Ageless drag racing wonder John Force sets national record in Winternationals qualifying

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Choose your adjective: Whoa! Damn! Unbelievable! Incredible!

All of those words would definitely fit the bill to describe how ageless wonder and 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force powered to a national elapsed time record during Friday’s qualifying for the season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

Force, who will be 65 in less than three months, made it very clear that he intends on winning a record-breaking 17th Funny Car championship this season by flying down the dragstrip in a record time of 3.966 seconds at 324.12 mph.

While he has pretty much rewritten almost all of NHRA’s record books, it’s the first time in more than a decade that Force’s name has been attached to a national elapsed time or speed record in the Funny Car class.

“(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock has his stuff together,” Force said. “I never thought it would run 96. That impressed me. I told ’em, check the clocks. When we saw (teammate) Robert (Hight) run that 99 (3.999 seconds), Jimmy knew it was there.”

Force laid the groundwork for the record-setting run Friday evening by covering the track at 3.983 seconds on his first qualifying run earlier in the day.

Antron Brown led Top Fuel qualifying with a time of 3.731 seconds at 326.00 mph, while Allen Johnson led Pro Stock drivers with a top qualifying effort of 6.517 seconds at 212.53 mph.

Two more pro qualifying sessions take place Saturday at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. PT. Sunday’s final eliminations start at 11 a.m. PT.

Here are Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the season-opening 54th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

Top Fuel — 1. Antron Brown, 3.731 seconds, 326.00 mph; 2. Shawn Langdon, 3.746, 328.70; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.753, 328.38; 4. Bob Vandergriff, 3.761, 322.58; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.775, 321.50; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.781, 324.05; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.788, 322.73; 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.808, 322.73; 9. David Grubnic, 3.830, 321.96; 10. Leah Pritchett, 3.843, 319.98; 11. Terry McMillen, 3.863, 322.58; 12. Troy Buff, 3.866, 303.50. Not Qualified: 13. Sidnei Frigo, 3.899, 312.57; 14. Brittany Force, 3.916, 279.15; 15. Clay Millican, 4.084, 249.76; 16. Steve Faria, 7.441, 81.87; 17. Scott Palmer, 8.246, 94.55; 18. Richie Crampton, 8.582, 89.46; 19. Steven Chrisman, 12.623, 70.60.

Funny Car — 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 3.966, 324.12; 2. Robert Hight, Mustang, 3.996, 317.94; 3. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.014, 304.67; 4. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.040, 317.27; 5. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.046, 320.13; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.077, 316.01; 7. Chad Head, Camry, 4.079, 303.23; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.082, 314.75; 9. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.104, 309.06; 10. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.199, 289.20; 11. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.303, 236.46; 12. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.306, 244.43. Not Qualified: 13. Terry Haddock, 4.358, 224.77; 14. Bob Tasca III, 4.577, 194.63; 15. Jeff Diehl, 4.617, 182.85; 16. Jack Beckman, 5.409, 103.74; 17. Tim Wilkerson, 6.454, 113.40; 18. Cruz Pedregon, 6.531, 103.66; 19. Phil Burkart, 7.955, 90.47; 20. Alexis DeJoria, 8.285, 82.74; 21. Bob Bode, 8.396, 73.27.

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.517, 212.53; 2. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.528, 212.29; 3. Jeg Coughlin, Avenger, 6.541, 212.39; 4. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.541, 211.79; 5. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.543, 211.53; 6. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.547, 211.79; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.547, 211.73; 8. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.549, 212.36; 9. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.554, 211.96; 10. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.569, 210.60; 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.573, 211.26; 12. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.574, 211.39. Not Qualified: 13. Larry Morgan, 6.576, 210.73; 14. Deric Kramer, 6.593, 210.05; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.634, 208.78; 16. Paul Pittman, 7.338, 143.05; 17. Shane Tucker, 9.059, 99.25.

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James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.