Sta-Green 200 - Qualifying

Chase Elliott takes 3rd Nationwide win of year in Chicago


Rookie phenom Chase Elliott led a race-high 85 laps en route to winning his third NASCAR Nationwide Series race of the season tonight at Chicagoland Speedway.

Despite losing the lead to Kyle Larson ahead of the final round of green-flag stops in the 300, Elliott was able to reclaim it when the cycle ended and eventually beat Trevor Bayne to the stripe by 1.8 seconds.

“I just try to make the most of the practice laps…The biggest thing is these guys brought me a really fast race car,” Elliott said to ESPN in Victory Lane about his ability to quickly learn the tracks.

“That’s the biggest thing. That gives me time to learn the race track instead of having to work on the car and do it at the same time.”

Elliott also took over the NNS points lead by a margin of seven points over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, who endured a rough night and finished 16th.

Sprint Cup regulars Larson and Kasey Kahne finished third and fourth respectively, followed by Ty Dillon in fifth. Pole sitter Brian Scott was able to claim the $100,000 “Dash4Cash” bonus with a sixth-place result, two spots ahead of his closest D4C rival, Chris Buescher.

For next week’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will be Elliott, Scott, Bayne and Dillon that race for the third of four $100,000 prizes.

“It’s really neat and I’m glad that we won it here and we’re locked into it for Indy,” said Scott. “We’ll just keep going and try to take a couple more of these big checks home…I think we just needed a little bit more of an adjustment – or two – to really be able to have a shot at Victory Lane.”

Another notable result tonight was the one from 18-year-old Erik Jones, who finished seventh in his Nationwide Series debut for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Tonight’s race was only seven laps old when Sam Hornish Jr., who had climbed to 21st after starting at the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments post-qualifying, crept to the pits with smoke coming from the back of his car.

As the caution came out for fluid laid down by the car, Hornish then pulled into the garage and exited the race with engine issues.

“We know one thing – there’s a big hole in the oil pan,” the former Indianapolis 500 champ said. “Our car was really good there to start off the race. We had to start at the back with a problem that we had during qualifying, but I felt like we were gonna have a really good day.

“The Monster Energy car was really awesome in practice and I felt like this was going to be a great opportunity to not only lead laps but go out and win the race. It’s unfortunate that it ended so soon, and it’s not what these guys or myself deserve.”

Shortly after the green came back out at Lap 14, Scott came under attack from Elliott for the lead. On Lap 21, Elliott was able to take the lead from Scott in Turn 3, but three laps later, the two started another skirmish that had them swap the point twice before Elliott finally pulled away.

As Elliott pushed his lead over four seconds, Scott fell into the clutches of Blaney, who peeled second off of him at Lap 43. Elliott eventually pitted from P1 at Lap 51, and when the wave of green flag stops ended, he had cycled back to the lead with a gap of 8.1 seconds over second-place Blaney and an 11+ second gap over third-place Scott.

That edge went away, however, on Lap 70 when the second caution of the night came out for debris. Blaney then used the restart on Lap 74 to power past Elliott and take control of the race for the first time.

Blaney held the lead until Lap 105, when Larson got by him to make his own first appearance at the front. Another set of green stops ensued around Lap 110, and the caution came back on Lap 123 just after the cycle came to a close.

On the restart at Lap 128, Blaney was leading but quickly lost the spot to Larson. While Blaney dropped out of the Top 5 with a developing loose condition, Larson briefly got sideways in Turn 2 at Lap 143, enabling Elliott to retake the lead on the inside.

Eventually, Blaney pitted at Lap 154 to get a track bar adjustment but went one lap down. Four laps later, Larson was able to fully recover from his close call on Lap 143 and grabbed the lead back from Elliott ahead of their final green stops with less than 40 to go.

1. Chase Elliott, led 85 laps
2. Trevor Bayne, led 14 laps
3. Kyle Larson, led 23 laps
4. Kasey Kahne, led 3 laps
5. Ty Dillon
6. Brian Scott, led 20 laps
7. Erik Jones, led 2 laps
8. Chris Buescher, led one lap
9. Ryan Blaney, led 47 laps
10. Elliott Sadler, led one lap
11. Brendan Gaughan
12. Cale Conley
13. Jeremy Clements
14. J.J. Yeley
15. Ryan Reed
16. Regan Smith
17. Dylan Kwasniewski
18. Ryan Sieg
19. Mike Bliss
20. Dakoda Armstrong, led one lap
21. Landon Cassill
22. David Starr
23. James Buescher, led three laps
24. Jeffrey Earnhardt
25. Eric McClure
26. Jamie Dick
27. John Wes Townley
28. Chad Boat
29. Tanner Berryhill

30. Derrike Cope, -10 laps down
31. Joey Gase, -12 laps down
32. Richard Harriman, Lap 112, Suspension
33. Josh Reaume, Lap 107, Vibration
34. Matt Dibenedetto, Lap 50, Brakes
35. Carl Long, Lap 15, Overheating
36. Sam Hornish Jr., Lap 7, Engine
37. Ryan Ellis, Lap 6, Vibration
38. Mike Harmon, Lap 6, Fuel Pump
39. Blake Koch, Lap 4, Vibration
40. Kevin Lepage, Lap 3, Electrical

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
(Getty Images)
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The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

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NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

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The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

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Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski