Langdon (TF), Capps (FC), McGaha (PS) and Ray (PSM) pace first day of NHRA Four-Wide Nationals qualifying

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Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were the fastest qualifiers Friday for Sunday’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

Langdon, the defending 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel champion, drove his Al-Anabi Racing dragster to a stout best run of 3.753 seconds at 321.81 mph.

Langdon was No. 1 qualifier for this event last season and hopes to finish what he started in Sunday’s final eliminations. He has yet to reach a final round in this season’s first five races.

“I don’t know what it is, but I like it,” Langdon said of zMAX Dragway, where he won the 2012 NHRA fall event there. “I wish we could race all 24 here.

“There are some tracks that you go to that it just seems to work your way, and there are some tracks that you go to that you just can’t seem to do anything right. zMAX, fortunately, has been one of those tracks where I was able to get my first victory, and the Al-Anabi car has just run good every time we’ve come here.

“The Four-Wide last year we had a great-running car and smoked the tires in the final. We just like the track. We’re able to make good runs, and we’re able to really put the power down to the track here. It’s a great racing surface.”

J.R. Todd, who took over the Kalitta Motorsports Optima Batteries Top Fuel dragster two weeks ago at Las Vegas, was the fastest in the first qualifying session earlier in the day, but his 3.781 seconds/325.06 mph mark was good enough to keep Todd second in Friday’s qualifying.

Although he won the conventional two-lane fall 2012 race at zMAX, Capps has never won the four-wide configuration. On Friday he paced all Funny Car drivers with a 4.059 second pass at 320.58 mph.

Robert Hight was second fastest in Funny Car at 4.074 seconds at 311.99 mph.

In Pro Stock, McGaha led the field with a run of 6.523 seconds at 213.10 mph. Not only was that an outstanding achievement, it also occurred in the first time McGaha has ever raced in the Four-Wide Nationals.

“That was an experience,” McGaha said. “I guess I got fortunate as I got to go out on lanes one and four so the end lanes helped a lot. I noticed when I got up there it takes some guys longer to stage. We will see how I do when I run lanes two and three (on Saturday).”

Ray is in pursuit of his second No. 1 qualifier spot of the season, having done so last month at Gainesville, Fla. His best run Friday of 6.816 seconds at 197.02 mph topped all other Pro Stock Motorcycle riders.

“When you come out to the Four-Wide Nationals, the conditions are really different,” Ray said. “Being the first pro category, you can get a greener track than you would like.”

Matt Smith, who won the PSM season championship in 2013, set a new track record with a run of 198.32 mph in his second qualifying effort Friday.

The final two rounds of qualifying take place Saturday at 1:15 pm ET and 4:15 pm ET.

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Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the Fifth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway, fifth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Two more rounds of qualifying will be contested Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.753 seconds, 323.35 mph; 2. J.R. Todd, 3.781, 325.06; 3. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.793, 324.98; 4. Brittany Force, 3.800, 325.61; 5. Tony Schumacher, 3.815, 321.73; 6. Doug Kalitta, 3.816, 322.42; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.818, 322.81; 8. Antron Brown, 3.823, 319.45; 9. Spencer Massey, 3.827, 321.42; 10. Pat Dakin, 3.841, 313.15; 11. Leah Pritchett, 3.856, 318.77; 12. Clay Millican, 3.904, 270.54; 13. Richie Crampton, 4.941, 97.52; 14. Bob Vandergriff, 4.949, 145.08; 15. Terry McMillen, 6.484, 106.58; 16. Sidnei Frigo, 6.543, 104.17.

Funny Car — 1. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.059, 314.24; 2. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 311.99; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.079, 308.57; 4. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.080, 311.70; 5. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.084, 312.06; 6. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.086, 314.75; 7. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.088, 310.91; 8. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.097, 284.56; 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.113, 308.43; 10. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.119, 303.84; 11. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.145, 306.05; 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.167, 261.42; 13. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.206, 286.80; 14. Blake Alexander, Charger, 4.317, 220.80; 15. John Force, Mustang, 4.441, 204.08; 16. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.690, 195.28.

Not Qualified: 17. Chad Head, 4.968, 157.95.

Pro Stock — 1. Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.523, 213.10; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.524, 213.13; 3. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.531, 212.59; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.534, 212.79; 5. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.538, 212.69; 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.542, 212.73; 7. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.546, 212.49; 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.550, 212.39; 9. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.560, 212.63; 10. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.564, 211.93; 11. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.577, 211.46; 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.577, 210.80; 13. Robert Patrick, Ford Mustang, 6.616, 209.43; 14. Justin Humphreys, Pontiac GXP, 6.690, 208.36; 15. John Gaydosh Jr, GXP, 7.327, 145.45; 16. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 15.375, 66.92.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.816, 197.02; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.825, 196.24; 3. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.843, 197.91; 4. John Hall, Buell, 6.846, 196.07; 5. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.871, 198.32; 6. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.873, 195.19; 7. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.873, 193.29; 8. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.874, 195.31; 9. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.875, 194.02; 10. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.892, 195.59; 11. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.900, 194.10; 12. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.926, 192.69; 13. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.933, 197.48; 14. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.954, 193.99; 15. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.956, 194.46; 16. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.998, 191.08.

Not Qualified: 17. Freddie Camarena, 7.030, 193.88; 18. Elvira Karlsson, 7.060, 188.33; 19. Joe DeSantis, 7.164, 186.54; 20. Justin Finley, 7.273, 186.69; 21. Junior Pippin, 7.331, 164.03; 22. Katie Sullivan, 7.765, 125.29.

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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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