Indy500Blog2

Live Blog for the 98th Indianapolis 500

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3:08 p.m. ET: This will be the end of things here on the Live Blog. We’ll have more on the finish of the 98th Indianapolis 500 coming up shortly on MotorSportsTalk, and plenty of post-race stories to follow…

3:01 p.m. ET: A furious finish is in store at the 98th Indianapolis 500 after Townsend Bell crashed in Turn 2 just after INDYCAR threw a yellow for debris in the vicinity.

That yellow then switched to a red flag due to the size of the debris field, and the race has been stopped with nine laps remaining. The decision was met with cheers from the crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ryan Hunter-Reay took the lead from Helio Castroneves with 15 laps to go and remains up front. Castroneves, who is seeking his fourth ‘500’ win, is in second, followed by Marco Andretti in third, Carlos Munoz in fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya in fifth.

As for NASCAR star Kurt Busch, a strong second-half run has put him in sixth place as he hopes to head off to tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte with a great result.

2:46 p.m. ET: Scott Dixon has slammed hard into the outside wall in Turn 4 while running near the Top 5, ending his bid for a second Indy 500 title.

After making his first impact on the outside wall, Dixon slid into the inside wall on the front-stretch, as cars behind him dodged his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and the debris flying from it. While that incident played out, Martin Plowman ran into the back of Josef Newgarden as they headed for the site of Dixon’s accident.

The leaders pitted for what should be the final time under the caution, and it was Ryan Hunter-Reay that won the race off of pit road. Ed Carpenter was second off, while NBC Sports’ IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell was third off in his KV Racing Technology machine.

The trio restarted in that order at Lap 175, but James Hinchcliffe went to the inside of Carpenter going into Turn 1 as Bell went to their outside. Hinchcliffe and Carpenter wound up making contact and both went into the Turn 2 wall.

Under the yellow, Hunter-Reay leads Bell, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, and Takuma Sato.

2:24 p.m. ET: With 51 laps to go, the 98th Indianapolis 500 finally saw its first caution flag of the afternoon as Charlie Kimball got loose and spun on his own coming off of Turn 2. That came one lap after he was able to make a major save while battling with Takuma Sato.

With 48 laps remaining, Marco Andretti led Ryan Hunter-Reay and the rest of the leaders to the pits for a crucial round of stops. But the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion was able to win the race off pit road over Andretti.

Hunter-Reay and the leaders settled in behind pole sitter Ed Carpenter, who stayed out after pitting a few laps before the Kimball caution on Lap 145.

The Indiana native brought the field back to the green flag at Lap 157, but Hunter-Reay charged by him going into Turn 1. Carpenter re-claimed P1 at the same corner on the next lap, only to have Hunter-Reay shoot past him again at Lap 159.

With 40 to go, your Top 5 is Hunter-Reay, Carpenter, Andretti, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves. But a final stop is still on the way…

2:02 p.m. ET: Juan Pablo Montoya appeared set to win the fuel mileage game today at the Indianapolis 500, but the Colombian drew a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road following his stop at Lap 132.

Before the most recent cycle of green-flag stops, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves both spent time at the front; Castroneves took the lead from Hunter-Reay on the inside of Turn 1 at Lap 107, but nine laps later, the American returned the favor going into Turn 3.

As those two drivers swapped the point, contender Ed Carpenter had to make an unscheduled stop at Lap 116 due to blistering on his right-rear tire.

On Lap 123, Castroneves pitted from second place under green but had a slow stop and lost precious seconds. Hunter-Reay followed him in soon after and came up with a clean stop, but as the cycle played out, Montoya once again was able to stretch his fuel a few laps longer.

But then came his penalty from his Lap 132 stop, which was called five laps after his Penske teammate, Will Power, was also hit with his own speeding penalty.

At cycle’s end, it’s Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Castroneves, Carpenter, and Scott Dixon running as your Top 5. Montoya has now fallen out of the Top 10.

1:35 p.m. ET: Just more than an hour and 10 minutes into the race, the 98th Indianapolis 500 is halfway home, and caution-free.

