Enders-Stevens (PS), Hight (FC) and Brown (TF) capture wins in NHRA SpringNationals near Houston

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The next time a female drag racer wins an NHRA national event will be one of the most historic milestones in the sport’s more than half-century of competition.

Erica Enders-Stevens earned the 99th national event win by a female driver in NHRA history, capturing the Pro Stock division of Sunday’s finals in the O’Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

In other pro classes, Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) each won their third respective races of 2014.

Having a quicker reaction time at the start of the race, Enders-Stevens (6.594 seconds at 210.60 mph) powered to her second national event of the season, defeating 2012 NHRA Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson (6.588 seconds at 201.28 mph).

“My team’s been really awesome,” said Enders-Stevens, driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. “I’ve had a really consistent race car. That’s what it takes Sundays, consistency. We had to make a last-second transmission change and go through the gears to make sure everything was right.”

With her eighth-career win and first-ever at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston, Enders-Stevens retained her points lead in Pro Stock, the only female to lead the points in the history of that class.

She realizes there’s a lot for her to live up to, both as a female racer and the points leader.

“The ball’s in our court,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ve got to carry the momentum. That’s important in this game, and I know I keep saying that, but it’s huge, and we’re going to keep carrying it as long as we can.

“Pro Stock really goes in cycles, so I’m really hoping this is our cycle, and we’re going to keep fighting for it.”

The loss was Johnson’s first in three final round appearances this season, having previously won at Phoenix and Gainesville (Fla.). He came into Sunday’s eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock for the event, and is now second to Enders-Stevens in the standings.

Hight, president of John Force Racing, made it 13 straight final round appearances in Funny Car for a JFR driver (the team includes Hight, team patriarch John Force and Force’s daughter, Courtney), including this season’s first six races and dating back to the last seven races of 2013.

In his fifth straight Funny Car final round, Hight defeated Jack Beckman, who made his first final round of 2014. Hight ran 4.055 seconds at 314.90 mph, to 4.176 seconds at 308.43 mph for Beckman, the 2012 NHRA Funny Car world champ.

Hight earned his 32nd career national event win. Royal Purple Raceway is special because it was where Hight won his first national event.

It was a big rally for Hight, who failed to make even one complete pass (in two attempts) in Friday’s first round of qualifying.

“It was like we didn’t show up on Friday,” Hight said. “It was horrible. We just totally missed it, but I never lost faith in my team. They showed confidence that we were going to get them tomorrow.

“On Saturday, we went out there and ran 4.07, 4.08, and then we went 4.07, 4.07 and 4.07 before the final. Do you know how hard it is to do that in one of these cars? There are so many variables. It’s hard to make that many consistent runs in a row.”

Hight remains the Funny Car points leader, 122 points ahead of teammate, boss and father-in-law John Force.

In Top Fuel, Brown won his 44th career national event and second race in a row this season with a run of 3.793 seconds at 317.72 mph over Al-Anabi Racing driver Khalid alBalooshi.

Brown won two weeks ago at Charlotte, beating alBalooshi’s teammate, defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon.

“We have a lot of respect for the Al-Anabi guys,” said Brown, who moved to the top of the Top Fuel standings, leading Doug Kalitta by 37 points. “You have to beat them to contend for the championship because it goes through them.

“We get up for that challenge whenever we race them. Any time we beat them, it’s like hitting the jackpot. There are a lot of good teams out here, and we don’t take anybody lightly.”

Brown has been the most consistent driver in Top Fuel since the latter part of last season. He has reached seven of the last 10 finals, winning five of them.

Of special note Sunday, former three-time Top Fuel world champ Larry Dixon made his first start in nearly a year and finished 16th, while former four-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson, who missed the first five races recovering from heart surgery, finished 14th.

The next NHRA national event is May 16-18 at the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga.

 

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Here’s a complete statistical package of Sunday’s final eliminations in the 27th annual O’Reilly NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas:

 

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Khalid alBalooshi; 3.  Shawn Langdon; 4.  Steve Torrence; 5.  Doug Kalitta; 6.  Spencer Massey; 7.  Leah Pritchett; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Bob Vandergriff; 10.  Richie Crampton; 11.  Tony Schumacher; 12.  Terry McMillen; 13.  Clay Millican; 14.  Troy Buff; 15.  J.R. Todd; 16.  Larry Dixon.

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

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

 

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Antron Brown, 3.793 seconds, 317.72 mph  def. Khalid alBalooshi, 4.433 seconds, 184.67 mph.

Funny Car — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.055, 314.90  def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.176, 308.43.

