NHRA at Topeka: Capps wins 4th straight; Brown, Gray also winners

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Fans that attended the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kansas this weekend most certainly got their money’s worth.

Each day of the race weekend – Friday through Sunday – saw at least one major NHRA professional national record set in either speed or elapsed time (or both).

The biggest class to see numerous records set was in Funny Car, where the speed mark was re-set twice, while the ET mark was re-set once.

We’ll get back to that more in a second, but first, here’s how Sunday’s final round of eliminations transpired in the eighth of 24 national events this season:

Funny Car: Ron Capps won his fourth straight race, defeating Matt Hagan. Capps is the first driver in nearly five years to win four straight (Robert Hight last did so in 2012).

“I’m just the luckiest dude in the world,” Capps said. “I had nothing to do with it. I just stepped on the gas at the right time and held the car together in the right lane. We’ve won a championship (last season) for a reason and we’ve won four in a row together for a reason. Everyone just gels together.”

Top Fuel: Antron Brown came into the race having defeated Steve Torrence 21 of 22 times in their respective race careers. Make it 22 of 23 now, as Brown earns the 63rd win of his career (passes Larry Dixon for seventh on the NHRA all-time wins list) – and his first ever at Topeka. It was also Brown’s second win of the season.

“The competition has been so tight that you have to run these cars on edge every lap,” Brown said. “We kept our head down and stayed poised. We went out there and raced our hearts out. It feels real good to win here at Topeka. I’ve been wanting to win here for so long.”

Pro Stock: Tanner Gray became the third member of his family to win at Topeka, joining grandfather Johnny (won in Funny Car in 2013) and father Shane (won in Pro Stock in 2011). The youngest Gray essentially had a free pass to the win when Jeg Coughlin red-lit in the final round, automatically disqualifying him.

“I felt like I was pretty consistent all day,” Gray stated. “My guys gave me a great racecar. I definitely wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for them. They put a lot of hard work into this new car. There’s no doubt we have a championship caliber team.”

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Now, as for all the records, the weekend saw the 10 fastest speeds or quickest elapsed times in Funny Car history, as well as the two fastest speeds ever in Top Fuel annals.

Robert Hight set things in record-breaking motion on Friday when he broke the new mark in a big way with a run of 337.66 mph.

While that speed appeared pretty stout, it ultimately wasn’t for Matt Hagan on Saturday, who not only re-set the speed record at 338.85 mph, but also set the national elapsed tie record at 3.802 seconds.

“This is about as extreme as it gets,” Hagan told NHRA.com. “338 mph with a steering wheel in your lap is craziness – and we’re doing it in 1,000 feet.

“We’ve got the conditions, the parts and pieces and the power and the crew that is doing a great job out there. It’s just cool to go out there and get it done.”

Also Saturday, three-time champ Antron Brown set the Top Fuel national speed record (333.16 mph).

In Sunday’s first round of eliminations in Top Fuel, Brittany Force set a new national speed record (333.66 mph). However, Brittany’s record speed would go for naught when she lost in the second round to Steve Torrence, one of the hottest drivers this season.

Then Brittany’s baby sister, Courtney Force, went out and recorded the second-fastest speed in Funny Car history (338.68 mph) and the fourth-quickest ET (3.821 mph).

Hight roared back in his own first-round match (338.09 mph and 3.833 seconds), meaning the event saw the four quickest ETs and the six fastest speeds in Funny Car history.

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Here’s all the stats from Sunday’s final eliminations:


TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Steve Torrence; 3.  Leah Pritchett; 4.  Clay Millican; 5.  Doug Kalitta; 6.Brittany Force; 7.  Shawn Langdon; 8.  Tony Schumacher; 9.  Terry McMillen; 10.  Kebin Kinsley; 11.Scott Palmer; 12.  Luigi Novelli; 13.  Mike Salinas; 14.  Troy Coughlin Jr.; 15.  Pat Dakin; 16.Rob Passey.

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

PRO STOCK: 1.  Tanner Gray; 2.  Jeg Coughlin; 3.  Bo Butner; 4.  Vincent Nobile; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6.  Allen Johnson; 7.  Jason Line; 8.  Drew Skillman; 9.  Matt Hartford; 10.  Deric Kramer; 11.  Dave River; 12.  Mark Hogan; 13.  Erica Enders; 14.  Alan Prusiensky.

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TOP FUEL: Antron Brown, 3.709 seconds, 332.75 mph  def. Steve Torrence, 3.836 seconds, 256.70 mph.