At crossed flags, Ryan Hunter-Reay leads Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter and Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya ran until Lap 99 before pitting the third time; he has consistently run 3-4 laps longer in each fuel sequence.

Scott Dixon is sixth with Will Power seventh, Simon Pagenaud eighth, JR Hildebrand ninth and Carlos Munoz 10th. Rookie Sage Karam, who started 31st, made it as high as eighth but is consistently pitting 4-6 laps earlier on each sequence.

That leaves Montoya, Karam and Pagenaud as the three on slightly altered fuel strategies heading into the second half of this race, which is so far averaging well over 212 mph.

1:15 p.m. ET: Another round of green flag pit stops are in the books, the second of the race. Juan Pablo Montoya ran four laps longer than the rest of the field on that stint and pitted from the lead on Lap 66; Marco Andretti, who had charged to the front, was the leader just before that.

At Lap 70, the top 10 was Castroneves, Andretti, Carpenter, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Power, Pagenaud, Montoya, Hinchcliffe and Karam.

Graham Rahal is out of the car and Tony Kanaan’s chances for a repeat win have been dampened by a 40-plus second pit stop for a rear wing adjustment. TK fell back to P31. Pippa Mann also spent extended time in the pits and lost eight laps.

1:00 p.m. ET: We’re past the one-quarter distance mark, with 50 laps in the books. Will Power took the lead from Carpenter on Lap 37 and has led through the Lap 50 mark, with Carpenter second and his Indianapolis teammate JR Hildebrand now third. Marco Andretti is fourth with Helio Castroneves fifth, Scott Dixon sixth and James Hinchcliffe seventh. Carlos Munoz, Tony Kanaan and NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell completed the top 10.

Castroneves got warned for blocking from Race Control after a chop on Andretti down the front straight; the pair were battling for fifth.

Elsewhere rookie Sage Karam made a ridiculously stout move to the outside of fellow first-timer Mikhail Aleshin for P18, and Rahal parked in the pits with apparent engine issues, and reported a loss of drive.

12:50 p.m. ET: More than 30 laps are in the books and Carpenter, who led until Lap 28, needed to pit first as he burned the most fuel while leading. Hinchcliffe followed a lap later on Lap 29 and a bevy of stops followed from there.

On the reset, lap 33 after the first round of green flag pit stops, Hinchcliffe now leads from Carpenter, Power, Castroneves and Hildebrand.

NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell charged to as high as P12 after starting 25th; his setup is identical to KVRT’s winning one for Tony Kanaan in 2013. Meanwhile Kurt Busch runs 20th. Rookie Sage Karam was the first driver to pit, stopping on Lap 27.

Graham Rahal fell to 32nd as his No. 15 National Guard Honda was reported struggling with the rear.

12:33 p.m. ET: We’re 10 laps in. Ed Carpenter has just taken the lead from James Hinchcliffe to mark the first official lead change of the race.

Power’s third with Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, JR Hildebrand, Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Carlos Munoz and Josef Newgarden the top 10.

Biggest mover has been Ryan Hunter-Reay from P19 to P11; Townsend Bell has gained seven spots from P25 to P17, and Sage Karam (P26) and Sebastian Saavedra (P27) each gained five spots. Rookie Jack Hawksworth lost six spots to drop to P19 and Kurt Busch is currently 15th.

12:25 p.m. ET: Jim Nabors has sung “Back Home Again in Indiana” for the final time, and we are green for the 98th running. James Hinchcliffe has led the opening lap for the second time in three years, having also done so in 2012.

Second through fifth: Ed Carpenter, Will Power, Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves.

Slight contact for Ryan Briscoe has necessitated a pit stop for a new front wing. Briscoe, who started 30th, bounced off the wall at the exit of Turn 2 and made slight right front wing damage.

11:56 a.m. ET: Kurt Busch will begin his quest today to run all 1,100 miles of the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in just a few minutes. The former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will roll off 12th in his Andretti Autosport Honda for the ‘500,’ and he’s looking forward to tackling multiple challenges.

“[It’s about] just settling in and getting into that race mode, and race mode to me means protecting your car and putting yourself in position to make passes – but not questionable positions,” he told ESPN.