Pro Stock — Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.594, 210.60  def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.588, 210.28.

Top Alcohol Dragster — Randy Meyer, 6.478, 259.26  def. Mark Taliaferro, 19.835, 34.27.

Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Monte Carlo, 6.311, 254.23  def. Annie Whiteley, Ford Mustang, 11.004, 76.93.

Pro Modified — Mike Janis, Chevy Camaro, 5.927, 244.56  def. Mike Castellana, Camaro, foul.

Competition Eliminator — Clark Smiley, Pontiac GXP, 7.326, 181.57  def. Alan Ellis, ’23-T Ford, 9.806, 101.53.

Super Stock — Dale Hulquist, Pontiac Grand Am, 10.419, 128.62  def. Larry Stewart, Dodge Challenger, 9.872, 125.25.

Stock Eliminator — Jacob Pitt, Plymouth Barracuda, 10.598, 122.03  def. Brett Candies, Ford Mustang, 9.059, 147.44.

Super Comp — Austin Williams, Dragster, 8.928, 167.72  def. Brandon Mouton, Dragster, 8.913, 166.99.

Super Gas — Steven Collier, Chevy Vega, 9.917, 158.87  def. Rustin Mayse, Chevy Corvette, 9.928, 150.38.

Top Dragster — Allen Constantine, Dragster, 6.308, 226.01  def. Wade Pennington, Dragster, 6.202, 208.04.

Top Fuel Harley — Tommy Grimes, Harley, 6.247, 232.91  def. Jay Turner, Harley, 6.349, 230.69.

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.787, 327.82 def. Richie Crampton, 3.813, 323.74; Doug Kalitta, 3.779, 326.48 def. Bob Vandergriff, 3.810, 321.88; Khalid alBalooshi, 3.802, 321.19 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.838, 313.80; Steve Torrence, 3.776, 328.86 def. Terry McMillen, 3.866, 321.81; Antron Brown, 3.843, 318.47 def. Clay Millican, 3.899, 305.91; Shawn Langdon, 7.140, 93.10 def. Troy Buff, foul; Leah Pritchett, 3.813, 313.22 def. J.R. Todd, 5.867, 116.08; Spencer Massey, 3.990, 270.81 def. Larry Dixon, 12.967, 36.10;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.778, 322.11 def. Massey, 3.839, 318.32; alBalooshi, 3.950, 312.50 def. Pritchett, 4.010, 288.64; Langdon, 3.804, 325.14 def. Kalitta, 3.799, 324.28; Torrence, 5.363, 154.46 def. Force, 11.827, 46.49;

SEMIFINALS — alBalooshi, 3.846, 315.42 def. Torrence, 9.959, 81.18; Brown, 3.801, 321.58 def. Langdon, 3.863, 320.66;

FINAL — Brown, 3.793, 317.72 def. alBalooshi, 4.433, 184.67.

 

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 313.29 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 12.008, 63.19; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.114, 310.20 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.263, 292.65; Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.106, 308.07 def. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.113, 299.80; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.143, 300.60 def. Terry Haddock, Chevy Impala, 5.140, 151.12; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.114, 310.27 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.148, 276.29; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.073, 311.41 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.132, 305.01; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 6.234, 123.66 def. John Force, Mustang, foul; Chad Head, Camry, 4.110, 293.41 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.099, 150.18;

QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 4.116, 308.43 def. C. Pedregon, 5.382, 140.39; Capps, 4.177, 294.75 def. Johnson Jr., 4.920, 167.30; Hight, 4.076, 313.07 def. DeJoria, 5.221, 155.54; Worsham, 4.368, 242.54 def. Head, 6.968, 91.61;

SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 4.485, 288.39 def. Capps, 9.490, 75.57; Hight, 4.071, 309.20 def. Worsham, 4.201, 287.29;

FINAL — Hight, 4.055, 314.90 def. Beckman, 4.176, 308.43.

 

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Jonathan Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.645, 209.82 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.642, 211.06; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.626, 209.69 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.611, 210.60; Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.609, 210.08 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.670, 209.36; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.618, 209.82 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, foul; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.627, 209.85 def. Steve Kent, Camaro, foul; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.614, 210.08 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.640, 208.88; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.581, 211.06 def. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.692, 206.92; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.578, 211.26 def. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.695, 207.78;

QUARTERFINALS — Nobile, 6.722, 209.20 def. S. Gray, 15.159, 55.97; Coughlin, 6.598, 210.24 def. Connolly, 6.659, 209.04; Johnson, 6.587, 211.13 def. J. Gray, 6.649, 209.20; Enders-Stevens, 6.577, 211.26 def. Line, 6.639, 209.75;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.585, 210.47 def. Nobile, 6.639, 210.01; Enders-Stevens, 6.584, 211.26 def. Coughlin, foul;

FINAL — Enders-Stevens, 6.594, 210.60 def. Johnson, 6.588, 210.28.