Funny Car: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.924, 321.42  def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.985, 318.92.

PRO STOCK: Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.580, 210.87  def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, Foul – Red Light.

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TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Clay Millican, 3.732, 304.67 def. Terry McMillen, 3.761, 321.50; Doug Kalitta, 3.731, 329.42 def. Scott Palmer, 3.811, 323.58; Antron Brown, 3.691, 332.34 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.790, 322.73; Tony Schumacher, 5.895, 193.85 def. Pat Dakin, 10.012, 71.62; Leah Pritchett, 3.707, 326.87 def. Rob Passey, 14.850, 35.15; Brittany Force, 3.698, 333.66 def. Luigi Novelli, 3.986, 288.95; Steve Torrence, 3.707, 332.10 def. Mike Salinas, 4.406, 167.93; Shawn Langdon, 3.722, 329.42 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., 4.933, 125.46;

QUARTERFINALS — Millican, 5.428, 143.41 def. Schumacher, 8.413, 64.85; Pritchett, 3.708, 325.92 def. Kalitta, 3.731, 330.96; Torrence, 3.745, 326.95 def. Force, 3.736, 332.92; Brown, 4.026,275.90 def. Langdon, 4.736, 179.21;

SEMIFINALS — Torrence, 3.718, 329.34 def. Millican, 3.822, 316.08; Brown, 3.715, 330.15 def. Pritchett, 3.718, 329.34;

FINAL — Brown, 3.709, 332.75 def. Torrence, 3.836, 256.70.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.833, 338.09 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.412, 212.16; Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.852, 333.99 def. Jack Wyatt, Dodge Stratus, 5.699, 124.65; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.821, 338.68 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.913, 328.30; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.218, 217.70 def. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.172, 247.97; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.968, 326.87 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.456, 190.83; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.930, 317.49 def. John Force, Camaro, 3.907, 332.34; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.606, 179.02 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 9.778, 81.34; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.938, 329.58 def. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 3.930, 322.96;

QUARTERFINALS — Hight, 3.895, 332.43 def. Tasca III, 3.910, 325.22; Capps, 3.866, 325.45 def. C. Force, 3.902, 333.00; Hagan, 4.016, 273.94 def. Todd, 5.288, 148.27; Beckman, 3.883, 328.54 def. Worsham, 4.012, 324.36;

SEMIFINALS — Capps, 3.908, 323.97 def. Hight, 6.168, 118.16; Hagan, 3.918, 330.55 def. Beckman, 4.434, 195.65;

FINAL — Capps, 3.924, 321.42 def. Hagan, 3.985, 318.92.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.583, 210.44 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 9.145, 109.08; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.553, 210.73 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.587, 209.39 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.578, 210.67; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.563,210.67 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.639, 208.84; Greg Anderson, Camaro,  def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, Broke – No Show; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.557, 211.10 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.707, 205.69; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.556, 210.50 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.832, 202.18;

QUARTERFINALS — Coughlin, 6.575, 209.23 def. Johnson, 6.634, 209.98; Nobile, 6.581, 210.14 def. Line, Foul – Red Light; Butner, 6.557, 209.95 was unopposed; Gray, 6.575, 209.69 def. Anderson, 6.568, 210.34;

SEMIFINALS — Gray, 6.577, 210.14 def. Nobile, 16.918, 49.57; Coughlin, 6.576, 210.60 def. Butner, 6.569, 210.18;

FINAL — Gray, 6.580, 210.87 def. Coughlin, Foul – Red Light.

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TOP FUEL: 1.  Leah Pritchett, 721; 2.  Steve Torrence, 691; 3.  Antron Brown, 680; 4.  Tony Schumacher, 673; 5.  Doug Kalitta, 539; 6.  Clay Millican, 433; 7.  Brittany Force, 405; 8.  Terry McMillen, 333; 9.Troy Coughlin Jr., 327; 10.  Scott Palmer, 276.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 748; 2.  Matt Hagan, 629; 3.  John Force, 524; 4.  Robert Hight, 518; 5.  Jack Beckman, 502; 6.  Courtney Force, 464; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 461; 8.  J.R. Todd, 378; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 360; 10.  Jonnie Lindberg, 318.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Bo Butner, 670; 2.  Greg Anderson, 646; 3.  Tanner Gray, 610; 4.  Jeg Coughlin, 593; 5.  Jason Line, 576; 6.  Erica Enders, 423; 7.  Chris McGaha, 421; 8.  Vincent Nobile, 414; 9.  Drew Skillman, 392; 10.  Shane Gray, 382.

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‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”