Jerry Bonkowski

NHRA: John Force, Schumacher, Gray, Krawiec chomp down Gatornationals wins

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You might say John Force, Tony Schumacher, Shane Gray and Eddie Krawiec were chomping at the bit coming into this weekend’s NHRA national event in Gainesville, Florida.

Maybe it was the race’s name – the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. But whatever the reason, the four drivers bit off all they could chew and then some, with each earning their first wins of the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

A record 16-time Funny Car champion, the seemingly ageless Force (for the record, he turns 68 in May) extended his streak as the NHRA’s winningest driver, earning the 148th national event win of his career.

Force (3.928 seconds at 328.14 mph) defeated Jonnie Lindberg (3.971 at 314.83) in Sunday’s Funny Car final round to capture the victory – his eighth career Gatornationals win.

“I found myself,” Force said. “A lot of things are about heart, and about luck. You always feel somebody up there likes you.

“I believe hard work, dedication and what we went though, it’s been a draining day. I’m not accepting that I’m done. I’ve been real lucky.”

In addition to the event win, Force’s final round triumph was the 2,500th Funny Car round-win for John Force Racing.

In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher, an eight-time national champion, extended his own mark as winningest driver in Top Fuel history, earning the 83rd win of his career.

Schumacher (3.703 seconds, 329.26 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate and two-time defending (and three times in the last five seasons) Top Fuel champ Antron Brown (3.764 seconds at 322.65 mph).

It was also Schumacher’s fifth career Gatornationals Top Fuel, both an event and Gainesville Raceway track record.

“We have great, great people working together. I’m loving driving the car,” Schumacher said in a media release. “We’re in the fight every day, every race.”

This weekend marked the third race of the 24-race 2017 campaign. Leah Pritchett won the first two races (Pomona, California and Phoenix), but DSR teammate Schumacher is ready to have his time in the spotlight now.

“It’s going to be a fun year, man,” Schumacher said. “I’m comfortable driving the car. It’s running right down the middle. It’s running extremely fast. It doesn’t have any part on the race track where I feel that I’m in danger. It’s doing everything that a driver dreams about sitting in a Top Fuel car.”

In Pro Stock, Gray (6.535 seconds at 212.96 mph) earned his sixth career win, defeating Greg Anderson (6.560 at 213.43).

“I wasn’t supposed to win,” Gray said. “When you’re testing parts you’re just not supposed to win which is basically what we’re doing with my car.

“We had a lucky day today. There were some round wins when the car pulled me out of the hole and there were a couple rounds where I pulled the car out of the hole. It was a complete team effort today.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, three-time champ Krawiec just barely missed breaking the 200 mph barrier (6.763 seconds at 199.76 mph), defeating teammate and fellow Harley Davidson rider Andrew Hines (6.802, 197.10).

It was Krawiec’s 37th career PSM win and fifth in the Gatornationals.

It also was the first race of PSM’s 16-race season.

“This helps set the pace for the year,” Krawiec said. “Get that first win off your back, keep that momentum rolling, get the points.

“You know once you win one or two races you kind of solidify your spot. With the extra competitive class we have this year it definitely helps.

“There’s a lot of great motorcycles. My Harley-Davidson this weekend really has been really fast, we just haven’t been able to harness that power and get it sorted out. I think as the year goes on we’re going to get better.”

The NHRA’s next national event is in two weeks (March 31-April 2) at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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

FINAL FINISHING ORDER

TOP FUEL: 1.  Tony Schumacher; 2.  Antron Brown; 3.  Doug Kalitta; 4.  Steve Torrence; 5.  Leah Pritchett; 6.  Clay Millican; 7.  Brittany Force; 8.  Troy Coughlin Jr.; 9.  Ike Maier; 10.  Chris Karamesines; 11.  Terry McMillen; 12.  Shawn Reed; 13.  Smax Smith; 14.  Pat Dakin; 15.  Scott Palmer; 16.  Larry Dixon.

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

PRO STOCK: 1.  Shane Gray; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Jason Line; 4.  Chris McGaha; 5.  Bo Butner; 6.  Jeg Coughlin; 7.  Erica Enders; 8.  Tanner Gray; 9.  Vincent Nobile; 10.  Drew Skillman; 11.  Matt Hartford; 12.  Allen Johnson; 13.  Alan Prusiensky; 14.  Kenny Delco; 15.  John Gaydosh Jr.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Eddie Krawiec; 2.  Andrew Hines; 3.  Joey Gladstone; 4.  Steve Johnson; 5.  Jerry Savoie; 6.  LE Tonglet; 7.  Scotty Pollacheck; 8.  Matt Smith; 9.  Hector Arana; 10.  Cory Reed; 11.  Angie Smith; 12.  Melissa Surber; 13.  Mike Berry; 14.  Angelle Sampey; 15.  Karen Stoffer; 16.  Hector Arana Jr.

