NHRA 2013 Season Review

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NHRA had some notable highlights and changes throughout its 2013 season. The latest brand change from entitlement sponsor Coca-Cola saw NHRA rebadged as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in 2013, taking over from Full Throttle. There was one new and three returning champions when all was said and done.

In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon turned years of potential into an overdue first championship for the powerful Al-Anabi Racing team. Langdon finally ended his career winless drought in the 2012 Countdown, which set him up well for 2013. He won seven times in 10 final round appearances, including the series’ marquee event, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. A runner-up in Dallas and win in Reading in this year’s Countdown secured him the title by 164 points over 2012 class champion Antron Brown.

John Force returned to the top of Funny Car for his record-extending 16th class championship. Wins at St. Louis, Reading and Las Vegas in the Countdown all occurred in succession and propelled the drag racing legend from more than 60 points down to Matt Hagan clear of the field. The win at Las Vegas came over his daughter Courtney in the final round. Hagan was second with Jack Beckman third in the final standings. Courtney Force had a banner year with a win at Pomona to open the year and the widely acclaimed appearance in and on the cover of ESPN the Magazine’s “Body Issue” over the summer. But not all was good for John Force Racing, who announced the departure of Castrol and Ford at the end of 2014. The team continues to press ahead in the search for new partners.

Pro Stock featured the tightest top-five class battle of the year with Jeg Coughlin Jr. emerging at the top of the heap for his fifth class championship (first since 2008). Coughlin won four final rounds, notably Charlotte and Reading in the Chase, to edge defending class champion Allen Johnson by just 58 points. Jason Line (70 points back), Mike Edwards (90) and Shane Gray (92) rounded out the top-five. Line and KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson, long the dominant forces in Pro Stock, spent most of the year dialing in their newer Chevy Camaros to the class; Anderson had an off year, going without a single “Wally” and finishing only eighth in the points.

Matt Smith took home his second Pro Stock Motorcycle class title (2007) in a year where Buell riders finished in eight of the top 10 spots. Three-time champion Eddie Krawiec led Harley-Davidson’s charge in third place; L.E. Tonglet (seventh) was Suzuki’s lone interloper.

Davison, Daly, Kaiser, highlight underdogs of Indy 500 qualifying

Photo: IndyCar
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James Davison and Kyle Kaiser had uphill battles ahead of qualifying for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Davison, in a one-off joint effort involving A.J. Foyt Racing, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, and Belardi Auto Racing, appeared to have enough speed to make the “500” field, but a crash on “Fast Friday” put all those hopes in big jeopardy as the team needed to scramble to repair the No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s Chevrolet in time for qualifying.

However, thanks to a herculean effort that saw the team stay at the track until the early hours of Saturday morning, the car was repaired in time for qualifying, and the team survived a chaotic final hour that saw Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe, and Pippa Mann all vying alongside them for the final two spots in the field.

In the end, Davison survived the bumping to make the 33-car field, taking the 33rd and final spot in Saturday, and saw a dramatic increase in speed on Sunday to average 226.255 mph, putting him a very solid 19th on the grid.

An emotional James Davison walks back into Gasoline Alley after making the Indianapolis 500 field on Saturday. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s been an incredible weekend for the team after our mishap on Friday,” Davison revealed after Sunday’s qualifying.

He continued, “We had to endure a very long night, obviously it’s always depressing when you have a crashed car around here. We punched above our weight on bump day, and got ourselves in, but didn’t show our hand. We really laid it down on pole day to move from 33rd to 19th. It’s basically two days in a row the team has been rewarded for their hard work, making the show and moving up 14 positions on the grid. Unexpected results are always really nice in motorsports and we got that today with our improvement, substantially. Just very proud of the entire team and want to keep the momentum going next week.”

Conor Daly, too, had a stressful Saturday, as his No. 17 United States Air Force Honda – a joint effort with Dale Coyne Racing and Thom Burns Racing – lacked speed most of the week.

“Fast Friday” yielded some promise, as his quickest no-tow speed was 226.752 mph, good enough for 26th on the no-tow chart that day.

Saturday, however, proved a struggle. Unable to find the speed on his first two runs – he was bumped out of the field after his second attempt – he needed a third and final effort to make the field.

A four-lap average of 224.874 mph didn’t leave him much wiggle room, but it was just enough to get Daly into the field, as he took 32nd on the board. He’ll start 33rd after averaging 224.429 mph on Sunday.

Conor Daly survived a stressful qualifying weekend to make the Indy 500 field. Photo: IndyCar

“No dramas (on Sunday), but we’re fighting for miles an hour. All I can do is put my foot down and do the best we can for our incredible partners at the U.S. Air Force. It’s incredible to be here with them and at this point, I’m just thankful to be in the field. I’d like to be a lot quicker, but we’ll see what we can do in practice tomorrow to improve our race car,” Daly detailed after Day 2 of qualifying.

Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing faced a similar uphill battle, but theirs was down to experience. Juncos was entering its second “500” after debuting last year, and their debut wasn’t exactly a smooth one.

Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra only qualified 29th and 31st respectively, though Saavedra was able to finish on the lead lap in 15th. Pigot, meanwhile, fought major handling issues all race long and languished six laps off the lead at race’s end, finishing in 18th.

The 2018 outing didn’t appear much easier, as the team tackled it with rookie driver Kyle Kaiser, with last year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champ trying to make the “500” in his first attempt.

“Fast Friday” looked to be a bad omen, as they were 33rd on the no-tow speed charts at the end of the day.

But, Saturday qualifying saw a drastic turn in fortunes, and to the positive side. Kaiser qualified with a four-lap average of 225.934 moh, good enough for 21st at the day’s end, and putting them well clear of any bumping drama.

His Sunday run of 226.398 mph exceeded expectations even further, and he will start Sunday’s race in 17th.

Kyle Kaiser during Indy 500 qualifying. Photo: IndyCar

“What an amazing day. I am in shock right now that we are going to be starting 17th for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500,” an elated Kaiser exclaimed after Sunday. “It was a stellar performance by the team. They gave me a super quick car for qualifying. The conditions were very challenging as the wind picked up and it got really hot, but we made it through and put in the best lap in these conditions. I am so proud of the entire Juncos Racing crew and I am thrilled to represent NFP in the race next weekend.”

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