“And there’s pit road – pit road here is one of the toughest in a stock car and very tough in an IndyCar…The guy that makes the least amount of mistakes usually is up close to the front in this race. Sometimes, it’s not the fastest car.”

Kurt Busch and family waiting on the Indianapolis 500 grid. #indycar

A photo posted by Nate Ryan (@nateryan73) on

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11:30 a.m. ET: Welcome to MotorSportsTalk’s live blog for the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500. My colleague Chris Estrada and I will be rolling with updates as the race progresses.

Thus far we’ve had the usual parade of bands, vintage cars and celebrities. The pre-race atmosphere is intense and incredible as always, as fans head to their seats and the grid is announced.

Chime confirms Zak Brown to step down as CEO at year’s end

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Brown (right) with United Autosports team. Photo: United Autosports
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This is big in the business of racing department, with news Zak Brown will step down as Group CEO of CSM Sport & Entertainment at year’s end.

CSM acquired Brown’s Just Marketing International, or JMI, in 2013 as part of its expanding portfolio. Brown’s JMI company has long been a company that’s brought a number of high-profile companies into motorsports as sponsors, often in F1 and/or NASCAR.

Brown’s United Autosports team has also had success on the track, and just yesterday won the LMP3 title in the European Le Mans Series with a Ligier JS P3 Nissan. Team co-owner and managing director Richard Dean is also exploring a potential American expansion for the team in 2017 as LMP3 comes Stateside in IMSA’s renamed Prototype Challenge series, the former Mazda Prototype Lites.

Given the fluid development in terms of F1’s ownership structure with Liberty Media set to buy into the sport, Brown’s personal future is always a talking point because he’s been mentioned in the past as a potential successor to F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Anyway, watch this space following this news.

Here’s the formal release from Chime:

It has been announced today that Zak Brown intends to step down as Group CEO, CSM Sport & Entertainment, at the end of the year. Chris Satterthwaite, CEO of Chime Communications, will join the CSM leadership team through to the end of the year.

During his term as CEO, Zak oversaw greater integration of the CSM group of agencies, positioning the business to take advantage of its international footprint and market-leading expertise.

Zak founded JMI, the world’s largest motorsport marketing agency, in 1995, which was acquired by CSM, the sport and entertainment division of Chime Communications, in 2013.

Zak commented: “I feel privileged to have been part of an extraordinary team during my tenure. I’m satisfied that we have achieved what I set out to do, from the successful integration of JMI into CSM through to preparing a strong business for a successful future.” He continued: “I would like to thank both Chris Satterthwaite and CSM Chairman Lord Coe for their invaluable support and commitment, without which these accomplishments and many more would not have been possible. I will take this experience forward to my next chapter in the arena I know best, motorsport.”

Chris Satterthwaite, CEO, Chime Communications commented: “I would like to thank Zak for his formidable focus, inspired and passionate leadership of CSM which has been instrumental in galvanising and preparing the business for the future. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Zak has agreed to continue his involvement with CSM as Chairman of the Global Advisory Board and Non-Executive Chairman of its motorsport arm, JMI.

Typically busy year for Mazda racing rolls into final stretch of 2016

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Doonan and Jonathan Bomarito. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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There’s been a lot of good points of pride for Mazda in its 2016 season across its usual wide range and spectrum of motorsports.

The last month or so has featured that spectrum in motion, whether in open-wheel, in sports cars, with the new Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational at its “spiritual home” of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, or in club racing as was witnessed this weekend at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs.

It’s probably easiest to break it down with John Doonan, director of motorsports, Mazda North American Operations, as the month of September draws to a close and October beckons.

Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires done for 2016

Fuller breakouts on each of the three Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires series – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 – will follow in the coming days on MotorSportsTalk.

Jones (11) and Stoneman (27) are two of the six Indy Lights title contenders. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Jones (11) and Stoneman (27) fought for Indy Lights title. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Admittedly there were some challenges peppered throughout the campaign. A number of niggling mechanical woes popped up to various competitors at various times in Indy Lights; the Pro Mazda car count was low as that series prepares for its car transition while USF2000 staged a typically hard fought battle at the front of the field in the final year of running for the venerable Van Diemen chassis with the tried-and-true Elite-built Mazda engine in the back, before the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis comes online in 2017.

