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

0 Comments

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:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_3QPCU2dKg&w=560&h=315]

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.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuickJ518Z8&w=560&h=315]

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.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UU-rLujbvo&w=560&h=315]

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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
0 Comments

Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”