(Photo by Alan Marler for Chevrolet)

Earnhardt finishes third, regains points lead at Martinsville, laments Letarte’s tenure drawing shorter

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With so much emphasis on Kurt Busch winning and Jimmie Johnson finishing second in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was practically a forgotten man.

As it turned out, though, Earnhardt had a strong day.

Not only did he finish third in the race, he regained the points lead in the Sprint Cup Series standings, knocking Carl Edwards off the top spot after just a one-week reign.

Since winning the season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt has now led the series after four of the first six races.

“We ran third today because we got great teammates that understand how to get around here and put good cars on the track, and we lean on that,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been a great experience seeing it happen, and I’m sure that one of us would have loved to have won that race for Rick.”

Earnhardt was like teammates Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, wanting to win Sunday, which would have been the 220th Sprint Cup race win for Hendrick Motorsports, its 22nd at Martinsville and would have successfully marked the 30th anniversary of HMS’s first-ever NASCAR win on April 29, 1984 at Martinsville.

Likewise, Earnhardt continues to chase his first win at Martinsville, still not having reached victory lane in 29 career starts there – or earning Martinsville’s unique prize to race winners of a grandfather’s clock.

“We’ll get more opportunities to win more races and I’m just frustrated I’ve been chasing the clock here for so long,” Earnhardt said. “Hopefully one of these days it’ll work out.”

Like Johnson said after the race, Earnhardt also gave it all he had in the closing laps, but still came up short.

“I was losing my car pretty fast there the last five laps, so I didn’t have anything else to get there,” Earnhardt said. “I got a couple lapped guys gave me the outside instead of the inside. That cost me a little time and maybe some wear and tire on my tires. I thought when we passed the 22 (Joey Logano), we might be able to roll up there and get in the middle of the race for that win, but no, those guys’ cars, they were pretty good.”

Interestingly, crew chief Steve Letarte apologized to Earnhardt in the final 40 laps for constantly reminding him to be patient and take it easy as the race closed in on the finish.

While Earnhardt appreciated Letarte’s concern, it also seemed to hit him yet again that this will be Letarte’s last season as his crew chief. Letarte will leave Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports at the end of this season to become an analyst on NASCAR on NBC telecasts next season.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly what ran through my mind when he said that, when he was saying I’m probably getting on your nerves,” Earnhardt said. “I’m thinking, man, I’m just going to bring it on because I’ll be missing this next year. There’s nobody like him. I don’t expect the next guy to come in there and mimic him or be like him. We’ll work that out and communicate like we need to communicate going forward.

“But yeah, he does a great job of keeping my mind focused on the tasks. There’s several different things you’re doing in the car during a run, and you can easily get yourself carried away and race a guy and forget taking care of your car and taking care of your left-rear tire. It’s easy to get swept up in the competition of things, and (Letarte’s) good at sort of cheerleading you along the way and running the show. He does a good job on top of the box.”

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NHRA at Reading: Brown still unbeaten; Beckman, McGaha, Hines also win

NHRA winners at Reading (from left): Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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One of Top Fuel driver Antron Brown’s nicknames is “A.B.”

Thus far in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship, Brown has picked up another nickname: “U.B.”

As in unbeatable.

Brown roared to his third consecutive win in as many races in the Countdown in Sunday’s finals of the Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.

Brown remains undefeated in the Countdown, and has increased his playoff round record to a perfect 12-0, the best start of any driver in any class in Countdown history.

Brown (3.717 seconds at 328.46 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate and defending Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher to capture his 54th career win (38th in Top Fuel).

Brown now leads Schumacher by 94 points as the NHRA moves on to the second half of the six-race Countdown.

What’s more, the 2012 Top Fuel champ has now won a career-high seven races this season – he has previously won six races in a season four different times – as well as earning his first-ever win at Maple Grove Raceway.

“You don’t go into the Countdown believing you’re going to win the first three races,” Brown said in a news release. “That’s what you hope to do. Charlotte (two races ago) was tough, but this race was also tough because you go into eliminations without any runs down the racetrack (due to rain on both Friday and Saturday).

