3, but it was the first time they had ever met in a final round.

It was also the sixth national event win in Johnson’s career, and his second win at Gainesville (the other time was back in 2005).

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER

Final finish order (1-16) at the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.  The race is the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

TOP FUEL:

1.  Doug Kalitta; 2.  Antron Brown; 3.  Morgan Lucas; 4.  Steve Torrence; 5.  David Grubnic; 6. Spencer Massey; 7.  Tony Schumacher; 8.  J.R. Todd; 9.  Richie Crampton; 10.  Brittany Force; 11. Khalid alBalooshi; 12.  Leah Pritchett; 13.  Shawn Langdon; 14.  Bob Vandergriff; 15.  Sidnei Frigo; 16.  Clay Millican.

FUNNY CAR:

1.  Robert Hight; 2.  John Force; 3.  Courtney Force; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Del Worsham; 6.  Tim Wilkerson; 7.  Jack Beckman; 8.  Bob Tasca III; 9.  Cruz Pedregon; 10.  Alexis DeJoria; 11.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 12.  Tony Pedregon; 13.  Blake Alexander; 14.  Matt Hagan; 15.  Jeff Arend; 16.  Chad Head.

PRO STOCK:

1.  Allen Johnson; 2.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 3.  Vincent Nobile; 4.  Dave Connolly; 5.  Jason Line; 6.  V. Gaines; 7.  Jeg Coughlin; 8.  Shane Gray; 9.  Chris McGaha; 10.  Jonathan Gray; 11.  Rodger Brogdon; 12.  Steve Kent; 13.  Matt Hartford; 14.  Robert Patrick; 15.  Jimmy Alund; 16.  Larry Morgan.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

1.  Steve Johnson; 2.  Scotty Pollacheck; 3.  John Hall; 4.  Hector Arana Jr; 5.  Matt Smith; 6. Michael Ray; 7.  Eddie Krawiec; 8.  Andrew Hines; 9.  Shawn Gann; 10.  Katie Sullivan; 11.  Chaz Kennedy; 12.  Adam Arana; 13.  Jim Underdahl; 14.  Jerry Savoie; 15.  Fredrik Fredlund; 16.  Hector Arana.

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FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Doug Kalitta, 3.830 seconds, 323.74 mph  def. Antron Brown, 5.106 seconds, 147.50 mph.

Funny Car — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 314.46  def. John Force, Mustang, 6.435, 118.29.

Pro Stock — Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.566, 211.73  def. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.551, 211.96.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.912, 191.32  def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.093, 190.81.

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SUNDAY’S ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL:
ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.820, 320.36 def. Leah Pritchett, 3.855, 318.24; Doug Kalitta, 3.795, 324.67 def. Brittany Force, 3.825, 321.58; Morgan Lucas, 3.846, 321.50 def. Richie Crampton, foul; J.R. Todd, 3.801, 325.30 def. Shawn Langdon, 4.296, 306.67; Antron Brown, 3.830, 319.14 def. Sidnei Frigo, 8.088, 88.66; David Grubnic, 3.935, 273.50 def. Clay Millican, 9.530, 78.21; Spencer Massey, 3.876, 317.64 def. Bob Vandergriff, 4.561, 169.17; Steve Torrence, 3.790, 325.69 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.833, 320.66;

QUARTERFINALS — Lucas, 3.841, 316.82 def. Massey, 3.933, 314.31; Brown, 3.810, 321.42 def. Schumacher, 5.798, 124.20; Kalitta, 3.829, 321.12 def. Grubnic, 3.800, 316.30; Torrence, 3.856, 312.93 def. Todd, 9.377, 83.54;

SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.856, 319.52 def. Torrence, 7.663, 88.07; Brown, 3.847, 315.71 def. Lucas, 5.410, 132.18; FINAL — Kalitta, 3.830, 323.74 def. Brown, 5.106, 147.50.

