Robert Hight, foreground, defeated father-in-law and boss John Force in the finals of Sunday's NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

NHRA finals at Bandimere: Robert Hight over John Force in Funny Car, J.R. Todd wins first Top Fuel race since 2008

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If you’re an NHRA Funny Car fan and weren’t able to attend in person, suffice to say it was a heck of a battle in Sunday’s finals of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver.

John Force started the fight by earning the pole, but teammate and John Force Racing president Robert Hight finished the confrontation with his boss and father-in-law, earning his fifth win of the season and 34th of his career.

In his first final-round appearance in the last seven races, Hight roared down the mile-high drag strip with a winning time of 4.166 seconds at 306.05 mph. Force slowed to finish runner-up (5.953 seconds at 121.42 mph).

“We were doing well (earlier this season with five wins) and then we had some bad luck,” said Hight, the 2012 NHRA Funny Car champion. “But even when we were winning we were getting some luck.

“In 2012 I won four races to start the season then it took another year to get another win. Stuff like that was crossing my mind because it isn’t easy to win out here.”

Hight also became the first Funny Car driver to clinch a spot in the Top 10 for the Countdown to the Championship.

“I’m looking forward to the Countdown; we’re solidified in there now,” Hight said. “This car and this whole team is perfection. That’s what we’re all about and we want to show it.

“We came out with a brand new car this weekend. Usually new cars drive me crazy because everything in them is different. But, my guys are so good, if they hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known it was a new car.”

In Top Fuel, J.R. Todd earned his first win since 2008, defeating Brittany Force – John’s daughter and Hight’s sister-in-law – in a close final-round battle.

In earning his second career victory at Bandimere (the other came in 2006), Todd covered the 1,000-foot track in 3.878 seconds (at 317.87 mph) to Brittany Force’s run of 3.968 seconds at 297.35 mph.

Todd returned to the Top Fuel ranks earlier this season at Gainseville, Florida, after being unable to secure a ride or sponsor heading into the 2014 campaign.

“These things are hard to come by whether you are full-time or part-time,” Todd said. “I knew at the time I got the opportunity to drive for the Kalitta group it was probably the best opportunity I was ever going to have to win one of these things.”

Even with missing the first few races on the schedule, Todd is up to eighth in the Top Fuel standings with just four races left to secure his spot in the Top 10 for the Countdown to the Championship, which begins in September at Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I’m pretty solid (in the Countdown field) now but I want a cushion,” Todd said. “I want to make the Countdown because after that, anything can happen. We were fortunate enough to put a little distance on the guys behind us and gain on the ones in front of us.”

In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson earned his fourth win of the season, as well as his third straight triumph and sixth of his career at Bandimere, defeating teammate Jeg Coughlin (fouled at the starting line) in the final round.

Johnson, who covered the track in 6.930 seconds at 198.61 mph, made his eighth consecutive final round showing at Bandimere. He is now tied with points leader Erica Enders-Stevens with four wins each this season.

“This team just continues to find a way to do it,” Johnson said. “We want to win here for Mopar. My guys step up, I step up when I need to. It is just a confidence thing, it’s a want to thing, it is deep in our gut and we just keep doing it.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines (7.426 seconds at 184.35 mph) earned his fourth win of the 2014 season, defeating Michael Ray (9.033 at 103.64).

“Up here (in the mile-high altitude), every little move is compounded because you don’t have enough power to overcome mistakes like short shifts or body movements,” Hines said. “This place also throws your mental timing off. You have to be focused.”

The second part of the annual “western swing” will be held this coming weekend (July 25-27) at Sonoma Raceway north of San Francisco.

 

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

 

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

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

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines; 2. Michael Ray; 3. Steve Johnson; 4. Hector Arana; 5. Eddie Krawiec; 6. Hector Arana Jr; 7. Jim Underdahl; 8. Scotty Pollacheck; 9. Matt Smith; 10. Angie Smith; 11. Adam Arana; 12. Mike Berry; 13. John Hall; 14. Charles Sullivan; 15. Chaz Kennedy; 16. Shawn Gann.

