Langdon (TF), Capps (FC), McGaha (PS) and Ray (PSM) remain No. 1 qualifiers for NHRA Four-Wide Nationals finals on Sunday

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Friday’s top qualifiers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway had so much fun that day that their runs held up to pace their respective classes after Saturday’s final two rounds of qualifying.

Shawn Langdon enters Sunday’s final eliminations No. 1 in Top Fuel, while other No. 1’s are Ron Capps (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Langdon’s 3.753-second run at 321.81 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster on Friday held up during Saturday’s final two rounds of qualifying to set the pace in Top Fuel.

“We’ve had a really good car this year in qualifying,” Langdon said. “The Al-Anabi team has done an excellent job qualifying, getting towards the top, and we were able to get a couple of No. 1 qualifiers.

“Today, it was just very critical to make good runs in the lanes just because of having the four-wide, where you make one run in each lane.”

Although it was his 15th career No. 1 qualifying position, the defending 2013 NHRA Top Fuel champion has struggled to reach the finals in the first five races this season. He’s still seeking his first win of 2014.

“It’s just a matter of getting the consistency back in the car, and that’s something we’ve been striving to do,” Langdon said. “Since we’ve been kind of assessing everything from the beginning of the year, our problem has been smoking the tires on Sunday, so getting the consistency back in the car is a big thing for us right now.”

With the unique four-car, side-by-side racing – hence why it’s called the Four-Wide Nationals – Langdon will race Steve Torrence, Spencer Massey and Terry McMillen in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

In Funny Car, Capps’ run of 4.059 seconds at 314.24 mph on Friday held up Saturday, giving Capps the No. 1 spot for Sunday’s finals.

“Today was quite a bit different,” said Capps, who earned his first No. 1 of the season and 16th of his career. “It will be nice conditions for the fans but track-wise a little warm, and that’s great to have a crew chief like Rahn (Tobler).

“I’ve bragged about it before. I have loved and love working with crew chiefs that are old school. You know, they go back and look at the parts and analyze things and look at the big picture. Tobler’s a good guy to have at a Four-Wide with all that’s going on.”

Capps will face Del Worsham, Alexis DeJoria and Chad Head in Sunday’s opening round of eliminations.

In Pro Stock, once again Friday’s best speed and time held up during Saturday’s qualifying. McGaha’s run of 6.523 seconds at 213.10 mph earned him the second No. 1 qualifying position of his career.

“I know there were a lot of doubters who didn’t think that we could have instant success, but I don’t think we’d have done this deal if we didn’t think we’d be where we are now,” said McGaha, who will face Jimmy Alund, V Gaines and Larry Morgan in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Ray earned his second No. 1 qualifying spot in the last three races, having also been No. 1 at Gainesville. His 6.816 seconds run at 197.02 mph on Friday couldn’t be topped by his challengers on Saturday. Ray will face Mike Berry, Chaz Kennedy and Katie Sullivan in the first round.

“We came out this morning with a tune-up that we’d use for eliminations and I had the best sixty-foot time of my career with a 1.045 and that’s really hauling the mail,” said Ray. “The way I look at it if I am on my game there not a bike out there that is going to beat me.”

Interestingly, while they didn’t earn the No. 1 qualifying spots, Brittany Force (Top Fuel, 325.61 mph), Courtney Force (Funny Car, 316.01 mph) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock, 213.13 mph) all had the top speeds in their respective classes.

All three are hoping to reach a historic milestone of 100 wins by female drivers in NHRA history. The mark heading into this weekend was 98 wins, with Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car) and Enders-Stevens the last females to win a national event in their respective classes, having done so two weeks ago at Las Vegas.

Final eliminations for Sunday’s race begin at Noon ET on Sunday.

Here are the first-round pairing for eliminations for the Fifth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway, the fifth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.753 seconds, 324.12 mph  vs. 16. Terry McMillen, 5.591, 120.19 vs. 8. Steve Torrence, 3.818, 322.81  vs. 9. Spencer Massey, 3.827, 321.42; 2. J.R. Todd, 3.781, 325.06  vs. 15. Bob Vandergriff, 4.949, 145.08 vs.7. Doug Kalitta, 3.816, 322.42  vs. 10. Pat Dakin, 3.841, 313.15;; 3. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.793, 324.98  vs. 14. Sidnei Frigo, 4.481, 180.07 vs. 6. Tony Schumacher, 3.815, 321.73  vs. 11. Richie Crampton, 3.855, 305.22; 4. Antron Brown, 3.794, 320.89  vs. 13. Clay Millican, 3.904, 292.58; 5. Brittany Force, 3.800, 325.61  vs. 12. Leah Pritchett, 3.856, 318.77.

Funny Car — 1. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.059, 314.24  vs. 16. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.381, 219.86  vs. 8. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.097, 300.80  vs. 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.113, 308.43; 2. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 311.99  vs. 15. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.206, 286.80  vs. 7. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.088, 310.91  vs. 10. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.119, 303.84; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.079, 310.55  vs. 14. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.145, 306.05  vs. 6. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.086, 316.01  vs. 11. John Force, Mustang, 4.130, 304.39; 4. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.080, 311.70  vs. 13. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.136, 305.98  vs. 5. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.084, 312.06  vs. 12. Blake Alexander, Charger, 4.132, 302.62.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Dale Creasy Jr., 4.439, 259.41.

Pro Stock — 1. Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.523, 213.10  vs. 16. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 7.142, 196.30  vs. 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.550, 212.39  vs. 9. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.560, 212.63; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.524, 213.13  vs. 15. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 7.093, 201.43  vs. 7. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.546, 212.49  vs. 10. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.564, 211.93; 3. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.531, 212.59  vs. 14. Justin Humphreys, Mustang, 6.676, 208.36  vs. 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.542, 212.73  vs. 11. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.577, 211.46; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.534, 212.79  vs. 13. Robert Patrick, Mustang, 6.616, 209.43  vs. 5. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.538, 212.69  vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.577, 211.06.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.816, 197.02  vs. 16. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.961, 190.83  vs. 8. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.873, 193.29  vs. 9. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.874, 195.31; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.825, 196.27  vs. 15. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.956, 194.46  vs. 7. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.873, 195.19  vs. 10. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.875, 194.02; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.842, 197.48  vs. 14. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.954, 193.99  vs. 6. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.856, 198.32  vs. 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.892, 195.59; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.843, 197.91  vs. 13. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.915, 192.82  vs. 5. John Hall, Buell, 6.846, 196.07  vs. 12. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.900, 194.10.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Steve Johnson, 6.998, 191.08; 18. Elvira Karlsson, 7.007, 190.00; 19. Freddie Camarena, 7.030, 193.88; 20. Justin Finley, 7.096, 192.91; 21. Joe DeSantis, 7.164, 186.54; 22. Junior Pippin, 7.331, 186.23.

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Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.