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Rolex 24: Can Fernando Alonso do at Daytona what he didn’t at Indianapolis? Namely, win?

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Fernando Alonso is going through a phase – and that’s meant in a good way.

He’s trying things he’s never done before and taking in the enjoyment and newness of it all.

Last year, it was Alonso taking part in and doing well for much of his first Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps early in the Greatest Spectacle of Racing and appeared headed to a potential upset win before a blown motor with just over 20 laps ended his day and winning hopes prematurely.

Tuesday, the 36-year-old Spaniard was in Charlotte for a stop at NASCAR Media Day and waxed whimsically about how he might want to try NASCAR some day – but not some day soon, though.

And this weekend, Alonso will enjoy another career first, competing in his first Rolex 24 endurance race this Saturday and Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

The two-time Formula One world champion is casting a large presence in Daytona, but nowhere near as large as last year at Indianapolis.

Still, his name has drawing power that should help the overall crowd for the 24 Hours, and much like at Indy last May, he is in a car – the United Autosports No. 23 Ligier LMP2 – that could surprise with a strong run.

Even though this will be his first endurance race in a sports car, Alonso already has a feel for what’s in store this weekend, having taken part in the three-day Roar Before the 24 three weeks ago at Daytona.

He got a good handle on the difference between a sports car and an open wheel Formula One chassis. He also got a good handle on the Daytona road course layout.

And much like he did in Indianapolis, don’t be surprised if Alonso surprises with a strong outing in the Rolex 24.

“You feel the compression in the body, you feel the visibility change because when in a normal car on the circuit, your view in the car is longer ahead,” told IMSA Wire at the conclusion of the Roar. “When you are in the corner with banking you see only the next 200 meters of the track.

“But it was good fun, a good feeling after missing track time. So far, so good.’’

IMSA President Scott Atherton has quickly become an Alonso fan, both personally and also for what his inclusion in the race will do for the race series.

“I don’t remember a time in my tenure in sports car racing which goes back a long time that we’ve had an active F1 driver on the grid,” Atherton said to IMSA Wire, adding, “and to have an active F1 driver of Alonso’s credentials … is nothing short of remarkable.

“Of course, his debut at Indy last year cannot be overstated in terms of the impact it had. It created a groundswell of interest in the United States and overseas.

“It will be significant and certainly with what this race represents and uniqueness of him competing in a multi-class race over 24 hours. The dynamics of that … we all saw remarkable embrace of his ability to compete in highest level at the Indy 500 and I think we will see the same here.”

While it’s unlikely Alonso will have a repeat performance at Indy this May due to his F1 obligations, this weekend will allow him to check off Daytona from his bucket list, much like he did with Indy last year.

“You smell motor racing here,” Alonso said. “That’s a good feeling for any driver. The speedway is amazing. The size of everything is just huge. I imagine this grandstand full of people for the NASCAR race would be an amazing thing to experience.”

Alonso still has one other race to check off his bucket list, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it’s unclear when that may reach fruition.

Much like location, location, location is key in selling real estate and buying a house, scheduling, scheduling, scheduling is the biggest obstacle for the perennial busy Alonso to overcome if he is to race at Le Mans, in NASCAR or even making a return visit to the Indy 500.

But for now, he was able to fit the Rolex 24 into his schedule and is looking forward to what he’ll experience this weekend.

“This is first time for me in an endurance race,” he told IMSA Wire. “First time for me in a prototype car. First time driving at night. First time driving with GTs around. Many new things will come. Step by step.

“That’s quite a big challenge but I’m ready to join. And as it happened in Indianapolis, if you feel great opportunity and you feel competitive, you go for it.”

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.