“When we came out today, it was pretty much the first session of qualifying for us. Getting a good, clean run down the track helped us a lot and the track got about eight times better by the second lap.”

In Funny Car, Jack Beckman returned to Victory Lane for his career-best seventh win of the season and the 22nd of his career.

Beckman (3.910 seconds at 326.79 mph) got the jump at the starting line and that was the difference over runner-up Chad Head (3.903 at 326.16).

In addition to the win, Beckman reset the national elapsed time record for the third time this season while winning Sunday’s semifinal round battle over Ron Capps in 3.897 seconds.

Beckman leaves Reading just 16 points behind Del Worsham, who won the first two races of the Countdown.

“For us, it couldn’t have ended up any better,” Beckman said. “We went from six rounds out to less than one round. We’re not leading, but we’ve got a car that’s clearly able to win races and I think that the (points) lead is within sight again.”

Of note, Worsham, defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan and 16-time champ John Force all lost in the first round – a rarity.

In Pro Stock, Chris McGaha (6.492 seconds at 213.64 mph) earned his third win of the season and also of his career, defeating four-time world champ Greg Anderson.

McGaha won with a new crew chief: Tommy Utt replaced Brian Self, who left the team to join Elite Motorsports earlier in the week.

“This week has been really something,” McGaha said. “Having a crew chief shuffle and what-have-you, it’s a pretty big feat to overcome.

“You leave the house hoping you can win and knowing you can win, but actually doing it is another deal.”

Points leader Erica Enders remains atop the standings with a 72-point edge over Anderson, while McGaha moves into third place with his win.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending series champ and four-time world champ Andrew Hines earned his second win of the Countdown and third of the season.

Hines (6.794 seconds at 197.25 mph) defeated Chip Ellis in Sunday’s final round to earn his 41st career win, tying him with Angelle Sampey for second on the PSM all-time wins list.

“That win light came on for the final and I was over the moon,” Hines said. “I know how fast Chip had been all weekend and all year. Luckily, we were able to dip into the 6.7’s with him and put up a nice, tight final round for the fans.”

Hines remains atop the PSM points, leading teammate Eddie Krawiec by 89 points.

The Countdown resumes in two weeks with the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Oct. 15-18, at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas.



TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Tony Schumacher; 3.  Larry Dixon; 4.  Brittany Force; 5.  Richie Crampton; 6. Dom Lagana; 7.  Shawn Langdon; 8.  J.R. Todd; 9.  Leah Pritchett; 10.  Dave Connolly; 11.  Smax Smith; 12.  Clay Millican; 13.  Doug Kalitta; 14.  Steve Torrence.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Jack Beckman; 2.  Chad Head; 3.  Ron Capps; 4.  John Bojec; 5.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6.  Cruz Pedregon; 7.  Tim Wilkerson; 8.  John Hale; 9.  Tony Pedregon; 10.  Del Worsham; 11.  Paul Lee; 12. Matt Hagan; 13.  Alexis DeJoria; 14.  John Force; 15.  Courtney Force; 16.  Robert Hight.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Chris McGaha; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Bo Butner; 4.  Larry Morgan; 5.  Erica Enders; 6.  V. Gaines; 7.  Jason Line; 8.  Jonathan Gray; 9.  Allen Johnson; 10.  Alan Prusiensky; 11.  John Gaydosh Jr; 12.  Val Smeland; 13.  Shane Gray; 14.  Kenny Delco; 15.  Vincent Nobile; 16.  Drew Skillman.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Chip Ellis; 3.  Eddie Krawiec; 4.  Matt Smith; 5.  Jerry Savoie; 6.  Karen Stoffer; 7.  Hector Arana Jr; 8.  Steve Johnson; 9.  Hector Arana; 10.  Angie Smith; 11.  Brian Pretzel; 12.  Jim Underdahl; 13.  Chaz Kennedy; 14.  Scotty Pollacheck.