Three solid champions were crowned in the form of Ed Jones (Indy Lights), Aaron Telitz (Pro Mazda) and Anthony Martin  (USF2000) and the three take home a combined more than $2 million in the form Mazda Advancement scholarship support.

“Each one takes on its own personality,” Doonan told NBC Sports. “Clearly, we saw some challenges in Pro Mazda just based on field size. The competition was outstanding, certainly in the top seven, eight cars. We tried to address those things. With the announcement in July of added incentives for the 2017 prize package, we’re hoping to see an increased car count throughout the season.

“For me, that all the championships came down to literally the last race – not the last race weekend, but the last race – what more could you ask for to give all these drivers the opportunities to test their skills and compete, but be under pressure.

“This particular program gives drivers the chance to work and hone their public relations skills, their fitness, their engineering relationship with their team and engineers, and obviously some big events with big crowds. The added pressure is what this is all about, for these races to come down literally to the last race itself and in some cases, the last lap, is pretty incredible. We’re thrilled to be part of this. We can’t wait for the new USF-17. We can’t wait to see what the competition is like in Pro Mazda and see what Pro Mazda drivers from this year jump up to Indy Lights.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will also stage the annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course from Oct. 7-9, which provides a first glimpse at who could be driving where in 2017.

Sports cars – Going for one IMSA title and in search of elusive first win

Dwyer is one of Mazda's key drivers in CTSC. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Dwyer is one of Mazda’s key drivers, and Freedom Autosport one of its key teams, in CTSC. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The tried-and-true Mazda MX-5 looks poised to capture its second straight Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge championship if Stevan McAleer and Chad McCumbee can bring home the bacon for a second different team in ST. They won last year for CJ Wilson Racing and now look to deliver for Freedom Autosport; they’re up by eight points on second place and 10 on third going into the Road Atlanta this week.

How they’re even in this position is remarkable itself given at Circuit of The Americas a couple weeks ago, fourth gear and ABS failed on the team’s No. 25 car, before teamwork came in the form of support from the team’s sister car driven by U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer (pictured right) and Andrew Carbonell.

“I was trying to roll as much entry speed as I could, more than anyone would normally use,” said McAleer. “I knew I had Andrew to push me out of the corners.”

“I was there to push him to get him up to speed,” said Carbonell. But it wasn’t easy. “It was a fine, fine balance. I also had to keep my car cool. As hot as it was at COTA, we were seeing some extreme temperatures. I was doing everything I could to manage his time loss, our engine heating and the championship points. It would have been bad to have his car lose a gearbox and my car blows a motor!”

You can read the full story here.

MazdaPrototype70On the team’s Prototype side of the program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the most promise shown in three years has failed to produce that elusive first win, with particularly strong chances lost at Mazda Raceway, Watkins Glen, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road America. The No. 55 car of Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez has three poles and one podium; the No. 70 car of Joel Miller and Tom Long has a best finish of fourth on three occasions. A win would be a nice way to finish off the potential the car, and team, have shown all year.

MazdaPrototype55The team celebrated its 25th anniversary of its 1991 overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, the first and thus far only Japanese manufacturer to do so (Toyota came tantalizingly close this year to matching that, but Mazda offered nothing but support for them and commiserations thereafter).

The Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires will crown its champion at Road Atlanta next week in the form of one of two JDC Motorsports drivers, Austin Versteeg or Clark Toppe.

There’s also titles to be won in the Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car classes; those titles will be decided at, you guessed it, Mazda Raceway the weekend of Oct. 7-9.

Photo: Mazda
The first race for new Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car back in May, prior to global invitational. Photo: Mazda

Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational debuts to great acclaim

Part of the “Soul Red Finale” weekend at Mazda Raceway two weeks ago was the debut of the inaugural Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational, which brought a mix of U.S. drivers from the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires and international aces from around the world in the new Global MX-5 Cup car, which debuted this year.