 

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — J.R. Todd, 3.878 seconds, 317.87 mph  def. Brittany Force, 3.968 seconds, 297.35 mph.

Funny Car — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.166, 306.05  def. John Force, Mustang, 5.953, 121.42.

Pro Stock — Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.930, 198.61  def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, foul.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.246, 184.35  def. Michael Ray, Buell, 9.033, 103.64.

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Antron Brown, 3.903, 311.56 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.899, 313.51; Steve Torrence, 3.902,

319.75 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.599, 184.22; Larry Dixon, 3.966, 268.49 def. Clay Millican, 4.747, 170.45; Jenna Haddock, 4.276, 232.71 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.792, 182.16; Bob Vandergriff, 3.940,

310.84 def. Spencer Massey, 4.026, 286.19; Richie Crampton, 3.949, 310.63 def. Shawn Langdon, 4.174, 300.13; J.R. Todd, 3.969, 297.61 def. Terry McMillen, 4.569, 190.22; Brittany Force, 4.304,

212.93 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 5.258, 135.88; QUARTERFINALS — Force, 3.990, 303.84 def. Haddock, 4.166, 270.75; Vandergriff, 3.942, 308.92 def. Crampton, 4.252, 217.25; Todd, 3.938, 308.00 def. Torrence, 3.946, 302.21; Dixon, 4.107, 272.39 def. Brown, 4.331, 220.19; SEMIFINALS — Force, 3.923, 313.66 def. Vandergriff, 8.369, 68.90; Todd, 3.912, 300.26 def. Dixon, 3.936, 304.80; FINAL — Todd, 3.878, 317.87 def. Force, 3.968, 297.35.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.157, 306.40 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, foul; Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.171, 308.50 def. Todd Simpson, Chevy Camaro, 4.452, 242.32; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.245, 286.25 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.469, 229.27; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.161, 295.79 def. Terry Haddock, Chevy Impala, 8.906, 84.76; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.224,

301.07 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.782, 194.94; Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.335, 250.18 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.810, 222.84; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.238, 298.47 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.348, 258.67; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.200, 281.60 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.930, 172.61; QUARTERFINALS — J. Force, 4.202, 305.36 def. Hagan, 4.832, 190.46; Capps, 4.239, 299.13 def. C. Pedregon, 4.259, 290.63; Hight, 4.226, 285.59 def. C. Force, 4.287, 290.94; Wilkerson, 4.248,

287.05 def. Beckman, 4.262, 270.48;

SEMIFINALS — J. Force, No Time, 308.43 def. Capps, 4.185, 303.91; Hight, 4.115, 309.70 def.

Wilkerson, 4.146, 305.98;

FINAL — Hight, 4.166, 306.05 def. J. Force, 5.953, 121.42.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.971, 198.09 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, foul; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.976, 197.54 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.992, 197.65; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.968,

197.31 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, foul; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.976, 197.94 def. Matt Hartford, Dodge Avenger, 6.971, 198.12; Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.940, 198.44 def. Deric Kramer, Avenger, 7.008, 196.82; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.933, 199.23 def. Tommy Lee, Ford Mustang, 7.091, 194.04; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.931, 198.61 def. Steve Kalkowski, Pontiac GXP, 7.218, 188.73; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.933, 198.47 def. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 8.839, 109.72; QUARTERFINALS — Coughlin, 6.944, 198.44 def. Anderson, 6.971, 197.65; Connolly, 6.992, 196.70 def.

Enders-Stevens, 6.962, 198.06; Johnson, 6.959, 198.50 def. McGaha, 6.974, 197.22; Line, 6.932,

198.32 def. Nobile, 6.979, 197.48;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.952, 198.64 def. Connolly, 7.015, 195.28; Coughlin, 6.931, 198.76 def.