FUNNY CAR:
ROUND ONE — John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.075, 317.12 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.102, 305.63; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.080, 307.51 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, foul; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.140, 308.14 def. Blake Alexander, Charger, 4.251, 296.24; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.135, 307.37 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.893, 163.16; Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.102, 315.56 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.307, 226.92; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.132, 308.14 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.561, 194.07; Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.061, 314.02 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.199, 271.95; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.117, 308.92 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.157, 303.78.

QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 4.140, 310.27 def. Wilkerson, 5.622, 137.67; Capps, 4.136, 307.16 def. Beckman, 5.844, 121.34; Hight, 4.140, 306.05 def. Tasca III, 6.262, 111.01; J. Force, 4.134, 303.84 def. Worsham, 4.599, 232.35.

SEMIFINALS — Hight, 4.168, 301.20 def. Capps, 7.663, 89.63; J. Force, 4.240, 266.42 def. C. Force, 6.090, 112.74.

FINAL — Hight, 4.074, 314.46 def. J. Force, 6.435, 118.29.

PRO STOCK:
ROUND ONE — Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.567, 211.30 def. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, foul; V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.571, 211.56 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, foul; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.571, 210.08 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.566, 211.53; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.582, 210.11 def. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.609, 210.47; Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.559, 211.83 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.593, 209.98; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.552, 211.03 def. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.649, 208.84; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.541, 211.93 def. Robert Patrick, Mustang, 6.667, 207.27; Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.550, 211.89 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.599, 210.93.

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson, 7.414, 149.88 def. S. Gray, 13.901, 60.96; Connolly, 6.584, 210.87 def. Line, 6.568, 211.39; Nobile, 6.580, 210.60 def. Coughlin, 6.591, 211.69; Enders-Stevens, 6.535, 212.59 def. Gaines, 6.571, 211.79;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.569, 211.79 def. Connolly, 6.583, 211.20; Enders-Stevens, 6.569, 212.29 def. Nobile, 6.582, 211.16.

FINAL — Johnson, 6.566, 211.73 def. Enders-Stevens, 6.551, 211.96.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:
ROUND ONE — Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.923, 191.02 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 9.750, 86.95; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.931, 192.44 def. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, foul; Michael Ray, Buell, 6.907, 191.54 def. Fredrik Fredlund, Suzuki, 7.274, 184.19; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.905, 193.24 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.934, 192.47; John Hall, Buell, 6.878, 192.11 def. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.945, 186.38; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.899, 193.96 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.943, 190.65; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.901, 195.31 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, foul; Matt Smith, Buell, 6.880, 195.08 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, foul;

QUARTERFINALS — Pollacheck, 6.911, 193.02 def. Ray, 6.916, 192.41; Arana Jr, 6.915, 194.60 def. Krawiec, 6.935, 192.44; Hall, 6.900, 193.02 def. Hines, 6.944, 192.52; Johnson, 6.937, 193.60 def. Smith, foul;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.874, 195.48 def. Arana Jr, 6.906, 195.70; Pollacheck, 6.865, 195.00 def. Hall, 6.847, 195.42;

FINAL — Johnson, 6.912, 191.32 def. Pollacheck, 7.093, 190.81.

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STANDINGS

Point standings (top 10) following the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel
1.  Doug Kalitta, 309; 2.  Antron Brown, 256; 3.  Steve Torrence, 230; 4.  Khalid alBalooshi, 197; 5.  Spencer Massey, 180; 6.  Shawn Langdon, 168; 7.  Brittany Force, 158; 8.  Tony Schumacher, 146; 9.  David Grubnic, 138; 10.  Richie Crampton, 123.

Funny Car
1.  John Force, 316; 2.  Robert Hight, 273; 3.  (tie) Alexis DeJoria, 187; Del Worsham, 187; 5; Bob Tasca III, 184; 6.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 168; 7.  Ron Capps, 164; 8.  Matt Hagan, 161; 9.  Jack Beckman, 151; 10.  Courtney Force, 146.

