Jerry Bonkowski

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

NHRA: Pritchett, Capps, Butner capture wins in Springnationals near Houston

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) had some spring in their step – and gas pedal – on Sunday, capturing their respective classes in the NHRA Springnationals.

Here’s how the final round broke down at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas, the fifth race on the 24-race NHRA national event schedule:

* In Top Fuel, Pritchett (3.781 seconds at 321.96 mph) earned her third win of the young season, defeating Steve Torrence (3.787 seconds, 322.11 mph) in the final round.

“Our goal was to leave as the points leader and that was not easy at all,” Pritchett said. “Going into the final we said this is our bounce back and we’re going to keep it interesting.

“I’ve never been in a position to really be counting points and I know it is early in the season, but I’m definitely enjoying that.”

On the way to the final round matchup with Torrence, Pritchett defeated Scott Palmer, Doug Kalitta and defending Top Fuel champ Antron Brown, who is also her teammate at Don Schumacher Racing.

Pritchett’s bragging rights were a bit more than usual, as her husband works on Torrence’s pit crew.

* In Funny Car, Capps – who won his first national championship last season – earned his first win of the season.

Capps (4.004 seconds at 284.33 mph) defeated Robert Hight (4.107 seconds, 202.88 mph) to claim the 51st win of his NHRA career, as well as his third triumph at Royal Purple Raceway.

“These things become so hard to win these days,” Capps said. “But you take things for granted where I felt like we should’ve won at any of those first three races of the season.

“NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car division has to be the most competitive thing in the world right now; its cut-throat.”

The final matchup was anything but ordinary for both drivers: Capps’ engine exploded just before the finish line, while Hight had engine issues and crossed the center line, marking an automatic disqualification.

Along the way to the final round, Capps defeated Todd Simpson, 16-time world champion John Force and teammate Jack Beckman.

* In Pro Stock, Butner (6.550 seconds, 212.26 mph) claimed his first career Pro Stock win, defeating No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin (6.562 seconds, 212.03 mph).

It was Butner’s first win and seventh career final round appearance, while Coughlin reached his first final round since ’s first final round appearance at Seattle in 2015.

“Any win that you stand on that stage, Super Stock, Super Street or whatever it is (the feeling) never gets old,” Butner said. “It’s a great feeling and you can’t explain it unless you experience it.

“To make four consecutive win lights is very tough and a lot harder than I expected.”

Butner defeated Allen Johnson and four-time champ Greg Anderson before facing Coughlin in the final round. Only 13 cars qualified in Pro Stock, short of the usual 16-car field.

MORE: NHRA: Pro Stock teams get into confrontation during Houston race

The series now moves on to zMax Dragway in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina, April 28-30, for the eighth annual Four-Wide Nationals.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett; 2. Steve Torrence; 3. Antron Brown; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Doug Kalitta; 6. Bob Vandergriff; 7. Tony Schumacher; 8. Troy Coughlin Jr.; 9. Shawn Langdon; 10. Terry McMillen; 11. Shawn Reed; 12. Brittany Force; 13. Terry Haddock; 14. Scott Palmer; 15. Steven Chrisman; 16. Troy Buff.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. Robert Hight; 3. Courtney Force; 4. Jack Beckman; 5. J.R. Todd; 6. John Force; 7. Alexis DeJoria; 8. Jonnie Lindberg; 9. Cruz Pedregon; 10. Del Worsham; 11. Jim Campbell; 12. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 13. Matt Hagan; 14. Tim Wilkerson; 15. Jeff Diehl; 16. Todd Simpson.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Greg Anderson; 4. Tanner Gray; 5. Chris McGaha; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Richie Stevens; 8. Erica Enders; 9. Alex Laughlin; 10. Allen Johnson; 11. Drew Skillman; 12. Jason Line; 13. Alan Prusiensky.

PRO MODIFIED: 1. Steve Matusek; 2. Shane Molinari; 3. Mike Castellana; 4. Jonathan Gray; 5. Danny Rowe; 6. Mike Janis; 7. Troy Coughlin; 8. Shannon Jenkins; 9. Chuck Little; 10. Michael Biehle; 11.Eric Latino; 12. Steven Whiteley; 13. Larry Morgan; 14. Khalid alBalooshi; 15. Sidnei Frigo.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Leah Pritchett, 3.781 seconds, 321.96 mph  def. Steve Torrence, 3.787 seconds, 322.11 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.004, 284.33  def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, Foul – Centerline.

PRO STOCK: Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.550, 212.26  def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.562, 212.03.

