Langdon (TF), Tasca (FC), Connolly (PS) and Smith (PSM) lead NHRA Gatornationals qualifying

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After struggling in the season’s first two races, defending NHRA Mello Yello Series Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon put everything together in Friday’s provisional qualifying for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

Langdon powered his Al-Anabi Racing dragster down the historic Auto-Plus Raceway at 3.786 seconds (320.58 mph) to lead the Top Fuel class.

“As long as the track allows it, you can really throw down some good runs,” said Langdon, in pursuit of his first career Gatornationals win. “We’re trying to make the best run we can on each session, and we thought a .78 was about all we could get away with. We’re trying to get as much information as we can in each lane to get ready for Sunday.”

Richie Crampton, who is among first-year drivers in contention for NHRA Rookie of the Year, was second quickest in Top Fuel at 3.816 seconds/320.58 mph in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster.

Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta was third fastest followed by Phoenix winner Antron Brown and Steve Torrence rounding out the top five.

Bob Tasca III paced all drivers in Funny Car qualifying with a top run of 4.103 seconds at 304.39 mph in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Ford Mustang.

Tasca won the 2009 Gatornationals – his first career Funny Car win – and was runner-up in the 2010 event.

“I don’t know what it is about Gainesville, but I love racing here,” Tasca said. “This place has been awfully good to me over the years. We set a record in my alcohol car and were on the pole that year. I got my first win here in Funny Car. It’s just a special place.”

Jack Beckman was second quickest (4.108/275.96) in Funny Car, followed by Chad Head, Ron Capps and Tony Pedregon.

Series leader John Force qualified 11th and Phoenix winner Alexis DeJoria was 12th overall after day one.

Dave Connolly was the provisional top qualifier in Pro Stock (6.476 seconds/213.98 mph), but No. 2 qualifier Erica Enders-Stevens set a new NHRA speed record with a burst of 214.69 mph.

Debuting their new Dodge Darts, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Allen Johnson qualified third and fourth, followed by fifth-quickest Shane Gray.

Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Matt Smith led his class with a run of 6.800 seconds at 196.96 mph

“We spent the off-season building and testing a lot of new parts and we made progress,” Smith said. “I’m excited about this season.”

Andrew Hines, Smith teammate John Hall, Michael Ray and Eddie Krawiec also qualified in the top five.

Qualifying continues Saturday in all pro classes at noon and 2:15 pm ET, with final eliminations starting at 11 am ET on Sunday.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.786 seconds, 320.58 mph; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.816, 316.97; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.819, 319.37; 4. Antron Brown, 3.836, 315.78; 5. Steve Torrence, 3.839, 319.22; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.847, 316.97; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.858, 320.28; 8. Clay Millican, 3.861, 308.71; 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.899, 306.67; 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.922, 303.50; 11. Brittany Force, 3.945, 308.92; 12. J.R. Todd, 3.974, 271.46.

Not Qualified: 13. Spencer Massey, 4.239, 208.52; 14. Bob Vandergriff, 4.264, 254.62; 15. Terry McMillen, 4.705, 163.39; 16. David Grubnic, 4.801, 149.70; 17. Pat Dakin, 5.152, 128.49; 18. Ike Maier, 5.872, 117.34; 19. Sidnei Frigo, 10.108, 69.25.

Funny Car — 1. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.103, 304.39; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.108, 275.96; 3. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.115, 300.46; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.121, 302.14; 5. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.127, 285.41; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.128, 307.23; 7. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.132, 303.78; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.148, 305.08; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.188, 299.60; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.189, 288.95; 11. John Force, Mustang, 4.380, 246.98; 12. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.799, 167.76.

Not Qualified: 13. Tommy Johnson Jr., 5.075, 147.96; 14. Blake Alexander, 6.388, 98.77; 15. Dave Richards, 7.109, 92.05; 16. Jeff Arend, 7.669, 83.02; 17. Courtney Force, 8.184, 73.00.

Pro Stock — 1. Dave Connolly, Chevy Camaro, 6.476, 213.98; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.483, 214.69; 3. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.484, 214.62; 4. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.487, 213.98; 5. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.495, 213.60; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.510, 212.56; 7. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.518, 213.30; 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.527, 212.90; 9. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.529, 212.66; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.533, 214.04; 11. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.536, 212.43; 12. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.541, 213.20.

Not Qualified: 13. Rodger Brogdon, 6.541, 212.53; 14. Jonathan Gray, 6.552, 212.16; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.581, 211.39; 16. Shane Tucker, 6.594, 211.53; 17. Kenny Delco, 6.613, 210.24; 18. Robert Patrick, 6.615, 210.28; 19. Lewis Worden, 6.652, 210.83; 20. Mark Hogan, 16.552, 45.53.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.800, 196.96; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.813, 195.68; 3. John Hall, Buell, 6.830, 195.05; 4. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.853, 196.16; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.856, 195.96; 6. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.857, 194.38; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.891, 195.45; 8. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.892, 194.46; 9. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.901, 196.02; 10. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.910, 196.10; 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.920, 193.82; 12. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.920, 193.27.

Not Qualified: 13. Katie Sullivan, 6.924, 192.85; 14. Fredrik Fredlund, 6.939, 193.99; 15. Mike Berry, 6.987, 188.91; 16. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.987, 187.73; 17. Eddie Reed, 6.989, 190.06; 18. Joe DeSantis, 7.009, 187.55; 19. Freddie Camarena, 7.055, 192.36; 20. James Surber, 7.095, 187.26; 21. Elvira Karlsson, 7.149, 185.92; 22. Hector Arana, 9.994, 81.91; 23. Odolph Daniels, 16.646, 43.73.

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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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