Pro Stock
1.  Allen Johnson, 282; 2.  V. Gaines, 244; 3.  Vincent Nobile, 235; 4.  Jason Line, 233; 5.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 226; 6.  Dave Connolly, 211; 7.  Shane Gray, 181; 8.  Jeg Coughlin, 148; 9.  Larry Morgan, 114; 10.  Chris McGaha, 107.

Pro Stock Motorcycle
1.  Steve Johnson, 114; 2.  Scotty Pollacheck, 93; 3.  Hector Arana Jr, 81; 4.  John Hall, 75; 5. Michael Ray, 63; 6.  Andrew Hines, 62; 7.  Matt Smith, 60; 8.  Eddie Krawiec, 56; 9.  (tie) Hector Arana, 32; Adam Arana, 32; Shawn Gann, 32; Katie Sullivan, 32.

NASCAR America: Newgarden recaps rise to IndyCar title (VIDEO)

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Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden joined NBCSN’s NASCAR America on Tuesday to reflect on his rise to the top of the series.

Newgarden chatted with show host Carolyn Manno about his championship season, integration to Team Penske and bonding with his three teammates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale but it wasn’t enough to overcome Newgarden’s points lead.

 

Report: Verizon likely to drop IndyCar title sponsorship after ’18

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One of the under-the-radar elements that’s percolated in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock this year is Verizon’s activation strategy itself, in its fourth year of its first five-year deal as title sponsor of the championship.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern while he thinks it’s likely Verizon will end its title sponsorship of the series after 2018, they hope to continue the relationship in a different capacity.

While Verizon got in before 2014, IndyCar was a viable platform for the wireless company to activate in a way it couldn’t in NASCAR, when Sprint was the Cup Series’ title sponsor.

That’s since changed with Sprint’s contract ending after 2016. Verizon still activates within the paddock, working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, but its activation outside the paddock has seemed rather limited this year.

Verizon’s primary point of access or reference point of digital technology has been the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app, which was initially only for Verizon Wireless users but was later expanded to other carriers. That provides some app-specific exclusive content as well as a compilation of written, photographic and video content from IndyCar.com.

Even in the paddock, a Verizon-sponsored “Lunch with Legends” series – where some of IndyCar’s stars from the past had lunch at tracks with fans to provide some exclusive access – was not retained for 2017. Verizon hosted an event at a 5G-outfitted house in Indianapolis this year, prior to the Indianapolis 500, to showcase some of that network capability and virtual reality (VR) technology.

Provided Verizon does not continue as title sponsor past 2018, it would leave the IndyCar series in almost the same situation as prior title sponsor IZOD was in 2013, with a lame duck year.

The absence of a Verizon contract renewal has lurked beneath the surface all year in a year when INDYCAR (sanctioning body) has announced several long-term extensions with key manufacturer partners Dallara, Firestone, Chevrolet, Honda and many of its race tracks.

The competition side of IndyCar has done rather well and has enough momentum with Jay Frye at the head of its President of Competition and Operations for the last two years.

But it’s imperative for IndyCar’s sake its commercial side does as well too, which will make the 2018 season an interesting one from a “how to progress” and find a partner that can truly activate to lift the series’ profile even bigger than it is now.

The title sponsor evolution and the series’ new TV contract, with the current one set to end after 2018, enter as the early leaders in the clubhouse for biggest off-track stories to follow over the winter and into the start of 2018.

Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

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SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Ocon confirmed for another year at Force India

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Sahara Force India will keep the same driver lineup in 2018, with Esteban Ocon confirming Tuesday he’ll stay alongside Sergio Perez next season.

Although the two drivers have occasionally been at odds this year as Ocon has threatened Perez’s place as team leader, both have been instrumental in keeping Force India a clear fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, at the top of the crowded midfield behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ocon’s had a very strong year, with 56 points scored and having made the points in all but one race (Monaco) this season. His best finish is fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Being confirmed for 2018 means like others, the jockeying for spots in 2019 will be fascinating to watch.