Schumacher (TF), Hagan (FC), Line (PS), Krawiec (PSM) ones to beat in Monday’s NHRA U.S. Nationals finals

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Following Sunday’s final round of qualifying, Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will lead their respective classes as No. 1 qualifiers for Monday’s final eliminations of the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

There’s plenty at stake Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind. The U.S. Nationals are the most prestigious race in drag racing, essentially to the NHRA what the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR.

Not only is there the prestige of going for the win, how Monday’s finals play out will set the final top-10 fields in each of the four pro categories for the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs (begins Sept. 12-14 at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.).

Sunday was definitely a much more different than usual at the U.S. Nationals.

Not only did it feature the Traxxas Nitro Shootout – an all-star race within a race and a $100,000 top prize, both won by 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force – the afternoon also included the conclusion of the Pro Stock category that was suspended due to weather two weeks ago at Brainerd, Minn.

Line wound up winning that suspended race, essentially doubling up by also claiming the No. 1 qualifying spot for Monday’s finals, which begin at 11 am ET at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind.

The delayed win was Line’s third consecutive win in Pro Stock, the first time he’s achieved that feat in his career. It was also his 35th career win, moving him to the top of the Pro Stock points standings.

“Our car ran very good,” Line said. “Our Camaro was very fast this weekend. It was a little bit weird to win Brainerd at Indy. But it’s the first thing I’ve ever done well at in Indy.”

In the Traxxas race, Force earned his second win the history of that event, defeating teammate Robert Hight in the final round, covering the 1,000-foot track in 4.061 seconds at 317.19 mph.

Force defeated fan vote/lottery winner Tim Wilkerson and two-time season winner Alexis DeJoria to reach the final vs. Hight, who is also president of John Force Racing.

“It was a win-win situation,” Force said of racing Hight, per a NHRA media release. “We couldn’t lose. All of the sponsors were on all of the cars. We just couldn’t lose it.”

Force is going for his sixth career U.S. Nationals win on Monday, while Hight will be both seeking revenge for the Traxxas loss as well as his fourth U.S. Nationals title.

In other classes:

* Schumacher set a track record speed of 328.54 mph (at 3.748 seconds) as he won the Top Fuel portion of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, as well. Like Force, Schumacher also earned $100,000.

By doing so, Schumacher also earned the top qualifying position for Monday’s finals, the third of this season and 75th of his career.

Schumacher is seeking a record-breaking 10th Top Fuel win at Indy. He’ll start the first round Monday against Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown.

“You think you’re going to run an easier car when you’re No. 1,” Tony Schumacher said. “Before he even ran, the (elimination) bump was .84. You were running a bad to the bone car no matter what. As a teammate, I’m happier (Brown) got in and I have to race him than had he gotten bumped.”

* Matt Hagan also set a track record time of 3.998 seconds (at 316.01 mph), the first time a Funny Car has ever gone under four seconds at Lucas Oil Raceway, just outside Indianapolis.

“It was just a phenomenal run,” Hagan said of his 16th career No. 1 qualifying spot. “Especially after those guys (The Mopar Express Lane crew) having such a late last night when we banged the blower off of it and they had to pull another body out and another motor out.”

* In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec took the top qualifying spot – the 20th of his career – with a run of 6.829 seconds at 196.56 mph. He hopes it’s the first step towards his first career U.S. Nationals win on Monday.

“That’s definitely one I’d look to put a check next to,” Krawiec said. “We learned some stuff today. That was the key to moving onto Monday here. It’s not often you get five qualifying sessions, but when you do you need to take advantage of it.”

 

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STATISTICS

* Monday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals

Top Fuel — 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.748 seconds, 328.54 mph vs. 16. Antron Brown, 3.845, 320.20; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.753, 326.16 vs. 15. J.R. Todd, 3.814, 323.89; 3. Morgan Lucas, 3.757, 322.81 vs. 14. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.810, 321.96; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.772, 324.20 vs. 13. Billy Torrence, 3.806, 323.66; 5. Shawn Langdon, 3.779, 321.81 vs. 12. Spencer Massey, 3.799, 324.12; 6. Bob Vandergriff, 3.782, 325.06 vs. 11. T.J. Zizzo, 3.795, 321.58; 7. Brittany Force, 3.786, 328.30 vs. 10. Larry Dixon, 3.791, 322.42; 8. Dom Lagana, 3.786, 319.90 vs. 9. Doug Kalitta, 3.787, 324.98.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Leah Pritchett, 3.846, 320.58; 18. Pat Dakin, 3.956, 312.64; 19. Chris Karamesines, 3.963, 307.86; 20. Clay Millican, 4.171, 306.95; 21. Terry McMillen, 4.756, 320.89; 22. Cory McClenathan, 5.354, 169.83; 23. Luigi Novelli, 9.595, 268.54.

