Antron Brown (foreground) defeated Brittany Force in the final round to win the Top Fuel class Sunday at Joliet, Illinois. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Matt Hagan (Funny Car) lead Don Schumacher Racing onslaught in NHRA race at Joliet

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JOLIET, Illinois – For the second straight race, Don Schumacher Racing dominated the NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car classes in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in suburban Chicago.

DSR driver Antron Brown earned his fourth Top Fuel win of the season, while teammate Matt Hagan won in Funny Car, defeating yet another fellow DSR teammate, Tommy Johnson Jr.

“Winner, winner, chicken dinner, can I get some gravy,” Brown laughed in his post-race press conference after defeating Brittany Force in the final round of Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in suburban Chicago.

“It just feels good to bring it home for Don Schumacher, with (Chicago being) his hometown,” Brown said. “(Schumacher) doubled up in Funny Car and Top Fuel again two races back-to-back now, so DSR is definitely on the climb and all the hard work that we did in the off-season is starting to finally pay off for sure.”

It was Brown’s fourth career win at Route 66, doing so twice in Top Fuel and two other times in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

“It’s been a great race weekend,” Brown said. “We’re back.”

It was also the 29th Top Fuel triumph and 45th overall victory of Brown’s NHRA racing career.

Celebrating in victory lane was a completely different feeling for Brown than after his dragster was destroyed three weeks ago in a wreck at Atlanta.

“(Atlanta) set us back but we’re back on the march,” Brown said. “We’ve got to keep it going and keep on pushing.

“When we get in the car, we (feel) happy again.”

Brown faced Brittany Force, daughter of legendary Funny Car driver John Force, in the final round.

Ironically, it was the second time Brown and Force have faced each other in their careers, both times being in final rounds (the only final rounds Force has been in so far in her career), and Brown remains unbeaten at 2-0 now.

“When you face someone like Brittany Force in the final, you know you have to go with your A-plus game,” Brown said.

Brown did indeed bring his best stuff, with a winning run of 3.814 seconds at 317.34 mph, to Force’s 3.850 seconds run at 320.89 mph. He didn’t feel any sympathy that Force is still hunting for her first career Top Fuel win.

“It doesn’t make a difference if she wanted it to be the first win for Brittany,” Brown said. “I don’t care who it is. It could be Babaloo come out here and they could win with a tutu with their head turned backwards. We want to win every race we’re in and give it all we’ve got, and that’s what it’s all about.”

With its 12th race of 2014 in the books, the NHRA is now at the halfway point of its 24-race schedule.

Doug Kalitta is first in the Top Fuel points standings, holding a 102-point edge over Brown. Shawn Langdon is third, followed by Spencer Massey and Chicago native Tony Schumacher in fifth-place.

Hagan, meanwhile, covered the 1,000-foot dragstrip in 4.098 seconds at 310.48 mph, defeating No. 1 Funny Car qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.147 seconds at 308.50 mph).

“We went up there and raced our race car, not the guy beside of us,” said Hagan, who earned his third career NHRA event win at Route 66. “We just got to turn four win lights (for each of Sunday’s four rounds of eliminations) on this weekend.”

It was Hagan’s second final round appearance of the season (was runner-up at Bristol, Tennessee two weeks back), but his first win since the 2013 season finale at Pomona, California.

It also was his second straight win at Route 66.

“It’s been a very, very humbling year for us, for our team,” Hagan said. “Last year, we went out and won five races and you think you’re going to set the world on fire the following year.

“We’re getting there, but we still have a long ways to go. The competition is just so, so tough here in Funny Car. When you get to turn four win lights on, you don’t want this day to end. It’s just phenomenal and it makes you realize how special these things are when they come together.

“If you’re not running for a championship, Don’s (team owner Don Schumacher) not happy. We want to keep him happy and help keep going through this deal here. … We’re just glad to be defending champions and to come back and win again.”

Hagan beat fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.

“It makes it so much sweeter (to defeat his teammate) because you know they have the same stuff, the same R&D, the same cars, the same chassis, same everything and same parts – it’s just how they put it all together,” Hagan said.

