Enders-Stevens (PS), Hight (FC) and Brown (TF) capture wins in NHRA SpringNationals near Houston

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The next time a female drag racer wins an NHRA national event will be one of the most historic milestones in the sport’s more than half-century of competition.

Erica Enders-Stevens earned the 99th national event win by a female driver in NHRA history, capturing the Pro Stock division of Sunday’s finals in the O’Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

In other pro classes, Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) each won their third respective races of 2014.

Having a quicker reaction time at the start of the race, Enders-Stevens (6.594 seconds at 210.60 mph) powered to her second national event of the season, defeating 2012 NHRA Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson (6.588 seconds at 201.28 mph).

“My team’s been really awesome,” said Enders-Stevens, driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. “I’ve had a really consistent race car. That’s what it takes Sundays, consistency. We had to make a last-second transmission change and go through the gears to make sure everything was right.”

With her eighth-career win and first-ever at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston, Enders-Stevens retained her points lead in Pro Stock, the only female to lead the points in the history of that class.

She realizes there’s a lot for her to live up to, both as a female racer and the points leader.

“The ball’s in our court,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ve got to carry the momentum. That’s important in this game, and I know I keep saying that, but it’s huge, and we’re going to keep carrying it as long as we can.

“Pro Stock really goes in cycles, so I’m really hoping this is our cycle, and we’re going to keep fighting for it.”

The loss was Johnson’s first in three final round appearances this season, having previously won at Phoenix and Gainesville (Fla.). He came into Sunday’s eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock for the event, and is now second to Enders-Stevens in the standings.

Hight, president of John Force Racing, made it 13 straight final round appearances in Funny Car for a JFR driver (the team includes Hight, team patriarch John Force and Force’s daughter, Courtney), including this season’s first six races and dating back to the last seven races of 2013.

In his fifth straight Funny Car final round, Hight defeated Jack Beckman, who made his first final round of 2014. Hight ran 4.055 seconds at 314.90 mph, to 4.176 seconds at 308.43 mph for Beckman, the 2012 NHRA Funny Car world champ.

Hight earned his 32nd career national event win. Royal Purple Raceway is special because it was where Hight won his first national event.

It was a big rally for Hight, who failed to make even one complete pass (in two attempts) in Friday’s first round of qualifying.

“It was like we didn’t show up on Friday,” Hight said. “It was horrible. We just totally missed it, but I never lost faith in my team. They showed confidence that we were going to get them tomorrow.

“On Saturday, we went out there and ran 4.07, 4.08, and then we went 4.07, 4.07 and 4.07 before the final. Do you know how hard it is to do that in one of these cars? There are so many variables. It’s hard to make that many consistent runs in a row.”

Hight remains the Funny Car points leader, 122 points ahead of teammate, boss and father-in-law John Force.

In Top Fuel, Brown won his 44th career national event and second race in a row this season with a run of 3.793 seconds at 317.72 mph over Al-Anabi Racing driver Khalid alBalooshi.

Brown won two weeks ago at Charlotte, beating alBalooshi’s teammate, defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon.

“We have a lot of respect for the Al-Anabi guys,” said Brown, who moved to the top of the Top Fuel standings, leading Doug Kalitta by 37 points. “You have to beat them to contend for the championship because it goes through them.

“We get up for that challenge whenever we race them. Any time we beat them, it’s like hitting the jackpot. There are a lot of good teams out here, and we don’t take anybody lightly.”

Brown has been the most consistent driver in Top Fuel since the latter part of last season. He has reached seven of the last 10 finals, winning five of them.

Of special note Sunday, former three-time Top Fuel world champ Larry Dixon made his first start in nearly a year and finished 16th, while former four-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson, who missed the first five races recovering from heart surgery, finished 14th.

The next NHRA national event is May 16-18 at the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga.