Three U.S. drivers ended 1-2-3 with Sick Sideways Racing and MX-5 Cup points leader Nathanial Sparks taking the global championship over teammate John Dean II with Robby Foley in third. Moritz Kranz and Yuui Tsutsumi were the two highest finishing international drivers in fourth and fifth. Foley won the first race under yellow while Sparks took the second.

This was the pinnacle in a huge debut year for the new Global MX-5 Cup car, with over 100 of the new car ordered in the U.S., announced back in June.

Doonan said of the new car’s success and the inaugural MX-5 weekend, “Yeah, it’s amazing. Fifty cars was what we thought was legitimate, with a $53,000 cost and 50 cars was kind of the target we thought we’d sell. But as of (Monday, Sept. 12), it’s been 116 cars in less than 12 months.

“So, we’re really excited about that and based upon the Global Invitational, a lot of regions around the world are starting to take notice of that and we’re hoping they can establish a series like we’ve had here in the States for the last 10-15 years, and eventually get to a place where there’s a Mazda MX-5 Cup running globally in all these different countries and we do come together for a true global finale. This weekend was an exercise to show all our colleagues around the world that this is what it’d be like when we get a real finale together.”

Club racing success in SCCA and NASA

There were five Mazda-powered SCCA National Runoffs Champions this year:

  • Matt Reynolds, Boerne, Texas – E Production Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Justin Hille, Ypsilanti, Michigan – Spec Miata
  • Matthew Machiko, Wexford, Pennsylvania – Formula Mazda
  • Ryan Norman, Aurora, Ohio, Formula Atlantic Swift 016a Mazda
  • Stacy Wilson, Englewood, Tennessee – GT3 Mazda RX-7

And also five Mazda-powered NASA Eastern States Champions:

  • Tyler Kicera, Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania – Spec Miata
  • Matt Rivard, Kansas City, Missouri – NP01 Mazda MZR
  • Dillon Dexter, Central City, Nebraska – PTD Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Warren Dexter, Central City, Nebraska – PTE Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Mark Burt, Deland, Florida – ST3 Mazda RX-7

One of Mazda’s major lines of note is that more Mazdas are road raced anywhere on a given weekend than any other brand and the success for those drivers, among others, is proof of that.

Doonan said, “Thanks to all of our Mazda Motorsports family members who competed at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen and congratulations to our latest class of Mazda-powered club racing champions. I can’t wait to see if one of these champions moves on in winning the Mazda Road to 24 or Mazda Road to Indy Shootout.”

On the whole: Doing a lot with a small family

I’m not entirely sure there’s only one John Doonan given the breadth and reach of involvement Mazda Motorsports has throughout the country. But pinning what I think is the lone Doonan down makes it apparent that it is about the team he has in play, to be able to pull all of this off.

“It’s not easy. We do have a very small staff,” Doonan admitted. “I think the critical element in all this is to stay the course of the strategy, but also to continuously improve. We’re constantly meeting and talking about what we can do better and what the industry is doing and what we need to be doing.

“But I think it’s staying laser-focused on what our goals are, and that is a solid foundation of grassroots racing, a driver development program both on the open-wheel side both with the Mazda Road To Indy and the closed-wheel side with Mazda Road to 24, with the pinnacle peak of the pyramid being our top global sports car program.

“And as a sports car program, that’s where the heart of our entire brand is. And to have drivers who have come through the Mazda Road to Indy or the Mazda Road to 24 are the foundational drivers of that program, or bringing Spencer (Pigot) in for endurance races. I’m pretty certain in that room tonight here at the banquet that there’s another endurance driver, as well.

“I’m really proud of where we are – and looking for a nap in the off-season for both myself and my staff.”