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

FINAL RESULTS

TOP FUEL: Tony Schumacher, 3.703 seconds, 329.26 mph  def. Antron Brown, 3.764 seconds, 322.65 mph.

FUNNY CAR: John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.928, 328.14  def. Jonnie Lindberg, Toyota Camry, 3.971, 314.83.

PRO STOCK: Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.535, 212.96  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.560, 213.43.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.763, 199.76  def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.802, 197.10.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Clay Millican, 3.741, 315.42 def. Terry McMillen, 5.345, 135.21; Leah Pritchett, 3.716, 323.12 def. Scott Palmer, Broke; Brittany Force, 3.716, 328.54 def. Larry Dixon, Broke; Tony Schumacher, 3.724, 321.27 def. Smax Smith, Foul – Red Light; Doug Kalitta, 3.706, 328.70 def. Ike Maier, 3.929, 289.69; Antron Brown, 3.711, 327.98 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.157, 231.00; Steve Torrence, 3.740, 325.22 def. Shawn Reed, 5.467, 120.80; Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.724, 322.42 def. Pat Dakin, Foul – Red Light;

QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.751, 326.24 def. Millican, 3.776, 322.42; Torrence, 3.759, 325.77 def. Force, 6.507, 90.02; Brown, 3.787, 321.42 def. Coughlin Jr., Foul – Outer Boundary; Kalitta, 3.754, 325.14 def. Pritchett, 3.738, 323.97;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.719, 326.24 def. Kalitta, 3.738, 327.03; Schumacher, 3.715, 326.40 def. Torrence, 4.069, 266.64;

FINAL — Schumacher, 3.703, 329.26 def. Brown, 3.764, 322.65.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.863, 328.46 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 12.342, 71.13; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.828, 334.82 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.967, 321.04; John Force, Camaro, 3.881, 331.45 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 10.453, 77.20; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.898, 331.94 def. Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.054, 287.05; Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.370, 209.26 def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 6.531, 104.87; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.895, 330.96 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.925, 328.46; Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 4.735, 187.05 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 10.000, 74.70; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.899, 329.83 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.906, 327.66;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 6.019, 177.37 def. Campbell, 8.841, 109.74; Lindberg, 3.980, 322.19 def. Hight, 7.776, 89.83; J. Force, 3.916, 328.14 def. Beckman, 8.835, 82.48; Hagan,  def. Capps, Foul – Centerline;

SEMIFINALS — Lindberg, 3.948, 324.98 def. Hagan, 4.300, 244.69; J. Force, 3.955, 324.05 def. Johnson Jr., 5.544, 134.32;

FINAL — J. Force, 3.928, 328.14 def. Lindberg, 3.971, 314.83.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.558, 213.06 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.539, 212.93; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.529, 212.46 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.523, 212.79; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.526, 211.73 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.557, 211.93; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.502, 213.91 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.551, 211.96; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.521, 213.33 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.584, 208.84; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.481, 213.84 was unopposed; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.495, 214.18 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.493, 213.87 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.566, 211.13;

QUARTERFINALS — Anderson, 6.565, 212.90 def. Coughlin, 11.527, 77.14; McGaha, 6.540, 212.73 def. Butner, 6.578, 213.54; S. Gray, 6.518, 213.13 def. Enders, 12.220, 71.88; Line, 6.513, 213.64 def. T. Gray, Broke;

SEMIFINALS — S. Gray, 7.116, 207.18 def. McGaha, 17.189, 46.84; Anderson, 6.543, 212.90 def. Line, 6.542, 213.37;

FINAL — S. Gray, 6.535, 212.96 def. Anderson, 6.560, 213.43.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.790, 197.22 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, Broke; Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.876, 194.41 def. Hector Arana, Buell, Foul – Red Light; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.805, 197.19 def. Cory Reed, 6.952, 190.16; Matt Smith, 6.826, 195.99 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, Broke; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.764, 198.52 def. Angelle Sampey, 10.641, 69.49; Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.881, 195.65 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.965, 186.30; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.888, 194.32 def. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.977, 191.78; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.876, 195.31 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.956, 192.08;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson, 6.863, 195.08 def. Savoie, 6.803, 197.39; Gladstone, 6.839, 195.96 def. Tonglet, 6.839, 196.04; Krawiec, 6.793, 197.65 def. M. Smith, 6.901, 192.63; Hines, 6.827, 196.27 def. Pollacheck, 6.870, 194.41;

SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.793, 197.36 def. Johnson, 9.767, 77.55; Krawiec, 6.766, 198.70 def. Gladstone, 6.886, 195.85;

FINAL — Krawiec, 6.763, 199.76 def. Hines, 6.802, 197.10.