 

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Here’s a complete statistical package of Sunday’s final eliminations in the 27th annual O’Reilly NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas:

 

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Khalid alBalooshi; 3.  Shawn Langdon; 4.  Steve Torrence; 5.  Doug Kalitta; 6.  Spencer Massey; 7.  Leah Pritchett; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Bob Vandergriff; 10.  Richie Crampton; 11.  Tony Schumacher; 12.  Terry McMillen; 13.  Clay Millican; 14.  Troy Buff; 15.  J.R. Todd; 16.  Larry Dixon.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Robert Hight; 2.  Jack Beckman; 3.  Del Worsham; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6.  Alexis DeJoria; 7.  Cruz Pedregon; 8.  Chad Head; 9.  Courtney Force; 10.  Matt Hagan; 11.  Tony Pedregon; 12.  Jeff Arend; 13.  Tim Wilkerson; 14.  Terry Haddock; 15.  John Force; 16.  Bob Tasca III.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens; 2.  Allen Johnson; 3.  Jeg Coughlin; 4.  Vincent Nobile; 5.  Jason Line; 6.  Jonathan Gray; 7.  Dave Connolly; 8.  Shane Gray; 9.  Chris McGaha; 10.  Larry Morgan; 11.  Rodger Brogdon; 12.  V. Gaines; 13.  Steve Kent; 14.  Greg Anderson; 15.  Greg Stanfield; 16.  Matt Hartford.

 

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Antron Brown, 3.793 seconds, 317.72 mph  def. Khalid alBalooshi, 4.433 seconds, 184.67 mph.

Funny Car — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.055, 314.90  def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.176, 308.43.

Pro Stock — Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.594, 210.60  def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.588, 210.28.

Top Alcohol Dragster — Randy Meyer, 6.478, 259.26  def. Mark Taliaferro, 19.835, 34.27.

Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Monte Carlo, 6.311, 254.23  def. Annie Whiteley, Ford Mustang, 11.004, 76.93.

Pro Modified — Mike Janis, Chevy Camaro, 5.927, 244.56  def. Mike Castellana, Camaro, foul.

Competition Eliminator — Clark Smiley, Pontiac GXP, 7.326, 181.57  def. Alan Ellis, ’23-T Ford, 9.806, 101.53.

Super Stock — Dale Hulquist, Pontiac Grand Am, 10.419, 128.62  def. Larry Stewart, Dodge Challenger, 9.872, 125.25.

Stock Eliminator — Jacob Pitt, Plymouth Barracuda, 10.598, 122.03  def. Brett Candies, Ford Mustang, 9.059, 147.44.

Super Comp — Austin Williams, Dragster, 8.928, 167.72  def. Brandon Mouton, Dragster, 8.913, 166.99.

Super Gas — Steven Collier, Chevy Vega, 9.917, 158.87  def. Rustin Mayse, Chevy Corvette, 9.928, 150.38.

Top Dragster — Allen Constantine, Dragster, 6.308, 226.01  def. Wade Pennington, Dragster, 6.202, 208.04.

Top Fuel Harley — Tommy Grimes, Harley, 6.247, 232.91  def. Jay Turner, Harley, 6.349, 230.69.

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.787, 327.82 def. Richie Crampton, 3.813, 323.74; Doug Kalitta, 3.779, 326.48 def. Bob Vandergriff, 3.810, 321.88; Khalid alBalooshi, 3.802, 321.19 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.838, 313.80; Steve Torrence, 3.776, 328.86 def. Terry McMillen, 3.866, 321.81; Antron Brown, 3.843, 318.47 def. Clay Millican, 3.899, 305.91; Shawn Langdon, 7.140, 93.10 def. Troy Buff, foul; Leah Pritchett, 3.813, 313.22 def. J.R. Todd, 5.867, 116.08; Spencer Massey, 3.990, 270.81 def. Larry Dixon, 12.967, 36.10;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.778, 322.11 def. Massey, 3.839, 318.32; alBalooshi, 3.950, 312.50 def. Pritchett, 4.010, 288.64; Langdon, 3.804, 325.14 def. Kalitta, 3.799, 324.28; Torrence, 5.363, 154.46 def. Force, 11.827, 46.49;

SEMIFINALS — alBalooshi, 3.846, 315.42 def. Torrence, 9.959, 81.18; Brown, 3.801, 321.58 def. Langdon, 3.863, 320.66;

FINAL — Brown, 3.793, 317.72 def. alBalooshi, 4.433, 184.67.