2016 SCCA Runoffs National Champions crowned at Mid-Ohio

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Shadowen won GTL. Photo: SCCA
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This weekend marked one of the highlights – if not the outright highlight – of the club racing season as the SCCA National Championship Runoffs took place at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The Runoffs were held at Mid-Ohio for quite a while before moving to Road America and then in the last two years, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Daytona International Speedway. Next year, they go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Here are this year’s National Champions:

FRIDAY

  • Formula Enterprises: Scott Rettich
  • American Sedan: Andy McDermid
  • Prototype 1: Jim Devenport
  • Touring 2: Kurt Rezzetano
  • Formula Vee: Michael Varacins
  • E Production: Matt Reynolds
  • Formula 500: Steven Thompson
  • STU: Joe Moser
  • GT-2: Trent Hindman
  • Touring 4: Oscar Jackson

SATURDAY

  • Touring 3: Derek Kulach
  • SRF: Todd Harris
  • Formula Mazda: Matthew Machiko
  • Spec Miata: Justin Hille
  • STL: Kevin Boehm
  • GT-Lite: Peter Shadowen
  • Formula 1000: Kevin Roggenbuck
  • H Production: Brian Linn
  • B-Spec: David Daughtery

SUNDAY

  • Formula Atlantic: Ryan Norman
  • GT-3: Stacy Wilson
  • Formula Continental: John LaRue
  • F Production: John Walker
  • Formula F: Neil Verhagen (15 years, 242 days old – youngest National Champ in history)
  • SRF Gen3: Cliff White
  • Touring 1: Ross Murray
  • Prototype 2: Jeff Shafer
  • GT-1: Cliff Ebben

NHRA Countdown battle tightens: Langdon, Beckman, Laughlin, Savoie win at St. Louis

Sunday's NHRA winners near St. Louis (from left): Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
(Photo and videos courtesy of NHRA)
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With two races down and now just four remaining, the 2016 NHRA Countdown to the Championship is shaping up to be one of the closest battles in the playoffs’ 10-year history.

Not only did teams tighten the bolts on their respective rides this weekend, the points standings tightened up considerably with the results of Sunday’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

Sunday’s winners were: Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), “Fast Jack” Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Here’s recaps of how each pro category played out:

In Top Fuel, Langdon earned his third victory of the season and jumped to fourth in the standings, less than 80 points behind series leader and defending series champion Antron Brown.

Langdon (3.798 seconds at 323.66 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate and eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher (3.783 seconds at 317.49 mph) in the final round to take the event victory.

It was Langdon’s 14th career win in Top Fuel and his first at Gateway. The biggest key for the 2013 Top Fuel world champion was beating Brown in the first round Sunday, followed up by wins over Doug Kalitta and No. 1 qualifier Richie Crampton before facing Schumacher.

“We didn’t really have a dominant car in qualifying, but we just kept picking away at it,” said Langdon, whose other wins thus far this season came at Bristol, Tenn., and Norwalk, Ohio. “That’s what we’ve been doing since we got those two victories (earlier this year). The car has just responded well.

“All in all, this was a great team effort. The whole team did a great job and gave me a great racecar today.”

Despite his early exit, Brown remains the points leader in Top Fuel, but saw his lead shrink over second-ranked Kalitta to just 13 points.

In Funny Car, Beckman avenged early first-round exits in the previous two races – Indianapolis and Charlotte – and lived up to his nickname indeed.

Having qualified No. 2, Beckman (3.928 seconds at 324.51 mph) defeated fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Joe Johnson (4.185 seconds at 231.40 mph) to capture the Funny Car class win.

It was Beckman’s 24th career win, his second win of 2016 (also won at Chicago) and his second career win at Gateway. He is seeking his second Funny Car world championship in the last five seasons, having done so in 2012.

Beckman made a huge jump up in the standings after the win, going from eighth coming into this weekend’s race to third place, now just 70 points behind series leader Ron Capps.

Aiding in that big points jump for Beckman were quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Charlotte winner and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force and Capps, respectively.

“Our team was in a slump and we did what was incredibly difficult with the way our car was acting unpredictably,” Beckman said. “I’m not quite sure what changed, but I think I had a good outing as a driver today, the guys tuned smart and we turned on the win-light every time.”

Johnson, who has one win thus far in 2016 (Bristol, Tennessee), made his fourth final round of the season. In doing so, he jumped to No. 2 in the points, now just 48 points behind Capps.

In Pro Stock, Laughlin – who did not qualify for the Countdown – earned his first career victory in the class.