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

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS

TOP FUEL: 1.  Leah Pritchett, 300; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 279; 3.  Antron Brown, 243; 4.  Doug Kalitta, 220; 5.  Brittany Force, 202; 6.  Steve Torrence, 185; 7.  Troy Coughlin Jr., 143; 8.  Shawn Reed, 136; 9.  Clay Millican, 133; 10.  Scott Palmer, 116.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Matt Hagan, 308; 2.  John Force, 238; 3.  Ron Capps, 235; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 209; 5.  Courtney Force, 177; 6.  Robert Hight, 150; 7.  Jim Campbell, 148; 8.  Jack Beckman, 144; 9.  J.R. Todd, 138; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 117.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Greg Anderson, 319; 2.  Jason Line, 281; 3.  Shane Gray, 226; 4.  Bo Butner, 198; 5.  Jeg Coughlin, 187; 6.  Tanner Gray, 181; 7.  Erica Enders, 167; 8.  Drew Skillman, 157; 9.  Vincent Nobile, 149; 10.  Chris McGaha, 139.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 120; 2.  Andrew Hines, 97; 3.  Joey Gladstone, 81; 4.  Steve Johnson, 74; 5.  Jerry Savoie, 63; 6.  LE Tonglet, 58; 7.  (tie) Scotty Pollacheck, 52; Matt Smith, 52; 9.  Hector Arana, 36; 10.  Hector Arana Jr, 35.

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NHRA: Top Fuel leader Leah Pritchett goes for 3-straight in Gainesville

Photo courtesy NHRA
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Over the last 20 years or so, it’s been very common to see a Don Schumacher Racing car atop the NHRA Top Fuel ranks.

After all, Antron Brown has won the last two Top Fuel championships and three of the last five. And then there’s teammate and Don’s son, Tony, an eight-time Top Fuel champion.

But if you look at what has taken place in the first two races of the 2017 national event season, there’s a potential new DSR champ in the making.

Leah Pritchett won both races (Pomona, California and Phoenix) and goes for three in a row in this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

In terms of status and importance among NHRA national events, the Gatornationals is considered among the top four or five races in the 24-race season.

And like Brown, Schumacher and her other teammates at DSR, Pritchett is ready to prove that she’s for real and that she will be a force to be dealt with in the remainder of the 2017 season.

“What we did in the first two races wasn’t a fluke,” Pritchett said. “We want to prove it to ourselves and everyone else.”

Pritchett has been on fire thus far this season. And with the significance of the Gatornationals at this early point of the season, she’s determined to keep things going and continue doing what she’s been doing thus far.

“We’ll have the same routine at Gainesville that we had at Pomona and Phoenix,” she said. “We’ll keep our noses to the grindstone and show we are worthy of what we have accomplished so far this year.”

Even though she earned her first career Top Fuel win, Pritchett still had somewhat of a rough season early on in 2016. She began the season driving for Bob Vandergriff Jr. Racing, only to have the team unexpectedly fold out from under her. She raced for a couple of other teams before Schumacher signed her.

That’s when things started to get a lot better. That she made the Countdown to the Championship was a testament to Pritchett’s never-give-up attitude.

Of course, having arguably the best overall team in drag racing behind her didn’t hurt. And now that she has full sponsorship for 2017 from Papa John’s Pizza, along with the best minds in the sport at DSR, Pritchett isn’t letting her chance in the sun go to waste.

“My mindset is the same as when we went to Pomona after we ran the quickest time and fastest speed ever (3.654 seconds at 331.85 mph) in testing the week before (at Phoenix),” she said. “We had a nice test session and felt we had to do something to prove that our 3.65 was real.”

Pritchett comes into this weekend’s race holding a hefty 92-point lead in the Top Fuel standings over her teammate, Tony Schumacher. Brittany Force, who won her first career Top Fuel race at Gainesville last year, is 94 points behind Force, while Brown is 102 points back and Doug Kalitta is 105 points behind in fifth place in the Top Fuel standings.

Knowing the significance of Gainesville, as well as to keep on the roll that began at Pomona, Pritchett is ready to go for the jugular in the first qualifying session on Friday. There are four qualifying sessions this weekend, two on Friday and two more on Saturday.

