Defending NHRA Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon ready to pick up where he left off in 2013

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If anyone has a home track advantage at this weekend’s National Hot Rod Association season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway, it’s defending Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon.

Langdon began and ended his run for the 2013 championship with season-opening and season-ending event wins at the Pomona, Calif., track, just 20 miles from where he grew up in nearby Mira Loma.

It was nothing short of a career year for Langdon, who led the Top Fuel ranks in wins (seven), was the No. 1 qualifier seven times, and had an outstanding record in elimination rounds (54-17 for a .760 winning percentage).

In addition to winning both races at Pomona, Langdon had additional big wins at the U.S. Nationals, the Toyota Summernationals and the Traxxas Shootout.

And now the driver for the Toyota-powered Al-Anabi Racing Team, which has won the Top Fuel title three of the last four seasons, is ready to pick up where he left off in 2013.

“We’re going to approach 2014 the same way that we have the last two years,” Langdon said. “We’re just very excited to get back out there and get running again.

“We feel very confident; the whole Al-Anabi team has done a lot of homework in the off-season. We had a successful test session. I don’t think there are going to be too many things that we want to change.”

The key to defend his first-ever Top Fuel title is to stay the course, don’t deviate much from last year’s gameplan, focus on wins – and if you can’t win, at least go for consistency.

“We just kind of want to stay in the same attack mode as we have the last two years,” Langdon said. “In 2012 season we struggled a little bit throughout the year, but we also gained a lot of information that we were able to use last year with winning the championship.

“So we’re hoping to just further that along for the 2014 season. We’re just very excited to get back out there and get racing at Pomona.”

And there’s some bad news for Langdon’s key rivals heading into Pomona: in a recent test last month at West Palm Beach, Fla., the defending champ recorded the fastest pass down the 1,000-foot dragstrip at 3.726 seconds.

Sounds like Langdon is already in midseason form.

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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