Laughlin (6.611 seconds at 208.68 mph) defeated Bo Butner (6.637 seconds at 209.26 mph) in the final round. The way it turned out, no matter who won would have been a first-time winner, as Butner has reached the final round five times this season and six overall in his career, but has yet to reach victory lane.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Laughlin said. “It’s not even real at this point. This has got to be a dream. The whole day has been a blur.

“Took it one round at a time and ended up coming up to the final. I was a little nervous but took a couple deep breaths and told myself, ‘It’s just like any other round, just go up there and do your deal.’ As soon as I let the clutch out, I knew my crew chief gave me a good car.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Savoie (6.933 seconds at 189.36 mph) defeated Angelle Sampey, who fouled at the starting line when she red-lighted.

Savoie, a Louisiana alligator farmer, earned his first win of the season (in four final round appearances), the fifth of his career and his second at St. Louis. He also jumped up to fourth in the PSM point standings.

“You go to the finals four times and win one, but out here the competition is so strong and it takes a little bit of luck,” Savoie said. “We got some luck in the finals. Losing hurts so bad, but winning feels so good. My team is a great team. Our bike is really consistent and we’ve had some issues, but today was our day.”

Even though she lost in the final round, Sampey still received a consolation prize of sorts, moving up to second in the PSM point standings.

The next race, which will take the Countdown to its midpoint, will be this coming weekend’s (Sept. 29-Oct. 2) Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Shawn Langdon; 2.  Tony Schumacher; 3.  J.R. Todd; 4.  Richie Crampton; 5.  Pat Dakin; 6.  Doug Kalitta; 7.  Leah Pritchett; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Clay Millican; 10.  Antron Brown; 11.  Kebin Kinsley; 12.  Steve Torrence; 13.  Wayne Newby; 14.  Kyle Wurtzel; 15.  Terry McMillen; 16.  Chris Karamesines.

