Photo: IndyCar/Chris Jones

Here’s What Drivers Said after Saturday night’s IndyCar race at Phoenix

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Here’s what all 23 drivers entered in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix IndyCar race at ISM Raceway had to say after Josef Newgarden took the checkered flag:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN, winner: “We had everything, we had the whole package with Team Chevy power. We had the fuel mileage from Team Chevy that we needed. Just being able to have Verizon on the car finally and get victories for them feels so good. They’ve done so much for the sport and for Team Penske. It’s a Team Penske win tonight, I’ll tell you that. It wasn’t me. This was a team effort tonight that got it done.”

ROBERT WICKENS, finished 2nd: “It’s a dream come true. All I wanted to do was finish every lap of my oval debut. So, to come home P2 and even lead tonight, you can never expect that as a rookie. It’s so hard here, but the team did a great job. The car was great all day. James (Hinchcliffe) and I were quick so I think it’s really encouraging for things to come.” (About if there was anything he could do to hold off Josef Newgarden): “I did as much as I could without crashing both of us, so I don’t think there’s any stopping him. I think once he built up the courage to just out brake me around the outside, it was pretty easy. But congratulations to him. You know, these INDYCAR races are so much longer than what I’m used to. It’s confusing. I didn’t know where he was at one point and then he popped up in the lead and (Ed) Jones got ahead of me there. But I’m still happy with how it turned out.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI, finished 3rd: “We had a strong start but then had a mishap on the first stop. It was unfortunate, but the important thing is that my crew is okay, that’s always my first concern. I didn’t challenge the box that hard, it was a stop under yellow so there wasn’t a need to – I went to turn right to line up and (the car) just went straight. Then we didn’t get the yellow we needed, so we had to completely unlap ourselves and come back through the field. The Military To Motorsports Honda was by far the best car on track, I think, and it deserved to win. It wasn’t meant to be today, but I’m happy to stand on the podium.”

SCOTT DIXON, finished 4th: “We just didn’t get the run we needed to on (Alexander) Rossi there at the end when it counted. All in all, it was a good day for us. The weekend didn’t start out great, but we survived with the PNC Bank car and got some good points tonight.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY, finished 5th: “I’m disappointed not to finish P2 tonight. I think we had the car to do that. A top five is nice, but we’re looking for podiums and wins. We had some issues in the pits tonight. I made a mistake on the first one – then we pitted a little bit too early, a little bit too late on one of them. But, it was an exciting race at the end and congrats to Josef on the win and to Alexander on the podium. I just wish we would have gone green a little bit sooner there at the end of the race; that would have made the show, I think. I’m not really sure what took so long that time to get back to green, but definitely a shame to not get back at it soon and have more time to get the DHL Honda to the podium it deserved.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, finished 6th: “Not the ending we wanted, but that last restart starting second – huge credit to the team. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have done an incredible job since the test here in February when we were at the bottom [of the time sheets], to get two cars in the top six in both qualifying and the race. Huge congrats to Robbie (Wickens) on his first podium. I think the Arrow Electronics guys really did an incredible job today, picked up a lot of spots on pit lane which is huge for a short oval like this. Restarting second on that last restart, I thought maybe we had a shot at it. We took a gamble, other guys took a gamble – it’s tough to tell how it went in terms of stopping for tires on the last restart; Alex [Rossi], Robbie and I decided not to. Ultimately the new tire guy won, but track position is key at a place like this, and we made a call – that call was right. I’m proud of the guys. Stinks to lose a couple spots so late in the race like that when we were running at the top all day, but good points day, and huge for the team.”