TOP FUEL: Antron Brown, 3.717 seconds, 328.46 mph  def. Tony Schumacher, no time.

FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.910, 326.79  def. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 3.903, 326.16.

PRO STOCK: Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.64  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.484, 214.59.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.794, 197.25  def. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.818, 196.39.



ROUND ONE — Larry Dixon, 3.882, 323.58 def. Steve Torrence, 9.538, 83.23; Antron Brown, 3.742, 321.50 def. Clay Millican, 8.482, 79.51; Dom Lagana, 5.150, 218.09 def. Doug Kalitta, 8.584, 112.37; Shawn Langdon, 4.248, 317.19 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.442, 277.94; Brittany Force, 3.707, 328.46 def. Dave Connolly, 4.443, 194.38; Tony Schumacher, 3.741, 320.51 def. J.R. Todd, 3.776, 324.20; Richie Crampton, 4.454, 268.12 def. Smax Smith, 6.426, 102.91;

QUARTERFINALS — Dixon, 3.712, 330.80 def. Langdon, 5.693, 118.41; Brown, 3.734, 323.27 def. Lagana, 3.785, 321.04; Force, 3.846, 253.47 was unopposed; Schumacher, 3.732, 325.85 def. Crampton, 3.771, 289.20;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.714, 325.45 def. Dixon, 3.719, 329.75; Schumacher, 3.730, 328.22 def. Force, 9.913, 71.10;

FINAL — Brown, 3.717, 328.46 def. Schumacher, no time.


ROUND ONE — Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 5.426, 135.50 def. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, DQ; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.941, 324.44 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.799, 208.39; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.985, 319.45 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.601, 213.50; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.125, 321.04 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 5.636, 143.20; John Hale, Charger, 7.417, 89.98 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, DQ; Jack Beckman, Charger, 6.625, 254.90 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 7.468, 122.56; John Bojec, Toyota Solara, 5.095, 230.61 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.891, 273.22; Chad Head, Camry, 5.328, 220.26 def. John Force, Camaro, 7.689, 85.11;

QUARTERFINALS — Bojec, 4.348, 262.95 def. Wilkerson, DQ; Beckman, 3.925, 326.16 def. Johnson Jr., 4.110, 323.50; Capps, 3.969, 324.90 def. C. Pedregon, 7.267, 100.08; Head, 3.964, 321.42 def. Hale, broke;

SEMIFINALS — Head, 3.968, 316.30 def. Bojec, broke; Beckman, 3.897, 326.87 def. Capps, 4.123, 299.66;

FINAL — Beckman, 3.910, 326.79 def. Head, 3.903, 326.16.


ROUND ONE — Larry Morgan, Chevy Camaro, 6.480, 213.84 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 7.102, 142.18; Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.512, 212.73 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.524, 212.86; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.670, 199.46 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 9.493, 98.05; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.477, 213.91 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 10.320, 79.95; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.479, 214.31 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.800, 205.69; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.498, 213.84 def. Val Smeland, Chevy Cobalt, 6.868, 182.23; V. Gaines, Dart, 6.527, 212.23 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 11.143, 79.58; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.478, 213.77 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Avenger, 6.679, 207.40;

QUARTERFINALS — McGaha, 6.951, 160.38 def. J. Gray, foul; Morgan, 6.500, 213.64 def. Gaines, 6.900, 157.10; Butner, 6.503, 212.53 def. Enders, 6.582, 202.42; Anderson, 6.488, 213.98 def. Line, 6.967, 156.48;

SEMIFINALS — McGaha, 6.503, 213.70 def. Butner, 6.484, 213.74; Anderson, 6.475, 214.38 def.

Morgan, 6.502, 214.21;

FINAL — McGaha, 6.492, 213.64 def. Anderson, 6.484, 214.59.


ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.875, 194.24 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.954, 179.21; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.924, 194.74 def. Angie Smith, 6.984, 187.81; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.787, 195.59 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.854, 194.77; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.821, 192.77 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 9.068, 94.57; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.822, 196.90 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 16.865, 38.00; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.827, 194.66 def. Brian Pretzel, Buell, 7.215, 184.32; Matt Smith, 6.836, 193.82 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.940, 120.42;

QUARTERFINALS — M. Smith, 6.858, 192.88 def. Savoie, 6.889, 195.11; Krawiec, 6.808, 195.34 was unopposed; Ellis, 7.932, 129.12 def. Arana Jr, foul; Hines, 6.809, 195.70 def. Stoffer, 7.047, 163.73;

SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.830, 194.91 def. M. Smith, foul; Ellis, 6.775, 196.47 def. Krawiec, foul;

FINAL — Hines, 6.794, 197.25 def. Ellis, 6.818, 196.39.


TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,432; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 2,338; 3.  Brittany Force, 2,238; 4.  Larry Dixon, 2,234; 5.  Richie Crampton, 2,187; 6.  J.R. Todd, 2,181; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 2,177; 8.  Doug Kalitta, 2,173; 9.  Steve Torrence, 2,160; 10.  Dave Connolly, 2,158.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Del Worsham, 2,361; 2.  Jack Beckman, 2,345; 3.  Matt Hagan, 2,271; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,263; 5.  Ron Capps, 2,256; 6.  John Force, 2,211; 7.  Cruz Pedregon, 2,169; 8.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,162; 9.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,154; 10.  Robert Hight, 2,140.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders, 2,385; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,313; 3.  Chris McGaha, 2,281; 4.  Larry Morgan, 2,240; 5.  Allen Johnson, 2,227; 6.  Drew Skillman, 2,212; 7.  Vincent Nobile, 2,187; 8.  Jason Line, 2,179; 9.  Shane Gray, 2,149; 10.  Jonathan Gray, 2,119.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,378; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,289; 3.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,277; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 2,259; 5.  Matt Smith, 2,244; 6.  Chip Ellis, 2,223; 7.  Karen Stoffer, 2,199; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,167; 9.  Jim Underdahl, 2,126; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck, 2,076.

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Lorenzo looking to Honda, Ducati for help in MotoGP title race

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Jorge Lorenzo of Spain and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP celebrates the victory on the podium at the end of the MotoGP race during the MotoGP of Spain - Race at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 27, 2015 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Jorge Lorenzo hopes that he can get some help from the Honda and Ducati riders in his championship battle with Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi in the final four races of the 2015 MotoGP season.

Lorenzo currently trails Rossi by 14 points at the top of the riders’ championship, and with just four races to go, barring an unlikely run of results, the title will go to a Yamaha rider for the first time since 2012.

The formbook offers little in the way of clues for the Lorenzo/Rossi battle, for although Lorenzo has won more races, Rossi has been more consistent, finishing off the podium just once this season.

Lorenzo had hoped to reel Rossi in last time out at Motorland Aragon, but the Italian rider managed to finish third, minimizing the damage of his teammate’s victory.

Nevertheless, Lorenzo was pleased to bounce back after two disappointing races at Silverstone and Misano, having lost ground on Rossi in the title race.

“I am very happy with this victory because it came after two races that were a bit disappointing and I expected to take more points, but due to a few factors and especially the weather, I failed to achieve the desired result,” Lorenzo said. “The victory in Motorland [Aragon] was crucial.”

Rossi was beaten to second place by Honda’s Dani Pedrosa after a titanic battle in the closing stages of the last race, and Lorenzo hopes that the Spaniard, among others, could aid his cause inadvertently again in the remaining four races.

“[Pedrosa] was very strong and it was useful to recover the points lost earlier and it has given me more chances to recover with four races left until the end,” Lorenzo said.

“But [Marc] Marquez or maybe the two Ducati riders could also stand in front of Valentino and take away some points. It is a real possibility, but very dangerous for us both.”

The next round of the MotoGP season takes place at Motegi, Japan next weekend.