Kalitta, Force and Nobile all qualify No. 1 for NHRA season-opening Winternationals

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Calling conditions “perfect,” Doug Kalitta set a Auto Club Raceway track record Saturday to earn the No. 1 qualifying spot for Top Fuel heading into Sunday’s final eliminations of the NHRA Mello Yellow Series’ season-opening Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Kalitta covered the drag strip in his Mac Tools dragster in 3.713 seconds at 327.98 mph for the 37th top qualifying spot of his career and the fourth time he’s been No. 1 at the Winternationals over the years.

“We came out of the box strong,” Kalitta said. “It’s great to have four strong runs in qualifying at the start of the year. We’re really looking forward to seeing what we can do with it tomorrow.”

Behind the wheel of his signature Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, defending Funny Car champion John Force grabbed the No. 1 spot in his category for Sunday’s eliminations by virtue of Friday’s national record-setting run of 3.966 seconds at 324.12 mph.

It was the 147th career No. 1 and 10th top spot at the Winternationals for Force, at 64 the oldest pro champion in NHRA history.

“We pushed it hard,” Force said. “We got the record, it’s points, and that’s all we can say.”

While Force was happy with his effort, it was not a good day for one of Force’s former drivers, Tony Pedregon. A former two-time Funny Car champ and two-time Winternationals winner, Pedregon failed to qualify for the final 16-driver field in his four attempts.

Also of note, Alexis DeJoria became the first female Funny Car driver in NHRA history to run a sub-4.0 second time, covering the track in 3.997 seconds at 318.32 mph.

Rounding out the top three pro categories, Vincent Nobile and his Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro earned the No. 1 spot atop the Pro Stock ladder for Sunday’s eliminations at 6.510 seconds at 212.73 mph. Nobile is going for a second consecutive Winternationals title, having won last year’s event, as well.

“It’s definitely a great start to the season, we put four great runs together,” Nobile said. “Tomorrow’s a new day though and we need to put together another four good runs and hopefully come home with a trophy.”

Pro eliminations begin Sunday at 11 am PT. The first round pairings for all three classes are:

Top Fuel — 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.713 seconds, 328.86 mph vs. 16. Sidnei Frigo, 3.872, 313.58; 2. Shawn Langdon, 3.715, 328.70 vs. 15. Troy Buff, 3.850, 309.34; 3. Antron Brown, 3.731, 326.00 vs. 14. Clay Millican, 3.843, 307.86; 4. Bob Vandergriff, 3.743, 328.14 vs. 13. David Grubnic, 3.830, 321.96; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.768, 324.51 vs. 12. Leah Pritchett, 3.817, 320.05; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.773, 329.02 vs. 11. Terry McMillen, 3.806, 323.66; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.774, 324.59 vs. 10. Tony Schumacher, 3.793, 322.73; 8. Brittany Force, 3.778, 326.24 vs. 9. Richie Crampton, 3.786, 320.28. Did Not Qualify: 17. Steven Chrisman, 4.093, 286.44; 18. Steve Faria, 4.154, 225.41; 19. Scott Palmer, 9.507, 94.55.

Funny Car — 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 3.966, 324.12 vs. 16. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 4.162, 271.41; 2. Robert Hight, Mustang, 3.996, 319.67 vs. 15. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.150, 316.23; 3. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.997, 318.32 vs. 14. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.147, 301.67; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.001, 311.49 vs. 13. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.132, 311.20; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.014, 304.67 vs. 12. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.097, 309.06; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.040, 317.27 vs. 11. Chad Head, Camry, 4.079, 303.23; 7. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.046, 320.13 vs. 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.077, 316.01; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.049, 312.86 vs. 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.069, 316.82. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Haddock, 4.213, 253.04; 18. Bob Bode, 4.241, 264.29; 19. Tony Pedregon, 4.258, 245.58; 20. Phil Burkart, 5.523, 139.76; 21. Jeff Diehl, 6.064, 182.85.

Pro Stock — 1. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.510, 212.73 vs. 16. Shane Tucker, Chevy Cobalt, 6.594, 210.50; 2. Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.512, 212.96 vs. 15. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.589, 210.73; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.514, 212.63 vs. 14. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.574, 210.14; 4. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.515, 212.83 vs. 13. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.567, 210.97; 5. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.516, 212.53 vs. 12. Deric Kramer, Avenger, 6.566, 211.20; 6. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.519, 211.86 vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.552, 211.69; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.528, 211.89 vs. 10. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.546, 211.86; 8. Jeg Coughlin, Avenger, 6.531, 212.39 vs. 9. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.541, 211.79. Did Not Qualify: 17. Paul Pittman, 6.676, 208.10.

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Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

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