Antron Brown earned his first No. 1 qualifying spot of the season in Saturday's final run before Sunday's eliminations in the NHRA Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas.

Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) qualify No. 1 in Las Vegas

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Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Courtney Force (Funny Car) on Saturday rocketed to the top qualifying spots for Sunday’s NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Meanwhile, Jeg Coughlin, who was the top qualifier on Friday in Pro Stock, held on to his advantage in Saturday’s two additional qualifying rounds and will hold the top position in his category on Sunday.

Final eliminations for the fourth race on the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule begin at 11 a.m. PT on Sunday.

Brown earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season – and 35th of his career – with the quickest run in Top Fuel at 3.768 seconds at 325.14 mph, earned in his final qualifying attempt against points leader Doug Kalitta.

“Doug put that 3.77 on the board right in front of us, so I knew it was time to get to work,” Brown said. “We had just been picking at it, but I saw my boys go into the box and make some adjustments I just said, ‘Uh oh, here we go. This is where it gets good.’

“It’s going to be a fight like this all year. It’s not going to be just the fastest car, but the most efficient car that makes great laps the most often. We’re looking forward to that challenge.”

Brown is seeking his third career win at Las Vegas, including his triumph there last fall. He faces Mike Strasburg in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.

In Funny Car, Courtney Force smashed both ends of the track record in her category, covering the racing surface in 4.006 seconds at 325.37 mph, which was also the fastest speed overall of the day (including Top Fuel).

“When I got out of the car, I didn’t realize the speed was 325 mph,” Force said. “It’s pretty [amazing to see] the 325 mph run was not only the best in Funny Car, but Top Fuel, as well.”

The daughter of 16-time Funny car champ John Force, who qualified No. 2, Courtney Force earned her first top qualifying position of the season and fourth of her young career.

The younger Force will square off with Jon Capps in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin’s Friday run of 6.625 seconds at 208.78 mph held up during Saturday’s two qualifying sessions, earning him the 20th No. 1 starting spot of his career and his first No. 1 of the season.

“I’m really proud to hold onto the No. 1 position,” said Coughlin, who faces Mark Wolfe in Sunday’s first round of eliminations. “I think it really shows quite a bit from our team. We’ve been hustling the last month-and-a-half getting these new cars ready.”

Also of note in Pro Stock, Erica Enders-Stevens won the K&N Horsepower Challenge and its $50,000 first prize, defeating fan-vote winner and her former crew chief Dave Connolly, covering the track at 6.646 seconds and 208.39 mph.

“Part of being a professional athlete is having to put personal things aside for business, and it is a true challenge and something I work hard on,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s about me getting up on the wheel and the guys putting a great race car underneath me to get from Point A to Point B.”

Connolly’s car broke just past the starting line and he was never a factor as Enders-Stevens streaked to the win.

It was the second straight year that Enders-Stevens reached the final round of the Challenge, and by virtue of winning it Saturday, becomes the first woman to ever do so in its history.

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Here are Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 15th annual NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the fourth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel — 1. Antron Brown, 3.768 seconds, 325.14 mph  vs. 16. Mike Strasburg, 4.138, 279.85; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.775, 323.19  vs. 15. Steve Faria, 4.038, 289.63; 3. Steve Torrence, 3.779, 324.28  vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 3.936, 309.98; 4. Spencer Massey, 3.794, 323.81  vs. 13. Clay Millican, 3.874, 295.59; 5. Tony Schumacher, 3.797, 324.28  vs. 12. Troy Buff, 3.858, 305.08; 6. Richie Crampton, 3.798, 320.13  vs. 11. J.R. Todd, 3.841, 310.34; 7. Brittany Force, 3.799, 315.86  vs. 10. Bob Vandergriff, 3.831, 319.52; 8. Shawn Langdon, 3.815, 324.05  vs. 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.824, 313.22.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Steven Chrisman, 4.209, 280.95; 18. Scott Palmer, broke.

Funny Car — 1. Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.006, 325.37  vs. 16. Jon Capps, Chevy Impala, 4.245, 278.23; 2. John Force, Mustang, 4.017, 317.87  vs. 15. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 4.124, 306.81; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.023, 317.87  vs. 14. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.115, 310.13; 4. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.041, 315.71  vs. 13. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.100, 309.77; 5. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.046, 318.17  vs. 12. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.090, 309.84; 6. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.052, 315.34  vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.090, 312.13; 7. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.059, 317.49  vs. 10. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.081, 311.70; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.067, 313.00  vs. 9. Chad Head, Camry, 4.076, 309.20.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Gary Densham, 4.248, 290.88; 18. Jeff Diehl, 4.287, 293.98; 19. Bob Tasca III, 4.411, 307.30.