 

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.074, 313.29 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 12.008, 63.19; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.114, 310.20 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.263, 292.65; Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.106, 308.07 def. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.113, 299.80; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.143, 300.60 def. Terry Haddock, Chevy Impala, 5.140, 151.12; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.114, 310.27 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.148, 276.29; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.073, 311.41 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.132, 305.01; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 6.234, 123.66 def. John Force, Mustang, foul; Chad Head, Camry, 4.110, 293.41 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.099, 150.18;

QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 4.116, 308.43 def. C. Pedregon, 5.382, 140.39; Capps, 4.177, 294.75 def. Johnson Jr., 4.920, 167.30; Hight, 4.076, 313.07 def. DeJoria, 5.221, 155.54; Worsham, 4.368, 242.54 def. Head, 6.968, 91.61;

SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 4.485, 288.39 def. Capps, 9.490, 75.57; Hight, 4.071, 309.20 def. Worsham, 4.201, 287.29;

FINAL — Hight, 4.055, 314.90 def. Beckman, 4.176, 308.43.

 

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Jonathan Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.645, 209.82 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.642, 211.06; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.626, 209.69 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.611, 210.60; Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.609, 210.08 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.670, 209.36; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.618, 209.82 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, foul; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.627, 209.85 def. Steve Kent, Camaro, foul; Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.614, 210.08 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.640, 208.88; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.581, 211.06 def. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.692, 206.92; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.578, 211.26 def. Matt Hartford, Avenger, 6.695, 207.78;

QUARTERFINALS — Nobile, 6.722, 209.20 def. S. Gray, 15.159, 55.97; Coughlin, 6.598, 210.24 def. Connolly, 6.659, 209.04; Johnson, 6.587, 211.13 def. J. Gray, 6.649, 209.20; Enders-Stevens, 6.577, 211.26 def. Line, 6.639, 209.75;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.585, 210.47 def. Nobile, 6.639, 210.01; Enders-Stevens, 6.584, 211.26 def. Coughlin, foul;

FINAL — Enders-Stevens, 6.594, 210.60 def. Johnson, 6.588, 210.28.

 

POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 580; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 543; 3.  Steve Torrence, 428; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 408; 5.  Khalid alBalooshi, 381; 6.  Tony Schumacher, 353; 7.  Spencer Massey, 342; 8.  Brittany Force, 300; 9.  Richie Crampton, 224; 10.  J.R. Todd, 220.

Funny Car: 1.  Robert Hight, 609; 2.  John Force, 487; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 431; 4.  Del Worsham, 361; 5.  Ron Capps, 356; 6.  Jack Beckman, 336; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 323; 8.  Matt Hagan, 289; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 277; 10.  Courtney Force, 275.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 554; 2.  Allen Johnson, 477; 3.  Jason Line, 437; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 414; 5.  Shane Gray, 390; 6.  Dave Connolly, 366; 7.  Jeg Coughlin, 344; 8.  V. Gaines, 340; 9.  Chris McGaha, 290; 10.  Jimmy Alund, 282.

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INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix

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Here’s what the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers had to say, courtesy of IndyCar Media Relations, after Saturday qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s nice when you have the car to do it. We had the speed on Friday, so to finish it off today is nice. It’s only goal one. Two races; one for pole, one for the race. We need to close it out. Verizon has been very good to us, and Team Chevy as well. Engine package has been phenomenal to get the most out of it. You see how well we work together with Team Penske and Team Chevy. We just have to be smart and get through the first couple laps. Save the tires, save some fuel and be smart if a caution comes out in the middle of the race. We’ll see what we have for tomorrow.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Tough qualifying today. We’ve been struggling a little bit finding the best setup for the car. We need to concentrate for tomorrow so that we have a great car for the race. It’s a long race and you never know what can happen. We will keep working, improving and doing our best and will try to have a top 10 tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We’re struggling a little bit with the reds (Firestone alternate tires) – we just didn’t find the gain like everybody else did. I’m not entirely sure, honestly. Obviously, Robbie (Wickens) is doing well, so it’s a bit of a mystery for us. We went more towards his (Wickens’) setup and the balance kind of went out the window for me. It’s weird because we’ve been able to copy and paste setups all year long between the two of us and it just didn’t work here. I feel bad for the Arrow Electronics boys – obviously, the car’s capable of more. We just didn’t get it today.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Overall, it’s been a good weekend – we’ve still never been out of the top five in every session. Hopefully, me and the Lucas Oil boys can keep chipping away and come up with a slightly better car for the race tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): 
“I just didn’t think we had great space to work in out there on the track. There were about five other guys before us and they are all trying to get their spacing right, as well. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just there’s a tight window for everything. Maybe we should have waved off a third lap on the black (Firestone primary) tires and got ourselves better time on the reds (Firestone alternate tires). It is what it is, though, and we only really had one lap to try and get something going. Then, we had people starting to back up in front of us and never got to show our speed. I think the PNC Bank car had enough for the Firestone Fast Six, but we’ll have to show that speed tomorrow in the race.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda):
 “The guys on the First Data car made some great changes today after we struggled a little bit early on in the weekend here at Road America. That was the most confident I’ve felt with the car so far this weekend and I felt we were going in the right direction. We were capable of being in the Firestone Fast Six today, but we got held up a bit. On the upside, we have a really fast First Data car and something we can use to improve on up the grid for tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “That was close. We were off the whole time. I gave it everything the last lap. A surprise front row. I keep getting front rows every weekend. Not the pole, but yeah, I’m pretty happy. But only five hundredths off, come on. I think I did a really neat lap. Josef (Newgarden) did a great lap. That was all I had.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): 
“I got traffic on my fast lap, but it would have just put us in the top 13, not enough to advance. The car is understeering all weekend. We tried something overnight that didn’t work, so it put us behind a session and we’re back to the car we had yesterday. It was the same car, so we were going to do the same lap time as yesterday when we tried the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but getting traffic didn’t help. But it wasn’t going to change a lot – maybe a few positions, which always helps, but we’ve got a little bit of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “We wanted to be further up and get the GEHL Honda in the top six. We’ve started in the top six every year, but there was nothing more in the car today. For maybe the first time this year, I’m confident saying that; there was nothing more. We only lacked one-tenth (of a second) over four miles from fourth (place), but that’s what Indy car racing is now. Yeah, we qualified ninth, but when you think that a tenth of a second over four-plus miles can move you five spots, it’s crazy, but that’s the reality of Indy car. We’ve just got to try to find a little more improvement for tomorrow, make the car a little more consistent for the race, and hopefully, we can go out there and attack. I think a lot of people have a lot of questions for the race. There is no warmup this year, so we’ll see how it goes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): (About if he feels he’s in a good position to win tomorrow): “Yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to say so, but I’m not sure I believe it myself. It’s been a bit of a tough day. I thought after yesterday we thought we had everything under control, and things were looking good, and this morning we rolled out and struggled with grip and then we went into qualify and really struggled for good. I think I only did one good lap to be honest with you in Q2 on that new set of option tires. Everything was really scrappy and really difficult to put anything together. In (the Firestone Fast Six), I really didn’t get anything done properly. We tried one lap on both sets, but I’m not convinced it was the right thing to do – hindsight 20/20. Just one of those where you come out of the car and you’re not quite sure what else you should or would have done, but not super happy with the way things have gone. The guys did a really good job, but I just — yeah, I’m struggling to read anything that’s happening out there, it’s up and down, making a lot of mistakes, so don’t really feel great about it.