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

PRO STOCK: 1.  Alex Laughlin; 2.  Bo Butner; 3.  Shane Gray; 4.  Jason Line; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6.  Vincent Nobile; 7.  Chris McGaha; 8.  Drew Skillman; 9.  Allen Johnson; 10.  Jeg Coughlin; 11.  Aaron Strong; 12.  Deric Kramer; 13.  Erica Enders; 14.  Alan Prusiensky; 15.  Mark Hogan; 16.  Dave River.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Jerry Savoie; 2.  Angelle Sampey; 3.  Chip Ellis; 4.  Cory Reed; 5.  Matt Smith; 6.  Hector Arana; 7.  Eddie Krawiec; 8.  Andrew Hines; 9.  Hector Arana Jr; 10.  LE Tonglet; 11.  Steve Johnson; 12.  Jim Underdahl; 13.  Angie Smith; 14.  Karen Stoffer; 15.  Melissa Surber; 16.  Joe DeSantis.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Shawn Langdon, 3.798 seconds, 323.66 mph  def. Tony Schumacher, 3.783 seconds, 317.49 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.928, 324.51  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.611, 208.68  def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.933, 189.36  def. Angelle Sampey, Buell, Foul – Red Light.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.756, 324.44 def. Clay Millican, 3.760, 327.82; Leah Pritchett, 4.009, 282.95 def. Wayne Newby, 4.977, 159.40; Tony Schumacher, 3.785, 322.96 def. Chris Karamesines, Foul – Red Light; Richie Crampton, 3.810, 322.81 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.909, 302.96; Doug Kalitta, 3.751, 328.22 def. Terry McMillen, 6.426, 105.64; J.R. Todd, 3.818, 320.28 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 5.595, 119.26; Shawn Langdon, 3.771, 325.53 def. Antron Brown, 3.774, 320.20; Pat Dakin, 3.779, 324.98 def. Steve Torrence, 4.405, 186.28; QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.767, 321.42 def. Pritchett, 4.183, 215.55; Todd, 3.798, 319.22 def. Dakin, 3.827, 316.90; Crampton, 3.783, 322.42 def. Force, 4.515, 200.11; Langdon, 3.782, 322.27 def. Kalitta, 3.861, 310.91; SEMIFINALS — Langdon, 3.784, 322.27 def. Crampton, 3.844, 317.79; Schumacher, 3.757, 326.71 def. Todd, 3.802, 322.04; FINAL — Langdon, 3.798, 323.66 def. Schumacher, 3.783, 317.49.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.909, 327.66 def. John Hale, Dodge Charger, 11.042, 70.12; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.042, 309.27 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.076, 298.93; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.944, 320.74 def. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, Broke; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.984, 318.32 def. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 4.024, 316.45; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.934, 327.43 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 8.729, 86.18; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.953, 323.27 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.575, 183.72; John Force, Camaro, 3.958, 327.43 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.989, 320.28; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.940, 321.65 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.985, 323.35; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.930, 322.42 def. Hight, 3.938, 325.37; Wilkerson, 3.928, 316.52 def. Hagan, 3.948, 326.40; Capps, 3.976, 320.05 def. C. Force, 4.100, 257.73; Beckman, 3.978, 318.17 def. J. Force, 3.961, 324.83; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.954, 319.60 def. Capps, 4.112, 285.71; Johnson Jr., 3.937, 323.04 def. Wilkerson, 3.993, 283.97; FINAL — Beckman, 3.928, 324.51 def. Johnson Jr., 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.646, 208.49 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.82; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.632, 208.46 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.667, 206.70; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.609, 209.43 def. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.699, 206.35; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.641, 208.75 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.684, 206.57; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.627, 209.49 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.769, 203.98; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.619, 208.91 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.966, 198.06; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.625, 209.01 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.806, 202.06; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.635, 209.23 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.696, 205.98; QUARTERFINALS — Laughlin, 6.643, 208.59 def. Nobile, 6.655, 208.33; Butner, 6.656, 208.52 def. McGaha, 6.664, 207.56; Gray, 6.629, 209.01 def. Skillman, 6.676, 208.07; Line, 6.637, 208.49 def. Anderson, 6.645, 208.39; SEMIFINALS — Butner, 6.678, 207.75 def. Line, 6.627, 208.78; Laughlin, 6.634, 208.75 def. Gray, 6.623, 209.10; FINAL — Laughlin, 6.611, 208.68 def. Butner, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.887, 194.77 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.926, 191.16; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.948, 194.35 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.977, 192.19; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.890, 194.66 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.933, 194.07; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.873, 194.52 def. Angie Smith, 6.971, 189.98; Cory Reed, Buell, 6.873, 194.24 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.911, 193.79; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.911, 193.49 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.908, 194.52; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.890, 192.19 def. Joe DeSantis, Suzuki, 7.236, 179.92; Matt Smith, 6.940, 192.22 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.889, 194.60 def. M. Smith, 6.897, 191.81; Ellis, 6.895, 194.30 def. Hines, 6.941, 191.73; Reed, 6.921, 192.47 def. Krawiec, 6.925, 191.65; Sampey, 6.882, 195.08 def. Arana, 6.916, 193.96; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.922, 193.68 def. Reed, 7.022, 189.26; Sampey, 6.873, 194.94 def. Ellis, 6.884, 193.93; FINAL — Savoie, 6.933, 189.36 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,258; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,245; 3.  Tony Schumacher, 2,204; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 2,181; 5.  Brittany Force, 2,167; 6.  Steve Torrence, 2,161; 7.  J.R. Todd, 2,152; 8.  Richie Crampton, 2,127; 9.  Leah Pritchett, 2,107; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,084.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 2,273; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,225; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,203; 4.  John Force, 2,199; 5.  Del Worsham, 2,189; 6.  Matt Hagan, 2,177; 7.  Robert Hight, 2,159; 8.  Courtney Force, 2,149; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,144; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,068.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line, 2,310; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,247; 3.  Bo Butner, 2,223; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 2,185; 5.  Shane Gray, 2,167; 6.  Chris McGaha, 2,135; 7.  Allen Johnson, 2,127; 8.  Drew Skillman, 2,126; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 2,084; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,052.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,260; 2.  Angelle Sampey, 2,258; 3.  Chip Ellis, 2,243; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 2,218; 5.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,184; 6.  LE Tonglet, 2,138; 7.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,115; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,107; 9.  Cory Reed, 2,105; 10.  Matt Smith, 2,096.

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