PRO MODIFIED: Steve Matusek, Chevy Camaro, 8.985, 124.96  def. Shane Molinari, Pontiac Firebird, Foul – Red Light.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.758, 322.11 def. Troy Buff, Broke; Clay Millican, 3.729, 326.79 def. Steven Chrisman, 9.654, 83.58; Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.852, 277.20 def. Brittany Force, 3.871, 274.55; Doug Kalitta, 3.761, 325.06 def. Terry McMillen, 3.833, 315.86; Antron Brown, 3.752, 321.04 def. Terry Haddock, 3.931, 283.79; Steve Torrence, 3.748, 324.20 def. Shawn Reed, 3.867, 315.86; Leah Pritchett, 3.748, 324.59 def. Scott Palmer, 4.766, 152.52; Bob Vandergriff, 3.770, 323.43 def.Shawn Langdon, 3.813, 318.84;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.766, 326.00 def. Vandergriff, 3.778, 323.89; Millican, 3.784, 320.97 def. Schumacher, 3.779, 317.34; Torrence, 3.755, 324.20 def. Coughlin Jr., 6.779, 93.70; Pritchett, 3.763, 324.05 def. Kalitta, 3.759, 326.56;

SEMIFINALS — Pritchett, 3.772, 319.45 def. Brown, 3.815, 322.11; Torrence, 3.760, 323.27 def. Millican, 8.621, 87.00; FINAL — Pritchett, 3.781, 321.96 def. Torrence, 3.787, 322.11.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.897, 327.90 def. Todd Simpson, Chevy Camaro, 11.347, 81.01; Courtney Force, Camaro, 5.344, 132.02 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 10.819, 77.81; John Force, Camaro, 4.216, 220.08 def. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.485, 205.51; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.870, 331.77 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.543, 195.51; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.959, 323.58 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.935, 322.04; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.224, 222.62 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.142, 162.12; Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.944, 326.16 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.556, 190.16; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.927, 327.03 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 8.109, 112.19;

QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 3.951, 321.04 def. Lindberg, 5.159, 153.63; Hight, 3.898, 327.82 def. Todd, 3.958, 324.36; Beckman, 3.897, 329.18 def. J. Force, 4.134, 273.39; C. Force, 3.947, 294.37 def.DeJoria, 4.146, 260.16;

SEMIFINALS — Hight, 3.908, 324.98 def. C. Force, 3.943, 324.28; Capps, 3.926, 325.37 def. Beckman, 6.126, 114.85;

FINAL — Capps, 4.004, 284.33 def. Hight, Foul – Centerline.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.565, 211.86 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.548, 211.89 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.581, 210.97; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.555, 212.03 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.563, 210.90; Richie Stevens, Dodge Dart, 6.589,210.64 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.536, 211.46 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.588, 211.03; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.523, 213.33 def. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.567, 211.16; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.499, 213.03 was unopposed;

QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.547, 211.86 def. Stevens, 6.628, 209.75; Anderson, 6.558, 211.73 def.Nobile, 6.590, 211.73; Butner, 6.544, 212.06 was unopposed; Coughlin, 6.546, 211.73 def. McGaha, 6.574, 211.43;

SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.558, 211.63 def. Gray, Foul – Red Light; Butner, 6.536, 212.69 def.Anderson, Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — Butner, 6.550, 212.26 def. Coughlin, 6.562, 212.03.

PRO MODIFIED: ROUND ONE — Bob Rahaim, Chevy Corvette, DQ def. Sidnei Frigo, Corvette, DQ; Troy Coughlin, Corvette, 5.789, 251.77 def. Khalid alBalooshi, Chevy Camaro, 10.699, 82.60; Steve Matusek, Camaro, 5.817, 250.18 def. Steven Whiteley, Cadillac CTS-V, 6.273, 175.11; Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.825,246.53 def. Eric Latino, Camaro, 5.934, 224.06; Danny Rowe, Corvette, 5.811, 250.00 def. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.707, 161.83; Shane Molinari, Pontiac Firebird, 5.815, 254.76 def. Chuck Little, Corvette, 5.816, 247.34; Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 5.815, 223.17 def. Shannon Jenkins, Ford Mustang, 5.809, 240.68; Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.722, 251.77 def. Michael Biehle, Mustang, 5.845, 254.66;

QUARTERFINALS — Castellana, 5.685, 252.99 was unopposed; Gray, 5.801, 250.04 def. Coughlin, 10.018, 81.15; Matusek, 5.793, 251.77 def. Rowe, 5.944, 208.42; Molinari, 5.811, 255.92 def. Janis, 6.446, 167.72;

SEMIFINALS — Molinari, 5.843, 240.38 def. Gray, 9.355, 94.35; Matusek, 5.804, 251.95 def.Castellana, 7.361, 130.30;