Line, 6.924, 198.64;

FINAL — Johnson, 6.930, 198.61 def. Coughlin, foul.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Hector Arana, Buell, 7.255, 184.60 def. Matt Smith, Buell, 7.259, 183.15; Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.277, 183.17 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 7.539, 177.91; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, broke def. Adam Arana, Buell, foul; Michael Ray, Buell, 7.299, 180.91 def. Mike Berry, Buell, foul; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.218, 186.05 def. John Hall, Buell, 7.299, 183.19; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 7.201, 186.64 def. Charles Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.453, 177.95; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.224, 185.08 def. Angie Smith, Buell, foul; Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.323,

183.22 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, foul;

QUARTERFINALS — Ray, 7.284, 183.44 def. Pollacheck, 7.585, 178.28; Hines, 7.246, 184.60 def.

Underdahl, foul; Johnson, 7.258, 182.58 def. Krawiec, 7.240, 184.85; H. Arana, 7.266, 185.74 def.

Arana Jr, 7.245, 185.84;

SEMIFINALS — Ray, 7.290, 182.75 def. H. Arana, foul; Hines, 7.231, 184.98 def. Johnson, 7.282, 182.01; FINAL — Hines, 7.246, 184.35 def. Ray, 9.033, 103.64.

 

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1. Doug Kalitta, 1,162 *; 2. Antron Brown, 1,137 *; 3. Shawn Langdon, 973; 4. Tony Schumacher, 830; 5. Steve Torrence, 814; 6. Spencer Massey, 811; 7. Brittany Force, 783; 8. J.R. Todd, 705; 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 685; 10. Richie Crampton, 678.

Funny Car: 1. Robert Hight, 1,179 *; 2. John Force, 998; 3. Ron Capps, 921; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 882; 5. Courtney Force, 817; 6. Alexis DeJoria, 811; 7. Matt Hagan, 794; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 781; 9. Del Worsham, 780; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 711.

Pro Stock: 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, 1,229 *; 2. Allen Johnson, 1,045; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 998; 4. Jason Line, 951; 5. Dave Connolly, 948; 6. Vincent Nobile, 893; 7. Shane Gray, 865; 8. Chris McGaha, 653; 9. V. Gaines, 596; 10. Jonathan Gray, 516.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Andrew Hines, 775 *; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 640 *; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 582 *; 4. Hector Arana, 488; 5. John Hall, 438; 6. Michael Ray, 428; 7. Matt Smith, 427; 8. Scotty Pollacheck, 426; 9. Steve Johnson, 396; 10. Angie Smith, 383.

* Clinched berth in NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship

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Jules Bianchi’s family launches legal action against FIA, F1 Group, Marussia

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 06:  Jules Bianchi of France and Marussia walks across the paddock uring practice ahead of the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 6, 2014 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The family of Jules Bianchi has begun legal action against the FIA, the Formula 1 Group and Marussia F1 Team over the Frenchman’s death from injuries sustained during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.

Bianchi suffered a diffuse axonal injury after crashing into a recovery vehicle at high-speed during the race at Suzuka in wet conditions.

The Frenchman died last July at the age of 25, nine months after the accident.

An investigation into the accident deemed that Bianchi had been driving too quickly under yellow flags, and cleared the event organizers and race officials of any blame.

However, Bianchi’s family today announced via British law firm Stewarts Law that it would be challenging these claims by launching legal action against the FIA, Formula One Group and the Marussia team.

“The family of Formula One racing driver, Jules Bianchi, has today announced they plan to take legal action in England relating to the fatal head injuries Jules Bianchi sustained in a violent collision with a mobile crane at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, 2014,” a statement read.

“Stewarts Law, the country’s largest litigation-only law firm, have this week sent formal pre-action letters of claim to:

  • the World Governing Body of Formula One, the FIA;
  • Team Marussia, who Jules was driving for at the time; and
  • the Formula One Group of companies, who control the TV and media rights for the sport.