Pro Stock — 1. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.625, 209.17  vs. 16. Mark Wolfe, Ford Mustang, 6.724, 205.76; 2. Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.625, 208.46  vs. 15. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.699, 206.95; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.627, 209.04  vs. 14. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 6.696, 206.99; 4. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.627, 208.26  vs. 13. Matt Hartford, Dodge Avenger, 6.695, 207.46; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.630, 208.94  vs. 12. Deric Kramer, Avenger, 6.686, 207.59; 6. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.632, 208.94  vs. 11. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.657, 207.56; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.632, 209.17  vs. 10. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.657, 209.07; 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.639, 208.49  vs. 9. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.647, 207.72.

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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Sage Karam

Sage Karam
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Ending in 20th was Sage Karam, who generated a lot of headlines despite missing a handful of races in his first full season in the big leagues.

Sage Karam, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 9th place at Indianapolis 500; several starts in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
  • 2015: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 14.5 Avg. Start, 15.8 Avg. Finish

Few drivers generated as much ink as Karam did during what as an ultimately race-by-race rookie season that saw him active in 12 of 16 races. It was an overall rocky campaign that featured any combination of brilliance, controversy and heartache depending on the weekend.

Karam was on the back foot to begin with anyway with limited preseason testing, following a wrist injury sustained in a crash at Barber Motorsports Park. The fact he was out of a car for Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis owed to financial reasons but also served as a wakeup call that he needed to improve off the back of several ragged races to open the season. The speed was there for the Indianapolis 500 but the result wasn’t, with a first-lap crash and the following debacle of a doubleheader weekend at Detroit a week later ultimately Karam’s nadir.

Luckily for the 20-year-old, he had Dario Franchitti as a tutor, mentor and coach, and a post-Detroit “come to Jesus” meeting might have been the biggest impetus for change. Karam then surged in the second half of the year – primarily on ovals – and worked his way into the headlines courtesy of his driving and take-no-prisoners aggressive approach, particularly with Ed Carpenter at Iowa. In a single sentence, he was worth the price of admission almost on his own while also putting himself in contention for series “black hat” status.

Karam was on track for what would have been a dream weekend at home in Pocono, leading with 20 laps to go, when he lost control and crashed out – the debris from the car ultimately striking Justin Wilson’s helmet. It was a tragic end to the race but it was no fault of Karam’s that what happened, happened.

For as much as the community is rallying around Wilson’s family, it needs to do the same for Karam. At 20, he’s a talented driver with a bright future ahead of him, who continued to mature over the course of the season. You just don’t want Pocono to be the race that affects him psychologically, and prevents him from fully realizing his undoubted potential.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Stefano Coletti

Stefano Coletti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the second-ranked rookie this season, was KV Racing Technology’s Stefano Coletti.

Stefano Coletti, No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

  • 2014: GP2
  • 2015: 19th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 8th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 18.9 Avg. Start, 18.6 Avg. Finish

Coletti struggled in his rookie season, which was a bit surprising after an impressive preseason testing period that helped him secure the second KV Racing Technology car alongside KVSH Racing lead driver Sebastien Bourdais.

The GP2 graduate produced early season excitement where he was a passing star, but that only seemed to deceive for the rest of the year. The only time he started ahead of Bourdais was at Iowa, when Bourdais crashed in qualifying.

Similar to other drivers KV has had in previous years Coletti was often hard on equipment, with a frequent number of either full-on accidents or less damaging spins, although not all were his fault. A trouble-free weekend for him rarely occurred, and eighth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked his only top-10 result of the year.

It was a year that paled in comparison to Sebastian Saavedra’s difficult 2014, which paled in comparison to Simona de Silvestro in 2013, which… well you get the point. The lack of consistency for the team’s second car probably doesn’t help, but Coletti offered few moments of brilliance in a deep field where he needed to stand out.

Given the resources at his disposal, ending 78 points behind rookie-of-the-year Gabby Chaves seemed a fairly substantial margin. If he returns for 2016, he has a big jump to make.