Austin Dillon on pole for NASCAR Sprint Showdown later Friday night

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Austin Dillon has the longest gap to celebrate between his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole and the race, at the Daytona 500, with a full week in-between qualifying and the green flag.

He’ll have the shortest gap to celebrate his second pole, albeit one in a non-points race, for tonight’s Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“The Dow Chevy was pretty hard to drive in practice but we changed a lot as best we could,” Dillon told FOX Sports. “We used our teammates, too. I came to the green pretty hard, we were free, but I rode it out. Hopefully we can get in this All-Star Race. It was a huge improvement from practice.”

Dillon posted a late flier of more than 194 mph around CMS to put the No. 3 car on the pole.

AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose round out the top five.

The top two from tonight’s Showdown and a fan vote winner will advance into Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race.

Here’s the starting grid, with the race set to go green at 7:15 p.m. ET. There are two segments of 20 laps apiece for the race.

Row 1
3-Austin Dillon, 27.747, 194.616 mph
47-AJ Allmendinger, 27.821, 194.098 mph

Row 2
42-Kyle Larson, 27.833, 194.014 mph
15-Clint Bowyer, 27.860, 193.826 mph

Row 3
9-Marcos Ambrose, 27.889, 193.625 mph
27-Paul Menard, 27.961, 193.126 mph

Row 4
10-Danica Patrick, 28.009, 192.795 mph
17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 28.034, 192.623 mph

Row 5
13-Casey Mears, 28.064, 192.417 mph
43-Aric Almirola, 28.283, 190.927 mph

Row 6
26-Cole Whitt, 28.318, 190.691 mph
44-JJ Yeley, 28.369, 190.349 mph

Row 7
23-Alex Bowman, 28.558, 189.089 mph
77-Dave Blaney, 28.579, 188.950 mph

Row 8
38-David Gilliland, 28.665, 188.383 mph
98-Josh Wise, 28.714, 188.062 mph

Row 9
7-Michael Annett, 28.831, 187.298 mph
40-Landon Cassill, 28.914, 186.761 mph

Row 10
83-Ryan Truex, 28.940, 186.593 mph
36-Reed Sorenson, 29.091, 185.624 mph

Row 11
66-Joe Nemechek, 29.153, 185.230 mph
32-Blake Koch, 29.399, 183.630 mph

Row 12
33-David Stremme, 30.383, 177.731 mph

NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”