Funny Car — 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.998, 318.99 vs. 16. Bob Bode, Toyota Camry, 4.436, 304.87; 2. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.004, 319.07 vs. 15. Blake Alexander, Charger, 4.144, 299.46; 3. Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.005, 322.73 vs. 14. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.103, 309.84; 4. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.016, 317.12 vs. 13. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.082, 314.02; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.026, 320.36 vs. 12. Chad Head, Camry, 4.073, 313.88; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.026, 317.49 vs. 11. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.053, 316.67; 7. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.033, 316.52 vs. 10. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.046, 311.70; 8. John Force, Mustang, 4.042, 319.75 vs. 9. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.042, 318.24.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Tony Pedregon, 4.798, 288.52.

Pro Stock — 1. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.589, 210.01 vs. 16. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.675, 207.94; 2. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.601, 208.55 vs. 15. Matt Hartford, Dodge Avenger, 6.661, 208.49; 3. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.603, 209.39 vs. 14. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.637, 208.94; 4. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.605, 209.10 vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 6.629, 208.71; 5. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.607, 208.59 vs. 12. Richie Stevens, Camaro, 6.627, 208.59; 6. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.610, 208.81 vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.624, 208.10; 7. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.611, 209.14 vs. 10. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.623, 208.84; 8. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.621, 208.33 vs. 9. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.623, 208.07.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Larry Morgan, 6.676, 206.95; 18. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.728, 207.24; 19. Kenny Delco, 6.742, 205.88; 20. Steve Schmidt, 6.783, 203.89; 21. Dave River, 6.883, 204.94.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.829, 196.56 vs. 16. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.011, 192.03; 2. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.878, 194.18 vs. 15. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 7.001, 191.40; 3. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.888, 193.63 vs. 14. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.951, 193.35; 4. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.890, 194.21 vs. 13. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.944, 192.63; 5. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.906, 195.11 vs. 12. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.944, 192.55; 6. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.915, 192.55 vs. 11. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.939, 195.19; 7. John Hall, Buell, 6.919, 194.63 vs. 10. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.935, 193.10; 8. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.921, 192.36 vs. 9. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.926, 193.65.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Elvira Karlsson, 7.050, 189.92; 18. Freddie Camarena, 7.081, 191.08; 19. Mike Berry, 7.099, 190.92; 20. Joe DeSantis, 7.109, 187.91; 21. Redell Harris, 7.129, 188.10; 22. Craig Treble, 7.515, 188.60.

 

* Round-by-round results from the Third annual Traxxas Funny Car Shootout at Lucas Oil Raceway Park at Indianapolis.

ROUND ONE — Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.072, 275.67 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.313, 265.17; Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.005, 322.73 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.043, 319.37; Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.042, 318.24 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.052, 310.98; John Force, Mustang, 4.042, 319.75 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.073, 311.34;

SEMIFINALS — J. Force, 4.967, 169.08 def. DeJoria, broke; Hight, 4.768, 264.08 def. C. Force, 5.374, 162.31;

FINAL — J. Force, 4.061, 317.19 def. Hight, 4.178, 304.32.

* Finishing order of Pro Stock eliminations from postponed finals two weeks ago at Brainerd, Minn.: 1. Jason Line; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Vincent Nobile; 4. Dave River; 5. Shane Gray; 6. Allen Johnson; 7. Deric Kramer; 8. Dave Connolly; 9. Greg Anderson; 10. V. Gaines; 11. Larry Morgan; 12. Chris McGaha; 13. Mark Hogan; 14. Erica Enders-Stevens; 15. Jonathan Gray.

Final round of postponed Pro Stock finals at Brainerd, Minn.: Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.596, 207.40 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.635, 207.72.

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INDYCAR Preview: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Photo: IndyCar
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Three consecutive race weekends in the month of April for the Verizon IndyCar Series come to a close this weekend with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the series’ ninth race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

IndyCar’s annual trek to the “Alabama Rollercoaster” – as Barber has been referred to in the past – began in 2010, and the venue has quickly become a favorite for teams, drivers, and fans, and while concerns existed that passing would prove too difficult prior to the first race in 2010, every race has featured more than its fair share of overtaking, and the track has seen thrilling late-race battles in each of the last three seasons.

Graham Rahal put on one of the greatest drives of his career to finish second here in 2015, passing Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon in the final laps to do so, but he could not quite catch Josef Newgarden that day, with Newgarden taking his first career IndyCar win.