“The letters explain why the Bianchi family feel the actions of one or more of those parties, amongst others, may have contributed to Jules’ fatal accident and invite them to accept that errors were made in the planning, timing, organisation and conduct of the race which took place in dangerous conditions during the typhoon season in Japan.

“The recipients of the letters of claim will be expected to respond in due course, to explain their actions in connection with the race and to indicate if they dispute the claim.”

“Jules Bianchi’s death was avoidable,” Stewarts Law partner Julian Chamberlayne added. “The FIA Panel Inquiry Report into this accident made numerous recommendations to improve safety in Formula One but failed to identify where errors had been made which led to Jules’ death.

“It was surprising and distressing to the Bianchi family that the FIA panel in its conclusions, whilst noting a number of contributing factors, blamed Jules.

“The Bianchi family are determined that this legal process should require those involved to provide answers and to take responsibility for any failings. This is important if current and future drivers are to have confidence that safety in the sport will be put first.

“If this had been the case in Suzuka, Jules Bianchi would most likely still be alive and competing in the sport he loved today.”

Jules’ father, Philippe Bianchi, explained the decision to launch legal action.

“We seek justice for Jules, and want to establish the truth about the decisions that led to our son’s crash at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014,” Bianchi Sr. said.

“As a family, we have so many unanswered questions and feel that Jules’ accident and death could have been avoided if a series of mistakes had not been made.”

Hamilton leads first Monaco practice as ultra-soft tire debuts

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  Sparks fly as Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton edged out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at the top of the timesheets in first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday as the new ultra-soft tire made its debut.

Pirelli announced over the winter that it had developed a fifth dry compound for 2016 that is bespoke for street circuits such as Monaco.

The purple-ringed tire has only featured in testing so far this year, but made its official grand prix weekend debut in a truncated first practice in Monaco.

Hamilton and Rosberg immediately put the ultra-soft tire to good use, heading out early for a flurry of quick laps that were already faster than the pole position time from 2015.

Hamilton ultimately won the battle, with his lap of 1:15.537 being enough for P1 by one-tenth of a second as Mercedes began its fightback from a double DNF in Spain.

The session was interrupted by four virtual safety car periods. Felipe Massa was responsible for the first after clouting the barrier at Ste Devote, before Esteban Gutierrez and Jolyon Palmer both stopped on track in the final 30 minutes of the running.

A final VSC was throw with five minutes remaining in the session after a drain cover broke free at Turn 1, causing Rosberg to suffer a left-rear puncture and then leaving Jenson Button’s McLaren with significant front wing damage. The session was then red flagged, bringing an early end to proceedings

Nevertheless, Mercedes eased clear at the top of the standings, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finishing as the best of the rest in third place, four-tenths of a second down on Hamilton.

Daniel Ricciardo put his newly-updated Renault power unit to good use to finish the session fourth-fastest for Red Bull, beating teammate Max Verstappen who continued his good form after his victory in Spain to end the session fifth.

Daniil Kvyat impressed for Toro Rosso to finish FP1 in sixth place, narrowly behind the man who replaced him at Red Bull. Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez ended the session seventh and eighth respectively for Force India, while Kimi Raikkonen and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top 10.

Shirley Muldowney surgery update: ‘Couldn’t have gone much better’

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Even though she hasn’t raced since 2003, Shirley Muldowney still has scores of fans.

And many of them, when they heard the news that she would undergo surgery today to remove her right lung due to Stage 2 lung cancer, offered prayers and well wishes on this site, as well as on social media.

Well, even though details are slim, it appears that a five-hour surgery Wednesday morning was a success for the 75-year-old, three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion and one-time AHRA champ.

Muldowney’s agent, Rob Geiger tweeted updates earlier this evening that is great news:

We plan on keeping Muldowney fans updated with more information in the coming days as she begins her recovery.

As Geiger said, “#ShirleyStrong.”