“Qualifying is still important,” Pritchett said. “Being No. 1 at the first two races enabled us to have bye runs in the first round because we only had 15 cars.

“I’m sure we’ll have 16 this weekend but qualifying always is our top priority. Our focus is extending the gap (her points lead) over the field.”

Not surprisingly, success on the drag strip has kept the 28-year-old Pritchett equally as busy off-track over the last month and during her current winning streak, with heightened media attention and fan outreach.

“I’ve been busier this week and this month than I’ve ever been before,” she said. “I was on the road for 31 days before I finally got home to (Indianapolis) last week.”

But that’s okay, Pritchett said. She’s having the ride of her life both in her dragster and with the fans. And given how she’s started, don’t look for things to drop off anytime soon.

“I don’t know how to stop,” Pritchett said.

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NHRA surprise: John Force swaps crew chiefs, teams with Robert Hight

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If there’s one thing that’s certain about 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, it’s that he never ceases to surprise fans and those in the sport.

Just two races into the 24-race 2017 season, Force unveiled his most recent surprise Thursday morning: he’s swapping teams with teammate, son-in-law and John Force Racing president Robert Hight.

Yep, that’s right, lock, stock and barrel – plus crew chiefs and team members – one week before next weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

While Force will continue driving the Peak Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car and Hight will remain behind the wheel of the Auto Club of Southern California Chevy Camaro SS, everything else will change.

Crew chief Jimmy Prock, co-crew chief Chris Cunningham and the rest of the Peak team will now be Hight’s supporting cast.

Meanwhile, crew chief Mike Neff and co-crew chiefs Jon Schaffer and Jason McCulloch and the rest of the Auto Club team will essentially become Force’s backup band.

As for the other two JFR teams, Courtney Force and her Funny Car team and Brittany Force and her Top Fuel team will remain intact.

Schaffer was Force’s crew chief last season and now they’re reunited, just like Prock is reunited with Hight, a pairing that produced 27 wins, including the 2009 NHRA Funny Car championship.

Prock also has 14 wins during his previous tenure as Force’s crew chief.

This is also Neff’s second go-round as Force’s crew chief, which includes seven wins and the 2010 championship together.

Force is currently fifth in the Funny Car standings, 128 points behind series leader Matt Hagan. Hight, meanwhile, is ninth in the standings, 152 points behind Hagan.

Since Force began JFR more than 30 years ago, it has compiled 247 Funny Car wins, including 147 by Force himself and Hight 37. Force has 16 championships, while Hight has one championship.

“My race cars are moving ahead,” Force said in a media release. “They’re running big numbers; we’re still trying to find that consistency.

“I came into the shop in Brownsburg and met with the teams and all the guys in the machine shop, the fab shop and the paint shop. I looked at the pictures on the wall, looked at Jimmy Prock and Robert Hight in winner’s circle photos, I looked at pictures of me and Jimmy Prock, I looked at pictures of me and Neff, I looked at pictures of me and Jon Schaffer and Jason McCullough – and all of a sudden, it just felt right.

“I went home, slept on it, woke up the next morning, and it felt right. The cars are all doing good, but to put Robert Hight back with Jimmy Prock, who he won the championship with, and to put me back with Mike Neff, who I won the championship with – and Jon Schaffer and Jason McCulloch, who I won four races last year with – it just made sense.

“Austin Coil (Force’s former longtime crew chief; they won 14 championships together) always told me change is good, even when things are going right. This will build us stronger in the long run.”

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NHRA Funny Car: Cruz Pedregon ready to ‘retool, regroup and reload’ in 2017

(Photos courtesy Toyota Racing)
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Veteran Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon is used to winning races and championships.

He’s tied with the legendary Don “The Snake” Prudhomme for fifth on the NHRA all-time Funny Car wins list with 35 triumphs.

He also is a two-time NHRA Funny Car season champion (1992, 2008).

But the driver of the Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry Funny Car is not used to the kind of dismal season he had in 2016 – and he’s bound and determined to dramatically change that in 2017.

The 2016 season was the worst of Pedregon’s career. He failed to win a race for the second straight season, failed to advance past the first round of eliminations in 18 of the season’s 24 races, failed to qualify for the sport’s biggest race of the season — the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis — and missed qualifying for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

2017 NHRA Pomona Winternationals

When the season concluded, Pedregon found himself with a disappointing 12th place finish in the final standings. As far as he was concerned, he only had one place to go, and that was up in 2017.

“I needed to go through a rebuilding mode, like they do in football, baseball and basketball,” Pedregon told MotorSportsTalk. “I had to do a better job of bringing people in and figuring out what I needed to purchase as an owner.

“That’s not how I want to race, so I made the changes I felt we needed to make.”

The biggest change was the guy under the hood. As both a driver and team owner, Pedregon had tuned his own car since 2010. But during the off-season, he hired a new crew chief, Aaron Brooks, formerly of the Lucas Oil Top Fuel team that disbanded after last season.

“At the end of the day, the competition has raised the bar the last two years,” the 53-year-old Pedregon said. “Unless you’re part of a satellite team or part of a multi-car team, those things can elude you if you’re a single car team.

“So, I feel not being part of a multi-car team and not really having a crew chief or car chief that had some connection with the technology, I just felt we got behind from a technical standpoint and it caught up to us.

“We had some good years in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and ‘13 was my best year (since his last championship season in 2008). We won four races and were in the championship conversation all the way up to the end (finished fourth, preceded by fourth-place finish in 2012 and third-place finish in 2011).

“Then in 2014, we dropped off a little bit (finished 10th), and 2015 (finished ninth) we declined in performance and consistency and then we hit the bottom last year. So, I had to retool, regroup and reload, and that’s what I did by hiring Aaron, who was with the Lucas Oil Top Fuel time for the last five years.

“Aaron has great attention to detail and is very crafty. He’s kind of a throwback crew chief. More modern-day crew chiefs sit behind a computer and makes calls based on data, while Aaron is more of a hands-on guy, working with the team. My team really needed that.

“I feel now we have a car that’s built properly, it’s on-par or exceeds what’s currently out there winning the races. Now what lies ahead of us is to go out and execute. We have to go out and prove that not only can we build a nice car and have a nice influx of equipment, and now we’re going to go out on the track.”

Because Brooks did not join the team until January, Pedregon had limited preseason testing. In the season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Pomona, California two weeks ago, Pedregon failed to advance past the first round.

nhra-arizona-nationals-logo

But that’s going to change, Pedregon promises. He comes into this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix looking for bigger and better results.

“We need these runs under our belts so we can get the consistency that we need to race with these guys,” Pedregon said. “I feel like performance-wise, we’re going to be right near the top. I’d say top-five is what we’re shooting for and I don’t see why we can’t start that this weekend in Phoenix.”

By the same token, Pedregon is prepared to bide his time if additional patience and time is needed to get back into the thick of the Funny Car ranks.

“We’re going to experience some growing pains, but there’s not a guy on this team that doesn’t feel like the potential is through the roof,” Pedregon said. “Personally, I think we won the off-season free agency game in landing Aaron Brooks.

“Yeah, we lost early in Pomona, but the sky is the limit with this group. We ran a career-best in a ‘must’ qualifying run on Saturday.

“Realistically, it may take four or five races, but I don’t think much more than that. Much like a football team, the first two quarters may not show what we’ve got, but the last two quarters, we’ll really show what we have.

“I’m motivated like no other. I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulder because the last couple of years. While I was optimistic, I had to really go through that to get to the point where I’m at now and say, ‘Look, I can’t do this by myself. I tried.’

“That being said, I’ve enjoyed some good years with crew chiefs. The last time I had a bonafide crew chief, who really gets in there and does what a crew chief does, was back in 2007 through 2009 with Rahn Tobler, and in those three years, we won a championship.

“Now we’ve got Aaron on board … any time I pull up to the line, I feel we have a shot to win.”

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NHRA star Courtney Force to drive pace car in Saturday’s NASCAR Clash at Daytona

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When she climbs behind the wheel, NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force is used to going straight on a racetrack.

But Force will be doing a lot of turning this Saturday night when she serves as honorary pace car driver for NASCAR’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

The clash is an annual non-points special event that features the top drivers in NASCAR’s premier Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Saturday night’s field will include 2016 pole winners, past Clash champions, past Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full-time in 2016 and last season’s drivers that qualified for the playoffs.

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(Photo: Gary Nastase Photography)

Force, who drives the Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, is the daughter of record 16-time Funny Car champion John Force. Courtney is coming off a strong run in last weekend’s NHRA 2017 season-opening race in Pomona, California, reaching the final round.

She’ll go from a 1,000-foot dragstrip to a 2.5-mile tri-oval on Saturday.

“I’m extremely nervous but honored at the same time to be driving that Chevy pace car before the veterans and young up-and-comers take on the track,” Courtney Force said in a media release. “Being a girl that races the NHRA in a straight line for a living at over 330 mph, I hope I can keep the pace in front of the pack and keep turning left.”

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