ED CARPENTER, finished 7th: “This was really a race where you had to race your own car. We were able to get a top 10 out of it and stayed on the lead lap, which is really hard to do when you start at the back on a short oval. We were just trying to have a clean race. I felt like that would give us a chance to work forward and it mostly did. We just ran out of steam at the end. I screwed up a little bit on my in-lap on the second-to-last pit stop and that maybe cost us a position. Then, I just couldn’t get Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) after that last restart. I really don’t like the blocking rules on ovals, I don’t think there’s a place for it in oval racing. We can’t seem to get away from it, but it is what it is. There’s a lot of positives to take away from this. The Fuzzy’s Vodka guys had great pit stops all night. We ended last season on some bad luck, so it’s nice to be able to roll the car on the truck. We have a little more work to do on our short oval package, but I’ll take tonight’s finish.”

TONY KANAAN, finished 8th: “It was a big improvement for the team. We’ve been aiming to finish in the top 10 and we did that tonight. We have our struggles, and there are things we need to fix and we’re doing it one piece at a time. I think we had a great weekend. We were in the top six all weekend long. I’m happy with the progress, but there’s a lot more work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL, finished 9th: “It wasn’t bad. I’m a little disappointed that we lost spots there. We were trying to go really long on our stints – which was the whole goal – and frankly, it should have worked.  There were a couple of times there that yellows should have come out and they didn’t, and because of that, we paid the price running on old tires. Strategy and history shows that that’s the best way to do it, so we stuck to our plan but it didn’t quite work out today, but ultimately we got a top 10 for the One Cure team and that’s a heck of a lot better than we did last year here. We will just keep our heads down and keep pounding away. We’re not bad, but we need to continue improving on a day-to-day basis. We need to show up close (to the right setup) at Long Beach and we should be able to.”

SIMON PAGENAUD, finished 10th: “We practiced on pit road all weekend long, and I don’t know, for some reason it was super slippery tonight. I was honestly taking it easy on pit road because I knew that I had good track position and a good car. There was no need to push the limits. There was nothing I could have done differently in that situation. In fact, I’ve been replaying it over in my head and I would have done the same thing every time. It is what it is and we got shuffled back and had to make the best of it, but the car had too much understeer. I couldn’t get rid of it. It was better at the end of the race, but it was too late at that point. Congrats to Josef (Newgarden) and Team Penske on getting a win early in the season. A little disappointed and frustrated though because we had a good car this weekend.”

TAKUMA SATO, finished 11th: “It was a tough weekend.  After we had the positive test, we came here and had a difficult time. Going into qualifying there were so many unknowns and we had to change the car so much. After that, it was the same scenario in the race. I never got comfortable. It was very tough out there, and in the end, the strategy did not play out well. We started 13th and finished 11th, so not a good weekend at all. The timing of the pit stop was key and I think we stayed out too long. When the tires started to go off, there was quite a battle. I was able to overtake a few cars.  It was a frustrating night.”

MARCO ANDRETTI, finished 12th: “Nice work to the Oberto Circle K crew for getting me in and out of the pits smoothly all night. We had a big day ahead of us from the start, starting 20th after a dropped skid in qualifying. Tonight, I think we were just down on COP all day. The number was just so low that we didn’t trust it – I think we were around five percent low off of what my teammates were running. We were just way behind on front wing all day and just kind of hanging on. I’m not thrilled to finish P12, but with what we were working with all day it was a decent result for us. We put the 98 to its limits tonight for sure.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, finished 13th: “We were pretty much in control of the race and things were looking good. Then the first and almost only yellow came out. We paraded around for two or three laps and all I was thinking about was hitting my marks when we pitted. I didn’t scrub my tires. I didn’t pay attention that my tires loaded up with a bunch of junk and next thing I knew I was on the concrete in the pit lane. I tried to slow down and locked up the wheels instantly and nothing happened. Nothing. I just skated and two guys left with me. That was the failed moment of the race because after that there were no yellows until all the pit stops were completed. So, that was that. We just never recovered from going down a lap because of the drive-through penalty. I made a bunch of passes and recovered a decent amount of positions, but nothing to put us where we belonged. So, pretty disappointing overall for sure.”

