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Whincup seizes Supercars title from McLaughlin after penalty

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The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship isn’t a series we cover regularly on MotorSportsTalk, but it is something we need to look at today following an utterly dramatic finale at the Newcastle circuit at the weekend.

Jamie Whincup, of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team and Triple 8 Racing Race Engineering, snatched the title post-race from DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, in his Shell V-Power Racing Ford, after McLaughlin was assessed a post-race 25-second time penalty for what the stewards deemed to be reckless driving.

An odd race saw McLaughlin, in the driver’s seat for both his and Penske’s first Supercars driver’s championship (DJR Team Penske did win the team’s championship) penalized three times (drive-through for pit lane speeding and a 15-second penalty for spinning Simona de Silvestro occurred earlier), but none worse than the crushing blow after a final lap battle.

Similar to the 2008 Formula 1 season finale in Brazil, McLaughlin was further down the order than he should have been in position to clinch the title, and required a dramatic last-lap pass up the inside of another car for a spot to gain. In that F1 race, Lewis Hamilton got Timo Glock for fifth place, and in Newcastle, it was McLaughlin’s turn to pass James Moffat for 11th. That position would have netted McLaughlin the title on countback over Whincup.

Although McLaughlin passed him to get through, and thus secure the position he needed to clinch the championship, what he hadn’t planned for was TeamVortex’s Craig Lowndes to attack up the inside and try to deny him in his Holden.

The odd nature of the Newcastle street course meant after Turn 1 there was a gap in the wall driver’s left, and the bumpy track could unsettle the corner and upset its stability. That set up the dramatic moment.

As McLaughlin got a poor corner exit, he then sought to defend the position ahead of a surging Lowndes, who he didn’t know was alongside because he’d lost his left side mirror earlier in the race. But the two collided, with Lowndes then losing the back-end on the run to Turn 2 and hitting the wall after sustaining left front tire damage following wall contact.

Whincup won the race but wasn’t assured the title until McLaughlin’s penalty was assessed. The 25-second time penalty dropped him down to 18th, and ensured Whincup had his seventh series championship (first since 2014) by 21 points.

Whincup was stunned even after the fact as he watched a replay of the contact, as in the immediate aftermath he couldn’t believe his fortune.

“I’m lost for words. I didn’t have a clue crossing the line, I assumed I came second and the crew goes ‘you’ve got number one’,” Whincup said, via Supercars.com.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 26: Jamie Whincup driver of the #88 Red Bull Holden Racing Team Holden Commodore VF celebrates after winning race 26 and the 2017 Supercars Drivers Championship during the Newcastle 500, which is part of the Supercars Championship at Newcastle Street Circuit on November 26, 2017 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

McLaughlin was understandably gutted; the breakout season came up just short.

“I lost my left-hand mirror so early. I knew we were close, but I didn’t think we were that close, I just defended the line into Turn 2 and we got interlocked and I genuinely didn’t mean to push him into he wall,” he said.

“To get pinged like that… I shouldn’t have even been there in the first place. That’s hard.”

While McLaughlin was gutted, Roger Penske, who was on site in Australia, was furious.

“I’m not really sure what happened with Lowndes. It looked like, you know, he was there (McLaughlin was past Lowndes) and to give us a 25 seconds penalty is pretty outrageous. But it is what it is,” Penske said, via Speedcafe.com.

The loss cost Team Penske its second driver’s title in two series this year, with Josef Newgarden having won the Verizon IndyCar Series championship at Sonoma in September.

Penske was, however, on site for that championship victory there, in Miami last week as the No. 22 Team Penske Ford won the NASCAR Xfinity Series owner’s championship, and on site this weekend in Australia for DJR Team Penske to have claimed the Supercars team’s championship. Beyond McLaughlin, who ended second in points, teammate Fabian Coulthard was third after a dynamic season.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 26: Scott McLaughlin drives the #17 Shell V-Power Racing Team Ford Falcon FGX leads the field into turn 1 at the start of race 26 for the Newcastle 500, which is part of the Supercars Championship at Newcastle Street Circuit on November 26, 2017 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.