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MRTI: Freedom 100, new USF-17 launch highlight Indy oval weekend

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Mazda Road to Indy has a double dip of content this weekend with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda at the Lucas Oil Raceway short oval in Clermont, Ind., outside Indianapolis.

Both events are on Friday; the Freedom 100 airs at noon ET and local time as part of NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage. Kevin Lee, Anders Krohn and Katie Hargitt will have the call for the Freedom.

The Freedom 100 is arguably the marquee race of the year for Indy Lights, and a good springboard to the Verizon IndyCar Series – no less than 24 of the 33 starters in this year’s Indianapolis 500 field have some degree of Mazda Road to Indy experience.

That being said, the randomness of the Freedom 100 has produced a variety of winners who haven’t exactly gone on to huge things in IndyCar.

Here’s the past winners list:

  • 2015: Jack Harvey
  • 2014: Gabby Chaves
  • 2013: Peter Dempsey
  • 2012: Esteban Guerrieri
  • 2011: Josef Newgarden
  • 2010: Wade Cunningham
  • 2009: Wade Cunningham
  • 2008: Dillon Battistini
  • 2007: Alex Lloyd
  • 2006: Wade Cunningham
  • 2005: Jaime Camara
  • 2004: Thiago Medeiros
  • 2003: Ed Carpenter

That’s three past winners in Carpenter, Newgarden and Chaves who are racing on Sunday. Harvey, Dempsey and Guerrieri have a combined zero starts; meanwhile all of Cunningham, Battistini, Camara and Medeiros had less than a season of in IndyCar.

Polesitters have been random too, with some surprises including Ethan Ringel (last year) and Ken Losch (2007) of note.

Traditionally Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has fielded strong entries at the Speedway, and that puts any of its four cars – talented sophomore RC Enerson, Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia and fellow rookies Andre Negrao and Heamin Choi into contention almost from the off. Enerson, in particular, is due his first win of the year after niggling turbo issues have hampered most of his season.

Belardi Auto Racing, given its engineering strength in depth, is also a strong contender and a winner here twice previously in dramatic fashion with Chaves and Dempsey. This year they have Zach Veach, who topped the 200-mph mark during testing on Monday, and Felix Rosenqvist, who will look for a significantly better second oval start than his first at Phoenix.

Either of Enerson and Veach would make it seven winners in eight races this year. The other six thus far are, in order, Felix Serralles, Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones, Urrutia and Dean Stoneman.

Kaiser expects to be better than both he and the Juncos Racing team were here last year. Another potential surprise is Neil Alberico, who was strong in testing despite a slight incident in the first session.

Choi, replacing Scott Anderson, is the only driver change among the 16 entered for the Freedom 100. It’s the biggest field for this race since 2012, when 18 cars started – only 11 have started each of the last three years.

USF17-1
Rendering: Andersen Promotions

Arguably the more intriguing part of the weekend from the Pro Mazda or USF2000 perspective is the launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 car, which gets unveiled Friday morning, 9 a.m., at IMS.

It’s the second new car to be unveiled at IMS in recent years, with the Dallara IL-15 Mazda having been unveiled in May 2014 ahead of its race debut for 20115.

The Pro Mazda and USF2000 races occur later in the day on Friday at IMS.

In Pro Mazda, the question is whether anyone can stop the Pato O’Ward roll of awesomeness for Team Pelfrey. The young Mexican has won five of six races to date, although teammate Aaron Telitz is a past winner at Lucas Oil Raceway in USF2000. The remaining six drivers in the field will look to end O’Ward’s run of form.

USF2000 sees its field temporarily cut in half for its lone oval race of the season, down from 27 cars entered at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend to a mere 14 cars on the 0.686-mile oval.

While Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing and Pabst Racing have three cars entered apiece – Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin have propelled Cape to four straight wins this year -known oval setup ace John Walko will likely have Victor Franzoni’s car ready to go to contend.