SPENCER PIGOT, finished 14th: “That was definitely a difficult race. At the beginning, it was so tricky and I was really on edge. We made the car a bit better throughout the race. We just struggled with having the grip and balance to get close to guys and run in the pack after the peak grip of the tires wore off. The good thing is we finished the race and brought the car home. Now we have to look forward to Long Beach and get back to running up at the front.”

GABBY CHAVES, finished 15th: “It was a long and trying night for us. In spite of not having the race we wanted to have, we were able to learn a lot of things that will help us develop the car and move forward faster. We hung in there, learned and gained a lot. Now we’ll keep our heads up and look forward to the next one, turn the page and keep moving forward to Long Beach.”

ZACH VEACH, finished 16th: “I’m extremely thankful. I think we had a much better showing tonight than in St. Pete. It was really hard to fight for 16th. We had a small mishap at the end, running 13th or 12th so I think we should have finished a little bit better. My Group One Thousand One guys have done a great job all weekend. We started a little behind with a mechanical issue earlier in the weekend and in qualifying. Starting last was tough, but we did the best we could to work through the field. The important thing, as Michael says, is every race I just have to complete every lap. We completed every lap here, and in St. Pete. If we do that, we’ll be pretty strong at the end of the year.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL, finished 17th: “Tonight’s race was definitely a step in the right direction for us. We made some progress with the set-up and by the end of the race the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet felt the best it had all weekend. We learned a lot and we got a huge amount of information that will help us moving forward.”

MAX CHILTON, finished 18th: “It was a tough weekend for the team, but every time we’re on track we’re learning and making progress. That race was just tough. We didn’t qualify well and starting so far back on the grid on a track that’s already difficult to pass on made it even harder to gain any positions. By the end of the race we had quite good pace, we just couldn’t move forward at all. I’m ready to move on from tonight’s race and get to Long Beach to see what we can do there.”

MATHEUS LEIST, finished 19th: “My first oval done, my first complete race in the Verizon IndyCar Series done, so lots of new stuff learned. We made a lot of passes which was good, not too many guys were passing. I was feeling good physically in the car, I’m not tired at all. Today wasn’t our day, wasn’t my day, but I want to say thanks to the team. I think we had a car to finish in the top seven. On to Long Beach now.”

ED JONES , finished 20th: “Obviously it was a long race and we didn’t know what to expect coming in with the NTT DATA car. The car actually handled a little better than expected. The tire degradation wasn’t that bad and my guys did some great pit stops tonight. Every time we came in we made up positions. I just got into the turn, and it just started going straight and there was nothing I could do. We were second and having a great run, and I’m looking forward to improving upon that and getting better for the next race.”

KYLE KAISER, finished 21st: “Obviously, I’m a little disappointed with the way things ended, but I am extremely happy with how the car was and effort from the team. I think we had a really nice race car. We had strong pace and were running times with the guys who were running up front. The Chevy engine was great the whole time. We had some good runs and got some good passes in and I learned a ton. I’m a rookie with a rookie team, so we are out here on a super steep learning curve. Being able to go out there and run that many laps and learn as much as I did was very valuable. I’m looking forward to getting back in the car at Long Beach and building on what we learned from this weekend.”

WILL POWER, finished 22nd: “I was having a good race, actually. I felt like we had a pretty good Verizon Chevy. (Alexander) Rossi ran up on the inside of me pretty late and I got on the brakes once I saw him go to the inside because I knew the marbles were pretty bad. I was going pretty slow and still got up into the wall because it was like being on ice. Disappointed for the guys, but we will just have to move on, have a couple of good races and get back in the hunt. I am determined for Long Beach, Barber, the Indy road course and the Indy 500. Happy to see Josef (Newgarden) in victory lane tonight, though.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI, finished 23rd: “We were running well, but then I caught a group of cars and I ran a bit hard. There was a lot of turbulence, and with that group of cars I wasn’t expecting that much difference, and the Paysafe car just went away from me. Once you get in the gray, you just go straight into the wall.”

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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.