FINAL — Matusek, 8.985, 124.96 def. Molinari, Foul – Red Light.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 494; 2. Antron Brown, 440; 3. Tony Schumacher, 438; 4. Doug Kalitta, 358; 5. Steve Torrence, 352; 6. Brittany Force, 282; 7. Clay Millican, 269; 8. Troy Coughlin Jr., 228; 9. Terry McMillen, 195; 10. Scott Palmer, 180.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan, 400; 2. Ron Capps, 398; 3. John Force, 371; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 357; 5. (tie) Courtney Force, 301; Robert Hight, 301; 7. Jack Beckman, 282; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, 235; 9. J.R. Todd, 222; 10. Jim Campbell, 211.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 457; 2. Bo Butner, 426; 3. Jason Line, 403; 4. Jeg Coughlin, 372; 5. Tanner Gray, 370; 6. Shane Gray, 278; 7. Erica Enders, 255; 8. Chris McGaha, 246; 9. Vincent Nobile, 235; 10. Drew Skillman, 225.

PRO MODIFIED: 1. Mike Castellana, 169; 2. Steve Matusek, 147; 3. Steven Whiteley, 146; 4. Danny Rowe, 129; 5. Troy Coughlin, 125; 6. Shane Molinari, 106; 7. Mike Janis, 104; 8. Michael Biehle, 82; 9. Eric Latino, 78; 10. Jonathan Gray, 77.

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UPDATED with video — NHRA: Pro Stock teams get into confrontation during Houston race

Photo courtesy GasMonkeyEnergy.com
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The temperature was only around 70 degrees but tempers got into triple digits Sunday at the NHRA Springnationals in suburban Houston, Texas.

The crews of Pro Stock drivers Tanner Gray and Alex Laughlin did a lot of pushing and shoving during a confrontation between both sides in the pits at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

Gray had defeated Laughlin in their first round of eliminations matchup Sunday morning. Gray and Laughlin exchanged words at the timing/scoring booth at the end of the track following their run, and then their two teams confronted each other once both cars returned to the pits.

Tanner Grey (Photo courtesy NHRA)

The relationship between the two teams had apparently become strained when Laughlin switched from Gray Motorsports engines to Elite Motorsports engines in his race car for this weekend’s event.

MORE: NHRA: Pritchett, Capps, Butner capture wins in Springnationals near Houston

Laughlin explained what happened in a media release:

“I got down there, turned the car off and got out,” Laughlin said. “We were both walking over to the ticket stand to get our time slips and I had absolutely nothing to say to him. He grabbed his ticket before I got mine and then he slapped me on the back and said ‘how the (expletive deleted) did that work out for you?’

“I said, ‘Really dude? These people (at Elite Motorsports) have already done more for me than you guys ever did or ever will.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it shows.’ I said, ‘If you touch me again, we are going to have a problem.’ He said, ‘I didn’t touch you.’ I said, ‘Yes you did, and let me explain something to you. You’re 17 years old, you show zero sportsmanship and you have a lot to learn about racing at this level.’

“There was just mouthing back and forth after that. His guys got down there and I told them, ‘this kid has a lot to learn so someone please get ahold of him.’ And then it was, ‘to get to him, you’re going to have to get through us,’ and it went downhill from there.

“We got back to the pit and I was telling Richard (Freeman, engine supplier) the story and Tanner is standing over there smiling at us from his pit. Richard said, ‘What are you looking at?’ and Tanner throws his hands up like ‘bring it on,’ and that’s when the crews came together.”

Tanner Gray, who turned 18 years old on April 15, is in his rookie year of racing in the NHRA Pro Stock ranks.

“The whole thing is just stupid and could have been avoided if he just grew up a little,” the 28-year-old Laughlin said. “He’s going to have a very hard career if he acts like a spoiled kid every race.”

There was no immediate comment from the Tanner Gray camp.

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Marco Andretti to drive in Daytona 500? Kurt Busch would love to see it

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Kurt Busch said Friday that would love to see a former teammate get a ride for the Daytona 500.

Then, just a few hours later, that same former teammate went out and recorded the fastest speed in Friday’s IndyCar practice session at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

Coincidence?

Busch wants to see Marco Andretti – who was his teammate in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 when Busch finished an impressive sixth-place – to try his luck at Daytona in a NASCAR Cup car.

“I’d love to see a guy like Marco come and run Daytona,” Busch said during Friday morning’s media availability at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I think that would be a huge event for him, for our sport.

Kurt Busch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 2014 Indy 500. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“It’s tough for our cars though because they’re so big and they’re so heavy. They move around so much so go to a track that either A, what you’re used to, which is a road course, or, B, where the driver has the least amount to have to learn or to conquer or to – I guess the key word is master.

