Friday’s NHRA qualifying at Las Vegas lays down solid baseline for Saturday

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Saturday’s second round of qualifying for the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas will have a lot to live up to after Friday’s first round of qualifying.

And we’ve got the videos below to prove it!

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) had great runs as the fourth of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series kicked off.

Saturday will be the final round of qualifying, followed by Sunday’s final eliminations.

Recapping Friday’s events:

TOP FUEL: Torrence was the fastest in both qualifying sessions, including recording a field-best of 3.779 seconds at 310.91 mph.

“To go out and run low of each session was huge for us,” Torrence said. “We were back in the lanes and saw a couple of 3.79s roll up on the scoreboards, and we figured someone could go .77, .78. The run really surprised me; it left really good, but at about 900 feet, it knocked the panels out of the blower. It surprised me it still went that quick out of power.”

Torrence has been knocking on victory’s door, reaching the semifinals in each of the first three races of the 2014 season.

Here’s Toreence’s best run from Friday:

FUNNY CAR

Matt Hagan is tired of being No. 2 at Las Vegas. He’s twice been a runner-up there and on Friday made it clear he wants No. 1 on Sunday, with a best run of 4.063 seconds at 320.58 mph against Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in both of Friday’s qualifying runs.

“I always try to put the extra effort in during qualifying but especially when we’re running a teammate,” Hagan said. “It is bragging rights when you go out and lay one on your teammate. That always puts a smile on my face.”

PRO STOCK

Jeg Coughlin Jr. looked as if he’s ready to defend last year’s season championship, running a best-of-field 6.625 seconds at 208.78 mph.

Coughlin is seeking a sixth career win at Las Vegas, which would put him one behind Greg Anderson’s record of seven. Anderson is still sidelined, recovering from offseason surgery.

“We’d like to carry this over into Saturday and the K&N Horsepower Challenge,” Coughlin said. “We’re putting our game face on now. There is $50,000 going to the winner, and one of the fans will win a Toyota Tacoma. It’s very fitting for the high-stakes race to take place here at The Strip.”

Here’s Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 15th annual SummitRacing.com NHRANationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Top Fuel — 1. Steve Torrence, 3.779 seconds, 322.27 mph; 2. Antron Brown, 3.797, 322.96; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.797, 319.75; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.798, 319.98; 5. Tony Schumacher, 3.816, 322.96; 6. Bob Vandergriff, 3.831, 319.52; 7. Brittany Force, 3.834, 311.34; 8. Spencer Massey, 3.837, 320.89; 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.847, 312.57; 10. Shawn Langdon, 3.848, 316.90; 11. Clay Millican, 3.874, 295.59; 12. Terry McMillen, 3.936, 309.77.

Not Qualified: 13. Troy Buff, 4.028, 237.88; 14. Steven Chrisman, 4.327, 206.64; 15. David Grubnic, 5.102, 134.70; 16. Mike Strasburg, 5.594, 115.82; 17. Steve Faria, 5.820, 112.62.

Funny Car — 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.063, 317.05; 2. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.069, 311.99; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.075, 314.61; 4. Chad Head, Camry, 4.076, 308.07; 5. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.084, 313.66; 6. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.093, 315.19; 7. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.102, 308.64; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.108, 310.63; 9. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.115, 310.13; 10. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.116, 305.98; 11. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.122, 293.03; 12. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.124, 306.81.

Not Qualified: 13. Bob Tasca III, 4.148, 307.30; 14. Tony Pedregon, 4.163, 295.92; 15. John Force, 4.172, 301.07; 16. Jon Capps, 4.223, 278.23; 17. Jeff Diehl, 4.297, 293.98; 18. Gary Densham, 4.444, 224.28; 19. Jeff Arend, 4.783, 169.93.

Pro Stock — 1. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.625, 209.17; 2. Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.625, 208.46; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.627, 209.04; 4. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.627, 208.26; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.630, 208.94; 6. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.632, 208.94; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.632, 209.17; 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.639, 208.49; 9. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.647, 207.72; 10. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.657, 209.07; 11. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.657, 207.56; 12. Deric Kramer, Avenger, 6.686, 207.59.

Not Qualified: 13. Matt Hartford, 6.686, 207.34; 14. Mark Wolfe, 6.740, 205.76; 15. Larry Morgan, 6.765, 206.95; 16. Rodger Brogdon, 6.813, 206.67.

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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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