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INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after qualifying for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

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Qualifying for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach IndyCar race had a lot of ups and downs.

Here’s what drivers in Sunday’s race had to say about their overall starting positions:

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) — Pole winner: “The team is doing a great job. Hats off to all of them, to Honda, to everyone who has put in so much effort. The big job is tomorrow so we have to execute that. I feel like we have given up two potential wins, so we are trying not to do that again tomorrow. But, the team definitely executed some NAPA Know How today and we are really happy to start from the best spot tomorrow. Obviously you go out every single session and believe that you have the best car and the best opportunity to do it. We have been so strong, we were strong here last year. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda has been so fast and I’m looking forward to leading the field tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) — starts 2nd: “It was good. I felt like we had a really good car. Got to the Firestone Fast Six like we needed to, and yeah, just were not fast enough basically to be on pole, but very happy to be on the front row. You know, we’ve kind of crept up all weekend and definitely made the car better and in a good window now. That was a lot of fun.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet) — starts 3rd: “Pretty proud of everybody at Team Penske. We have such success with the previous aero kit, we have to rethink a little of what have been doing, but when you have success that changing method is very complicated. These (Team Penske) guys, they react so quick and we are already back in the fight. The car was really good. I think (Alexander) Rossi is reachable it’s just that I am learning the car because it’s just starting to feel really great, so I left some on the table. We are coming back.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) — starts 4th: “It was good for us to make the top six. The car rolled off the truck really well and we worked on it through the first few sessions. We made some pretty hefty changes before qualifying and the car came back where we needed it. I was disappointed I made a bit of a mistake going into Turn 8 near the end and that cost us a shot at the front row I think. Overall, I’m happy with the result and know we can get the PNC Bank car to winner’s circle from this spot.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Total Honda) — starts 5th: (About if he got everything out of the car): “Yeah, I think so. Obviously, you can always look back and say here or there maybe you had a tenth or two, but certainly…I didn’t have speed to be anywhere near Alex (Rossi). But you know, overall, that first session I was just happy to advance. It was unbelievably slippery and pretty ugly in Group 1. You know, obviously improved quite a lot for Group 2, and then into Round 2 it was much better. But I’m really pleased with where we’re at. I mean, if you look at St. Pete and how we were there, we were awful, and so that was kind of our only baseline to come here with, and obviously it’s worked a lot better. Proud of everybody on the Total team, and we’re going to put our heads down and try to go race with these two and a whole bunch of good guys tomorrow.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader) — starts 6th: (About hitting the wall in qualifying): “That’s why I pitted, I bent the left rear suspension touching the wall. It was a mistake on my part, which is a shame. I think we had the pace there on the optimum set of (Firestone) tires that we were going to run. I think we had the pace to be up there with (Alexander) Rossi. I don’t know if we would have gotten him (Rossi), but we would have been in the ballpark. So we never got to see that through, which is tough and makes our race a little harder starting from sixth. We have great speed in the Verizon car. I think Team Chevy has done a great job this weekend so we have the driveability that we are looking for, we should have good power to make this thing work on race day.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) — starts 7th: “The DHL guys did a great job with the car and they deserve better. We had a front row car here, and we’re starting seventh. The drive through penalty in qualifying isn’t something I really understand, and once we got issued that we didn’t have time to warm up the tires and set a new fast lap.  What we do is, we leave with a certain amount of time to get exactly the two or three laps we need. The tires are set to a pressure timed to those number of laps, so when you get a drive-through like that your [tire temperatures] aren’t up yet, and you can’t get up to speed in time.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner) — starts 8th: “Not a bad qualifying for us given where we were this morning. We rolled off the truck with not the strongest No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda, but again, credit to the team. We worked on everything, we improved the position of the cars, we improved the balance; it was definitely a lot of work. This place is a very different circuit than St. Pete, so unfortunately, it wasn’t just a direct copy setup-wise. Again, we were kind of out to lunch this morning, and really proud of the guys to get the car into a place where we could sneak into the top 10. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow. It’s a long race, and we’ve seen before how much things can change from qualifying to Sunday afternoon. We will put our heads down, put together a good race car, pray for great strategy and go from there.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda) — starts 9th: “I’m disappointed with Q2 (round 2 of qualifying) after the way Q1 went. We put ourselves in a hole in Q1. We got ourselves at the tail end of the queue and the car in front of us locked up going into turn one, so I had to abort that lap. It was not an easy run, but I still pulled it off on lap three and I really thought we were going to pretty good from there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the lap I wanted to achieve in Q2. I got a big wiggle in turn one. I’m not sure what happened, but that was the difference. We lost two, two and a half tenths on that lap and that was that. We missed Q3 by a tenth. It’s a bummer, but it is what it is. We will keep digging and hope for a better outcome tomorrow.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) — starts 10th: “I pushed a little too hard, and I brushed the wall at the exit of Turn 4. I bent the rear toe link, so we had to bring it back in; it’s a shame. When you’re pushing on the limit, and trying to get into the Firestone Fast Six, you risk everything. We went a little bit too far in that one, but the Lucas Oil car was good enough to get into the Fast Six today, nevertheless it was a good turn around from the guys considering where we came from in practice. The car felt much better than it has all weekend, so good job by the guys crunching the data, crunching the numbers to give us a better car here for this afternoon.