 

POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 580; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 543; 3.  Steve Torrence, 428; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 408; 5.  Khalid alBalooshi, 381; 6.  Tony Schumacher, 353; 7.  Spencer Massey, 342; 8.  Brittany Force, 300; 9.  Richie Crampton, 224; 10.  J.R. Todd, 220.

Funny Car: 1.  Robert Hight, 609; 2.  John Force, 487; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 431; 4.  Del Worsham, 361; 5.  Ron Capps, 356; 6.  Jack Beckman, 336; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 323; 8.  Matt Hagan, 289; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 277; 10.  Courtney Force, 275.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 554; 2.  Allen Johnson, 477; 3.  Jason Line, 437; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 414; 5.  Shane Gray, 390; 6.  Dave Connolly, 366; 7.  Jeg Coughlin, 344; 8.  V. Gaines, 340; 9.  Chris McGaha, 290; 10.  Jimmy Alund, 282.

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Chaves, Harding continue to shine at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – In two previous starts in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been shining stars, finishing ninth at the Indianapolis 500 and fifth at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, avoiding several crashes and incidents in both races to do so, and advancing from 25th and 20th on the grid, respectively.

Returning to the series for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the combination continues its remarkably strong form, qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, third fastest of the Chevrolet runners.

And with the goal of turning the team into a full-time effort next year, Chaves and the team appear to be picking up right where they left off.

“We’re just here to improve our team, get it ready for next year,” Chaves told NBC Sports. “We’d like to go home with a great result of course, that’s always the aim. But I think the work we did throughout the practice improved the car enough to wear I was pretty comfortable at the end.”

Of course, even though the team is still very new to the world of racing (their first race was this year’s Indianapolis 500), it doesn’t stop Chaves from having lofty expectations.

“You always want to shoot for the win,” he asserted when asked about expectations for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. “Obviously it’s never easy – with the limited time we have on track, it just makes it even harder on top of it. We’re always trying to keep our expectations high and do the best job we can to accomplish them.”

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been very impressive out of the box. Photo: IndyCar

And perhaps Chaves is right to have big expectations given the team’s first two races. Ninth at Indianapolis and fifth at Texas are genuinely impressive results for the brand new team. And on the surface, they are a surprise, given the organization itself hadn’t run any races at any level prior to this year. But, Chaves explained that the people involved in the team are more than familiar with the sport and know how to build a successful operation.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people involved,” Chaves said of their early success. “Our team owner, Mike Harding, is very dedicated to making sure that we have the means to go out and hire the best people we can. It’s hard to do when the full-time teams have already got most of those guys, but there’s a few guys left out there who are very quality guys. Then that comes down to our team manager, Larry Curry, who has been able to track down these guys and give them a good offer to come on board with us. We’re just going to get better from here.”

Specifically, team manager Curry has been instrumental in recruiting talent and helping the team get ahead of the game, as Chaves explained.

“When it came down to our Indy deal, we started getting our car ready, and a little bit through his connections, we were able to get our mockup engine a little sooner, our body fit sooner – enough that we had the time to go out and test and do a shakedown run at Texas before Indy. It’s that type of experience and knowledge that Larry brings to the team that helps us out.”

NBCSN’s Robin Miller reported earlier this weekend in a piece for RACER.com that the team is ready for a full season in 2018, with Harding also telling the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query that “100 percent number” Miller cited is closer to 95 percent.

Chaves stopped short of going that far, but feels confident that a full-season effort will come together.

“Obviously, our plans are still to go out and run the full season. I’d say every day we get closer and closer to that. I’d say it’s looking really good. I know (Robin Miller’s report) mentions 100% – I think we’re close to that. But, it’s not done until it’s done. So I’ll just keep focused on my job here this weekend.”

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Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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Pagenaud ‘quite satisfied,’ if still agitated, with P2 on Pocono grid

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The close-but-no-cigar, always slightly overshadowed nature of defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s 2017 season came to the fore again in Saturday’s qualifying session for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Pagenaud was on the verge of securing his second pole this season, and first on an oval since Iowa Speedway in July 2016, after knocking Charlie Kimball off the top spot.

But the driver of the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet got eclipsed by Takuma Sato, the final qualifier, right at the end to lose the pole and perhaps more critically, an additional point that went with it.

