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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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).