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s so competitive out there. I thought we had a really good chance at doing better in qualifying, but we ended up on the wrong end of the timing sheet. We just missed making it to the second round by a few tenths, so that’s a bit disappointing. That said, tomorrow is a long race and a lot can happen. I’m confident we can move up the field and get that good result we’ve been chasing the last few races.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We’ve been making progress throughout the weekend, little steps at a time and qualifying was our best session yet. The car is now performing within that half-second window of the front of the field. There’s always that last hundredth of time left to get, so I’m a bit annoyed that we didn’t get it, but it was still a pretty good lap. I got as much as I could out of the car. There was just a little bit of oversteer out of Turn 12 and that’s probably the half a tenth that we needed to transfer. I would have liked to have got through to the next round, but it was still a decent effort considering how much progress we’ve made.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “Qualifying was definitely a solid improvement. It’s nice to have the Direct Supply car in the top 10 to start the race tomorrow. We’ve been making pretty big changes every session and we hadn’t really found anything that worked until qualifying. We were struggling with the front of the car in some places and the rear of the car in other places, we just had to try and tack it down a little bit. Obviously, it helped being on new tires and the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but the car has come alive – certainly a step in the right direction. To only be a tenth or so off the Firestone Fast Six, compared to where we were in practice, is a really good improvement. I’m happy with that, but we want to be higher up and we’ll try for that tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “That’s not the result that we’re all here for, obviously, and I think everyone here at Carlin is disappointed with that qualifying result, but at the same time I know Max (Chilton) and I both have a lot of confidence in this team and our engineering staff. We’ll look at all of the data tonight and learn from each other and try to come up with a plan for tomorrow’s race. The nice thing is that we’re still learning and we’re still constantly making progress, so it’s not like we’re out of options. We still have a lot left to try and a lot left to learn, so we’ll just keep moving forward.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “This weekend so far has been really good for us just confidence-wise. To show the speed that we have, I think we deserve to be in the top six – the car definitely does. I just made a mistake and just overdrove the reds (Firestone alternate tires) in the top 12 trying to make into the Firestone Fast Six. I calmed myself down and gathered it up, but I could only get us up to 11th. We have a great race car and I’m excited to see what we can do on race day.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We can do a lot from fourth. It’s always disappointing when you lead your two groups and miss out on the pole, but it’s so close. It’s amazing that around a four-mile track, it’s so tight. It’s just a testament to get to the championship, but huge hats off to the whole NAPA Know How team. We really struggled yesterday afternoon and made some good decisions overnight that paid off.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We didn’t test here, so we were a bit behind the 8-ball, but we made the right changes and I think we put a good effort out today. I was hoping to go one better at practice and be P2, but starting third is somewhere we can work from tomorrow in the race. It’s going to be interesting with no warmup tomorrow and trying to get the right setup on the race car, but it’s the same for everybody. We have an idea with where we are with older tires, so we’ll try and estimate where we need to be with the setup and put our best effort out there. To fight at it from third is a good thing, so we can do it from there.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was definitely a good day. The entire team worked extremely well. The No. 30 boys always have, but it is great to give them back a nice position in qualifying. We were just four hundredths (of a second) off from the top six (in Round 2) and that shows how competitive the field is. I’m extremely happy to start seventh, which is the best position here so far. It’s a long race. We believe we have a strong car for the race, so I’m looking forward to having a strong result.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Today we had no issues, which was important. Yesterday was for sure a setback, as we needed to run the whole day so that we could experiment with the red (alternate) Firestone tires and the softer compound. So not being able to run on the red tires yesterday really did not help our qualifying effort today. It is what it is at this point, so we will come back tomorrow and be ready to run a good race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “Even though the results might not have shown it, I think we made a lot of progress here today at Road America. We definitely closed the gap from the beginning of the weekend and I really felt like I got everything out of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet that I could. With us starting where we are tomorrow, we’ll have the freedom to try a completely different strategy, and hopefully, we can come away from a track I love with a decent result.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Yet another tough qualifying session for us as we search to find the speed we need to get. We’re going to take a look overnight, and hopefully, we can figure something out for the race. Hopefully, we set ourselves up for a fun race and get to pass a lot of cars.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We’ve been slipping backward ever since Practice 1 on the time sheets and just missed it. We’re a little bit loose there. I don’t think I got the most out of Lap 1 and we’re outside looking in by three tenths (of a second), so it’s not like we were that close. Hopefully, we’re better with (tire degradation) than we were with new tires. The race is obviously a different pace, but you still want to start further up than 15th.”

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