“At the end of the day, you put a little feather in your cap because one of two things happened, either one crew chief did a little better job than the other crew chief, or the driver did a little better job than the other driver. It’s a neat feeling to put your teammate on the trailer probably more so than anybody else.”

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Final finishing order (1-16) at the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:

TOP FUEL:

1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Brittany Force; 3.  J.R. Todd; 4.  Clay Millican; 5.  Shawn Langdon; 6.  Richie Crampton; 7.  Doug Kalitta; 8.  Bob Vandergriff; 9.  Steve Torrence; 10.  Tony Schumacher; 11.  Pat Dakin; 12.  Khalid alBalooshi; 13.  Billy Torrence; 14.  Spencer Massey; 15.  Terry McMillen; 16.  T.J. Zizzo.

FUNNY CAR:

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

 

Round-by-round results from the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:

 TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Richie Crampton, 7.147, 68.90 def. T.J. Zizzo, 16.268, 27.97; Shawn Langdon, 3.795, 322.58 def. Steve Torrence, 3.789, 324.05; Clay Millican, 3.842, 312.21 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.868, 323.97; Doug Kalitta, 3.805, 325.22 def. Pat Dakin, 3.917, 302.69; Antron Brown, 3.803, 319.07 def. Billy Torrence, 5.487, 125.40; Brittany Force, 3.828, 319.75 def. Terry McMillen, 9.608, 88.32; Bob Vandergriff, 4.349, 236.17 def. Spencer Massey, 6.133, 102.28; J.R. Todd, 4.377, 232.15 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 4.378, 233.36;

QUARTERFINALS — Millican, 4.675, 152.93 def. Vandergriff, 9.928, 73.59; Todd, 3.861, 316.45 def. Kalitta, 8.540, 94.01; Brown, 4.813, 221.85 def. Crampton, 5.899, 175.16; Force, 3.940, 308.57 def. Langdon, 5.344, 140.55;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.961, 308.64 def. Millican, 4.470, 196.30; Force, 3.889, 316.60 def. Todd, 3.906, 313.80;

FINAL — Brown, 3.814, 317.34 def. Force, 3.850, 320.89.

 

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.571, 285.41 def. Jeff Arend, Dodge Charger, 4.734, 209.20; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.087, 311.41 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.229, 287.90; Bob Bode, Camry, 4.633, 236.01 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 5.010, 196.70; John Force, Mustang, 4.079, 318.99 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.089, 308.71; Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.138, 312.93 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.215, 295.85; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.215, 256.70 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, foul; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.086, 313.07 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.397, 220.48; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.157, 267.59 def. Chad Head, Camry, 6.137, 112.87;

QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 4.179, 297.55 def. Hight, 6.361, 105.84; Hagan, 4.144, 308.07 def. Bode, 17.135, 28.35; C. Force, 4.151, 307.30 def. J. Force, 5.543, 134.52; Johnson Jr., 4.113, 304.60 def. C. Pedregon, 4.166, 296.63;

SEMIFINALS — Hagan, 4.136, 305.36 def. Capps, 4.135, 305.08; Johnson Jr., 4.186, 298.73 def. C. Force, 6.725, 100.99;

FINAL — Hagan, 4.098, 310.48 def. Johnson Jr., 4.147, 308.50.

 

Point standings (top 10) following Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:

Top Fuel

1.  Doug Kalitta, 1,065; 2.  Antron Brown, 963; 3.  Shawn Langdon, 835; 4.  Spencer Massey, 747; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 711; 6.  Steve Torrence, 688; 7.  Brittany Force, 638; 8.  Khalid alBalooshi, 620; 9.  Richie Crampton, 600; 10.  J.R. Todd, 557.

Funny Car

1.  Robert Hight, 1,032; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 786; 3.  John Force, 769; 4.  Ron Capps, 748; 5.  Alexis DeJoria, 747; 6.  Courtney Force, 732; 7.  Del Worsham, 684; 8.  Matt Hagan, 681; 9.  Cruz Pedregon, 651; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 603.

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.