Schumacher (TF), C. Pedregon (FC), Enders-Stevens (PS) and Arana Jr. (PSM) No. 1 NHRA qualifiers

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Six, five, four, three …

As the NHRA Countdown to the Championship continues, how the final eliminations of Sunday’s NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway play out could have a significant impact on who ultimately wins the title in their respective pro class.

The No. 1 qualifiers are Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Schumacher, who leads the Top Fuel points standings, is seeking his eighth championship. A win Sunday would go a long way towards moving Schumacher in that direction, particularly with just two races remaining (Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif.) this season after Sunday’s race.

Schumacher is also going for his third win in the six-race Countdown, having won the first two events before being a surprise first-round elimination last week at Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis.

Schumacher earned the 76th No. 1 qualifying position of his career and the seventh of the season with a career-best run of 3.733 seconds at 327.51 mph.

A win Sunday would mark the 77th of Schumacher’s career.

“We had a great race car,” said Schumacher, a four-time Maple Grove winner. “That was a fantastic run. There was more left out there. I was stuck in the track. Mike [Green, crew chief] had an excellent baseline because that was exactly what we were going for.”

In Funny Car, 16-time champ John Force set a track record speed of 323.97 mph, but it was Cruz Pedregon who ultimately earned the No. 1 qualifier spot, holding serve with Friday’s best run of 3.991 seconds at 319.52 mph.

Force and Pedregon were the only Funny Car drivers to qualify under the four-second barrier.

“I’m happy for the team,” said Pedregon, a two-time Maple Grove winner. “This is our third [No. 1 qualifier] here at Maple Grove, (which has) been a good track to us. We need the points, all the help we can get. We’re trying to dig ourselves out of the hole points wise.”

In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens claimed her fifth No. 1 spot of the season and second in a row with a track record time of 6.465 seconds at 213.16 mph.

“It was very exciting,” Enders-Stevens said. “We knew conditions were conducive for that. We didn’t necessarily expect to go a .46, we had thought we would be able to go a .48 so it even blew our minds a little bit. Great racing surface and the weather was awesome. How much fun was that?”

And in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. paced the field with a speed of 6.796 seconds at a monster speed of 197.22 mph.

“We’re going to go one round at a time,” Arana said. “We struggled this weekend in qualifying.

“We were trying different things but couldn’t get it figured out. We threw a Hail Mary at it. We’ve got nothing to lose. It went right down the track and we went all the way to No. 1. I was shocked.”

 

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Sunday’s first round elimination pairings:

Top Fuel — 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.733 seconds, 327.51 mph vs. 16. Bob Vandergriff, 7.358, 179.64; 2. Brittany Force, 3.737, 329.50 vs. 15. Terry McMillen, 3.977, 318.39; 3. J.R. Todd, 3.738, 325.77 vs. 14. Dom Lagana, 3.847, 315.86; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.747, 326.95 vs. 13. Clay Millican, 3.835, 316.15; 5. Antron Brown, 3.762, 323.50 vs. 12. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.834, 316.82; 6. Spencer Massey, 3.767, 327.90 vs. 11. Leah Pritchett, 3.821, 316.52; 7. Shawn Langdon, 3.773, 325.77 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.814, 317.49; 8. Steve Torrence, 3.786, 324.83 vs. 9. Larry Dixon, 3.788, 325.30.

Funny Car — 1. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 3.991, 319.52 vs. 16. John Bojec, 5.029, 270.92; 2. John Force, Ford Mustang, 3.997, 323.97 vs. 15. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.568, 246.21; 3. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.008, 321.50 vs. 14. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.171, 293.98; 4. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.008, 320.36 vs. 13. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.093, 310.55; 5. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.009, 320.13 vs. 12. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.090, 314.46; 6. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.017, 316.97 vs. 11. Chad Head, Camry, 4.088, 309.34; 7. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.046, 316.15 vs. 10. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.087, 307.02; 8. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.063, 320.20 vs. 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.065, 316.01.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Mike Smith, 5.142, 228.07; 18. Jeff Diehl, 5.377, 302.14.

Pro Stock — 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.465, 213.16 vs. 16. Frank Gugliotta, Ford Mustang, 6.599, 208.68; 2. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.484, 212.33 vs. 15. Kenny Delco, Chevy Cobalt, 6.597, 208.59; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.500, 213.23 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 6.579, 210.14; 4. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.505, 212.79 vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Mustang, 6.575, 209.95; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.505, 212.46 vs. 12. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.552, 210.93; 6. Richie Stevens, Camaro, 6.506, 212.26 vs. 11. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.540, 211.53; 7. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.525, 211.93 vs. 10. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.539, 212.49; 8. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.528, 211.56 vs. 9. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.531, 211.66.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Travis Mazza, 6.677, 207.30; 18. Val Smeland, broke.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.796, 197.22 vs. 16. Brian Pretzel, Suzuki, 7.309, 182.21; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.799, 196.27 vs. 15. Joe DeSantis, Suzuki, 7.074, 185.79; 3. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.821, 195.62 vs. 14. John Hall, Buell, 6.939, 190.32; 4. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.822, 195.90 vs. 13. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.927, 193.38; 5. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.862, 194.58 vs. 12. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.922, 193.65; 6. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.863, 196.50 vs. 11. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.912, 191.62; 7. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.866, 191.92 vs. 10. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.900, 192.47; 8. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.868, 191.65 vs. 9. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.878, 192.58.

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Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.