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) — starts 11th: “That’s where we’ve been around all year long and that’s where the goal was. I think this weekend we could have been a little bit better, but we had a few issues electronically that put us behind, and missing a session is never a good thing but it’s racing. Problems happen and I’m glad it happened today and not tomorrow. But I’m pleased – I think it was a big improvement on the No 4 car as well so we’re gonna go race.” (About expectations for tomorrow): “It’s always tough when the field is that close. It’s going to be a fuel mileage race so we’ve got to talk about strategy here. Strategy is going to play a big role here – it always has, so we’ll see.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) — starts 12th: “I was happy to get through the first session as obviously that’s the first thing you’ve got to do. I didn’t get a great lap in on the second session. I think maybe the crash I had earlier made me have to reset slightly, which didn’t help. We should have been closer to the cusp, maybe not quite quick enough to get through. We should have definitely been better than 12th, 10th or 8th, that kind of region. Overall still a positive run, but from a personal performance I think there was more to be had.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) — starts 13th: “It was a little more difficult out there after the sports car race. I think the second lap was going to be my quickest, but I made a mistake so I had to go to my third and I dropped by a tenth. It is certainly frustrating. The guys did a great job after struggling a lot yesterday. This morning we were P10 and pretty good. I do still think we have a good NTT DATA car for the race tomorrow.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) — starts 14th: “Tough qualifying. We’ve been struggling a little bit with setup and myself as well because it’s a new track for me, it’s my first time here, and INDYCAR has a lot of great drivers. The car is very good. We just missed the top 12 by one position. I’m pretty happy. I’m confident that we will have a great car in race trim, and hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet) — starts 15th: “Progress has definitely been made. We had traffic and the increase in temperature made the car balance pretty challenging. I feel like we made a huge step forward and I was able to get the most out of what we had apart from the traffic. It’s really good for myself and the whole team to see some progression being made and hopefully we’ll be able to carry that into the race tomorrow with the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda) — starts 16th: “We missed advancing slightly today. I got into the wall on the blacks in the first run, so I think I was a little too cautious at the end when we shouldn’t have been. The Andretti cars have been great, obviously Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and Alex (Rossi) are really liking what they have.  I just need more time to figure it out. We were close to advancing in St. Pete and here, so hopefully in Barber we’ll figure it out. But we have a race to focus on now, and we’re looking forward to it.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet) — starts 18th: “We’ve made some really good changes to the car throughout the weekend, but this is a tough track. When it came time for qualifying, we really struggled with grip and when we put the red tires on, it just wasn’t there for us. We will go back and look at everything and focus on getting better for tomorrow.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet) — starts 19th: “It looked like rush hour traffic out there for us unfortunately. There were a lot of cars not following the rules as they should be and putting other cars behind them, so it was unfortunate we got stuck. We only got our one time lap when we were trying to get two or three and that really cost a lot. I don’t know where we would have ideally ended up, but it was not 19th or 20th, we were better than that today. So it’s just unfortunate, we’ll keep working and move up in the race.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda) — starts 20th: “I made a mistake pushing too hard into (Turn 1) and ended up in the runoff. Once we flat spotted the tires, we didn’t really have hopes of a faster lap. It’s on me and that is going to make it hard to sleep tonight. We were riddled with an issue yesterday and the whole crew worked really hard last night to get to the bottom of it and correct it. We kind of started from scratch this morning and I think we headed in the right direction. I think the U.S. Concrete / Curb car had the pace to advance. Starting 20th doesn’t show our true pace, or the true talents of the No. 98 team.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda) — starts 21st: “It was a tough qualifying session today aboard the No. 19 Paysafe Car in Long Beach. We had an issue this morning that took away some valuable practice time and I think that hurt us heading into qualifying. It’s not an easy track but I did the best I could under the circumstances. We’ll get better for the race tomorrow and hope for the best.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) — starts 22nd: “Qualifying was disappointing. On the first lap, I was kind of held up in traffic and never got the temperature in the tires. Then on the second lap there was another local yellow flag in Turn 1. After that I caught up to Marco (Andretti) and was behind him the entire lap, so I couldn’t go faster.  That was it. It was very disappointing. Hopefully we have a strong race car so we can try to go through the field.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet) — starts 23rd: “I’m really disappointed honestly, because we made such good progress this morning. I felt really good about the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet after this morning’s session, but we just struggled to get any good lap times out of the tires and find any grip. We’ll go back and figure out what it needs for the race and dial up the strategy. There’s always something going on around here as far as yellows, strategies, and fuel, so I’m optimistic. Max (Chilton) did a really nice job in qualifying, so we’ll go back and compare our data to see where we need to be for tomorrow.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet) — starts 24th: “It was an unfortunate early end to the qualifying session today. I pushed the brake zone too hard going into Turn 9 and that caused the car to push wide and make contact with the wall. We made solid progress to the car from yesterday and I’m still confident we’ll have a great car for the race. I feel terrible for the team, but I’m grateful and confident we’ll have the car ready to race tomorrow.”

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

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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.