Rahal dueled Simon Pagenaud for the win in 2016, with Pagenaud getting the upperhand after Rahal damaged his front wing following contact with the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth.

And in 2017, Josef Newgarden benefited from teammate Will Power suffering a punctured tire to assume the lead late in the race, and held off Scott Dixon to take his first win for Team Penske.

In summary, Barber has developed a habit of creating late-race drama, and given how the first three races of the 2018 season have gone, it could easily happen again.

Key talking points ahead of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama are below.

Championship Picture Beginning to Take Shape

Alexander Rossi leads the championship three races into the 2018 season. Photo: IndyCar

Though it is admittedly very early in the season – only three of 17 races have been completed – the championship picture is beginning to come into focus, and Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi is currently at the head of the table.

The Andretti Autosport driver sits in the lead on 126 points, 22 ahead of of Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal sits third with 93 points, with Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais in fourth on 88 points. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe rounds out the Top 5, with 83 points through the first three races.

That’s five different teams represented in the Top 5 at the moment, and a few faces have emerged as potential favorites.

Points leader Rossi is the only driver to finish on the podium in each of the first three races, with finishes of 3-3-1.

Team Penske has had somewhat of a quiet start to 2018, though Newgarden did win the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway, and his results at St. Petersburg and Long Beach – seventh at both races – could have been much better if only a couple small things went differently.

Rahal has been a title contender in each of the last three seasons, even going into the 2015 season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with a shot at the championship. And his 2018 season, highlighted by finishes of second at St. Petersburg and fifth at Long Beach, could be even better if not for miscues and contact in both races that hampered his efforts.

Throw in Bourdais and Hinchcliffe as well, who like Rahal, compete with smaller teams – Bourdais with Coyne in a venture with Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, and Hinchcliffe with SPM – and more legitimate players are emerging in the title hunt.

And with big names like Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud stumbling out of the gates so far – Dixon is sixth in the championship while Pagenaud sits 16th – there’s a lot of room for championship drama to develop in the coming races.

Will Power Seeks Barber Redemption

Will Power started on pole last year at Barber, led a race-high 60 laps, and looked set to take his third win at the Alabama road course before suffering a cut tire, and the Penske squad was left no choice but to bring Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet into the pits.

It was a heart-breaking result for a driver who, at the time, needed to right the ship after finishes of 19th and 14th to open the season.

One year later, Power again heads to Barber looking right the ship after a troublesome start to his season, with finishes of 10th and 22nd in the opening two races.

He took the first step by finishing second at Long Beach, and now looks to avenge last year’s Barber disappointment to get his first win of 2018.

“Long Beach was really great for the whole No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team after we finished second. It was our best finish so far this season, so it’s done a lot for team morale going into this weekend at Barber,” Power explained. “Road courses are always a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to racing one with the new car. My team has been really working hard over the past several weeks with back-to-back races and they have a really strong car ready to go. Barber is such a cool course and the fans there are always really excited to be there. It’s just a really fun event for everyone and I can’t wait to get on track.”

Power

Misc.

  • There have been five different winners at Barber: Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud. Power, Hunter-Reay, and Newgarden are the only ones with multiple wins at Barber, though, with each sitting on two wins apiece.
  • Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal have also been successful at Barber. Rahal has two second place finishes, while Dixon has five. However, neither has been able to break through for a win, although that could easily change this weekend.
  • Marco Andretti sits tenth in the championship, with finishes of ninth and sixth the highlights of his early season. However, his race pace has been very impressive, and if he can get his qualifying up to a similar level, Andretti could be a darkhorse.
  • Ed Jones and Zach Veach look to build on finishes of third and fourth at Long Beach, their best results of the 2018 season.

The Final Word…

From Josef Newgarden, winner of the two of the last three races at Barber Motorsports Park, including last year:

“We had a decent finish at Long Beach but we’re definitely hungry for more. Barber is one of my favorite tracks we visit – not just because we’ve won there – but because it’s a cool track and it’s only a few hours away from where I grew up (in Nashville, Tennessee). That just makes it even more special when I’ve won there. Barber is going to be interesting since it’s the first time we’re racing the new car on a road course. I think it could lead to some really exciting racing for the great fans at Barber and the fans at home. The whole No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet team and I are ready to take the strong car we have ready for this weekend to the track and run a great race.”

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Josef Newgarden
2. Scott Dixon
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Helio Castroneves
5. Alexander Rossi
6. James Hinchcliffe
7. Tony Kanaan
8. Sebastien Bourdais
9. Takuma Sato
10. Mikhail Aleshin

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Will Power
2. Helio Castroneves
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Scott Dixon
5. Ryan Hunter-Reay
6. James Hinchcliffe

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