“(There’s) the word going through my mind and I’m not going to say it,” Pagenaud laughed in the post-qualifying press conference.

“Disappointing, of course. You can taste the win, and that’s what we’re all about. We’re racers. We want to win. I’m here to win, to be first, not to be second.

“In the meantime it’s a really good starting position. At the time it’s like gambling. You’re in the game and you feel like you could win, so it’s very exciting. That’s the roller coaster of racing in your life as a racer. It’s up and down, up and down your whole career. These moments are why I race. It’s happiness, satisfaction of doing the job.”

Pagenaud’s job satisfaction this year has come with his unrivaled consistency, if not outright pace, in defense of his 2016 title.

He leads the field with 10 top-five finishes in 13 races – no one else has more than seven – and he is the only driver to have completed all 1,738 laps of competition so far this year.

That underscores his consistency but it also reflects how much better his 2016 title-winning season was. He won five races last year to one so far this year (Phoenix), had eight poles (seven outright, one where he moved up a spot) last year to one this year, and has led only 133 laps this year – 116 of them at Phoenix.

That leads nicely into the point that Pocono is a key race for Pagenaud if he is to defend his title. He enters tomorrow’s race fourth in points but only 17 behind championship leader Josef Newgarden, his new teammate at Team Penske who’ll look to go one better in terms of winning a title for Roger Penske in his first season rather than in his second, as Pagenaud did last year.

Pagenaud’s title aspirations nearly came unglued at this race last year following his only DNF of the year. He crashed in Turn 1 and finished 18th while Will Power won and cut the gap from 58 points leaving Mid-Ohio to 20 leaving Pocono.

Now Pagenaud is even fewer points back but with more drivers to climb over, as IndyCar heads towards a grandstand finish to this year’s title between himself, Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon – and potentially Sato, Power and Graham Rahal if they can deliver a big points haul in Pocono.

“The championship is a lot more exciting for you guys this year,” he said. “I think it’s the beauty of IndyCar. We go on superspeedway, short oval next week, then completely different in two weeks, then Sonoma, which is a beautiful venue to finish the season.

“You know, that’s the beauty of this racing series, which I really love, because you have to show skills in every condition, every different aspect of track. So I’m very excited about it.

“If you can show strength in the last four, you deserve the championship, for sure.”

Pagenaud expects speeds to be slower in tonight’s final practice, a better preparation for Sunday’s race, as he estimated the rash of accidents today was owing to more drivers and teams chasing the temperatures for pole.

“This evening’s session is good so you can check your car in traffic, see how it behaves in the wake. But I think, you know, you’re still going to have to think about the race and the conditions being different, what to do on the race car to compensate for it,” he said.

“Tomorrow, we’re not going to be as fast as this because this is trim-out conditions, trying to go as fast as possible over two laps. Those are not the setups. The tires don’t last in those conditions.

“For the race, completely different story. You know, it’s a 500-mile race. There’s a lot of riding around, trying to balance your car for the end of the race. Trying to find the right level of downforce during the race is key as well. So you make a lot of adjustments, pit stops, get ready for the shootout, the last 60 laps really.

“For us, that’s going to be the plan. First goals were to be in the top five in qualifying. We were there. That’s checked. Now we need to run around in the front all day and be there to strike at the end.

“There’s also the fact that we’re playing for a championship here, so we have to be smart at the end.”

Pagenaud’s canny ability has kept him in the title fight as he looks to keep the No. 1 on his car for another season, which makes the frustration of losing a point today only slightly bittersweet as he looks at the bigger picture.

“Ben (Bretzman), my engineer, just nailed the gearing, the balance on the car. That was the best we could do,” he said.

“I’m quite satisfied. Front row start is really good, our best start here in Pocono. A 500-mile race, so a lot can happen.

“Today was pretty much ego day trying to get that pole position. For us it would have been nice to get another point. But overall I think we did our best and we’ll go to bed pretty satisfied with today.”

Hunter-Reay taken to local hospital after Pocono qualifying crash

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LONG POND, Pa. – Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay has been taken to a local hospital following a heavy crash in qualifying.

Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda broke loose exiting Turn 3, and though he tried to correct it, the back end swapped around and the car made hard contact with the wall on the left side. It then traveled back across the track and impacted the inside wall, again with the left side of car.

Although Hunter-Reay was seen moving in the cockpit, he immediately began complaining of pain in his hip and needed help from the Holmatro Safety Team to get out of the car. They helped him get into the ambulance, as Hunter-Reay was walking with a significant limp.

More to follow.

 

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