“I can’t master an Indy car in one race. Fernanado Alonso has a better chance of doing that. Alexander Rossi, the kid won the Indy 500 last year. Did he master the car? No. But he mastered enough of the certain sequences it takes, and I think Marco would do real well at a Daytona-style track because he loves the draft and he loves to be around other cars. That’s what I would think would work the best.”

If the younger Andretti does race at Daytona, he’d follow in the footsteps of legendary grandfather Mario, who won the 1967 Daytona 500, the elder Andretti’s one and only career win in NASCAR competition.

As for Alonso, Busch was asked about the news that the two-time F1 champ will race in this year’s Indy 500.

“I don’t have much advice for a Formula 1 world champion,” Busch said. “I think he’ll be perfect for the situation. I think he’ll do really well, he’s a racer, he gets it.

“It’s a perfect time in his career to make the attempt at the Indy 500 without having any other oval type experience that we know of. He’ll prepare well. I saw that there was a test session for May 3, which is more like a rookie orientation, and the Andretti group will do a fantastic job for him.

“They treated me really well with a respect of my background.  They’ll do that with his and the thing that blew me away still, and I guess that would be my advice to Alonso, it’s hard to prepare but for the month of May and the amount of times you’re on track, grandstands are empty, and then you come out there Sunday morning and you feel the Indiana natives’ respect for their track and it’s their world stage that they’re standing on for the day.

“It’s impressive to be there on Memorial Day Sunday at Indianapolis. That would be my advice. It’s hard to get used to that amount of people and the amount of pageantry and the celebration that’s going on Sunday morning.”

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NHRA: Shawn Langdon back behind wheel of Top Fuel dragster with Kalitta Motorsports

Photo courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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Former NHRA Top Fuel champion Shane Langdon will soon be back on track.

The 2013 champion lost his ride with Don Schumacher Racing at the end of last season due to lack of sponsorship.

But Thursday, Langdon and Kalitta Motorsports announced a partnership with new sponsor Global Electronic Technology to campaign a new Top Fuel team, the third full-time dragster in the Kalitta stable.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to drive the Global Electronic Technology dragster,” Langdon, 34, said in a media release. “It is awesome to see new companies like Global Electronic Technology come in to drag racing and I am excited to be a part of it.”

When DSR’s ongoing efforts to gain sponsorship failed to materialize, Kalitta Motorsports was able to put together a package with GET to bring the ex-champ aboard.

“It’s been a tough year so far with me sitting on the sidelines,” Langdon said. “It has been the first time since my rookie year in 2009 that I haven’t been able to attend the NHRA races.

“I cannot thank Connie (team owner Connie Kalitta) and Jim O (team vice president Jim Oberhofer) enough for the opportunity. Kalitta has top quality cars that contend for wins and championships, so I feel that this partnership will work well.”

DSR hired Langdon with six races left in the 2015 season after Alan Johnson Racing suspended operations due to lack of sponsorship. AJR had lost its primary sponsorship from Al-Anabi Racing just weeks before the 2015 season began and self-funding lasted just 18 races before team owner Alan Johnson parked Langdon’s dragster, leading to him moving to the Schumacher camp.

Langdon was Top Fuel teammates at DSR with three-time champ Antron Brown, eight-time champ Tony Schumacher and Leah Pritchett.

DSR and Langdon had planned to continue in 2017, but lack of sponsorship forced team owner Don Schumacher to park Langdon and his dragster.

“I also want to thank Don (Schumacher) and everybody at Don Schumacher Racing for bringing me in when I didn’t have a ride and making me feel like part of the family,” Langdon said. “We did everything we could to find adequate funding, and I want to thank Don for keeping me on the payroll throughout the process of trying to find sponsorship.”

Even though he now is racing for a new team, Langdon – who has 14 career national event Top Fuel wins – still has the same goals he had at DSR and AJR.

“My focus is to contend for a championship,” he said. “We are seven rounds out of the top 10 and we have 14 races to catch up (to qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship NHRA playoffs) and I am confident in my chances with the group that Kalitta is putting behind me.”

Langdon now joins Doug Kalitta and Troy Coughlin as Top Fuel teammates with Kalitta Motorsports.

The addition of Langdon will cause some slight juggling within the team when it comes to crew chiefs. Jim Oberhofer will become the lead tuner on both Kalitta’s and Coughlin’s dragsters.

Troy Fasching will also team with Oberhofer on Kalitta’s car, while Glen Huszar and Nick Casertano will head J.R. Todd’s Funny Car team.

Lastly, team patriarch Connie Kalitta will oversee Langdon’s team along with Rob Flynn.

Kalitta Motorsports also fields the Funny Car teams of Todd and Alexis DeJoria.

The team will make its first race two weeks at the next NHRA SpringNationals, April 21-23, at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston.

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