NHRA: Schumacher clinches 8th Top Fuel championship; Funny Car, Pro Stock and Motorcycle to be decided Sunday

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Tony Schumacher is a firm believer in not putting off until tomorrow what he can do today.

Schumacher didn’t wait until Sunday’s final eliminations of the season-ending and 50th anniversary AutoClub NHRA Finals at AutoClub Raceway.

Rather, the suburban Chicago native took care of wrapping up his record eighth NHRA Top Fuel championship during Saturday’s final day of qualifying.

Clinching his first championship since 2009, Schumacher earned enough points by qualifying ninth to put the crown out of reach of his closest challenger, Spencer Massey.

“It is much more difficult now than it ever has been,” Schumacher said in a NHRA media release. He has won championships in 1999, 2004 through 2009 and now 2014, making him the most successful Top Fuel pilot in NHRA history.

“The key to winning these (championships) is to come on at the right time,” Schumacher said. “This is a great sport but there is some luck involved. You’ve got to fight the battle and like (drag racing legend John) Force says, ‘You’ve got to be part of the battle to win it.’ ”

Australian native and rookie Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of 2014 heading into Sunday’s final eliminations with a run of 3.711 seconds at 316.30 mph. Crampton is seeking his third victory of the season.

“I came here as a spectator to this race in 1999 and sat in the grandstands with my family,” Crampton said. “I was just in awe of the sport, lining up to get autographs from the drivers.

“To be in this position now is just a dream come true. I am probably the most spoiled rookie in the history of NHRA because I race with a team that gives me such great equipment. Just like Indy (he won this year’s U.S. Nationals in Top Fuel), this is a huge race where we wanted to do well. It’s looking good so far and hopefully it will translate into some round wins tomorrow.”

In Funny Car, Alexis DeJoria earned the No. 1 qualifying spot with a run of 3.998 seconds at 311.41 mph.

“To be No. 1 right now is great for our whole team, and they’re hungry,” said DeJoria, who is seeking her fourth win of the season on Sunday. “I’m so excited and it’s with a three-second run. It was an incredible session. It’s great to be a part of it.”

But the real attention is on the battle for the championship between defending and 16-time champ John Force and arch-rival Matt Hagan.

After slightly closing the gap on Hagan during Friday’s qualifying, Force slipped back slightly after Saturday’s final two qualifying rounds. Hagan now leads Force by 23 points heading into Sunday’s final eliminations.

That’s why it’s crucial for both Hagan and Force not to make any mistakes and to make it to the final round, and ultimately win the race.

Force has his work cut out for himself. He needs to advance two rounds more than Hagan to win his 17th Funny Car title. Hagan is seeking his second career title, having won in 2011.

In the other closely watched championship battle, Jason Line earned his 38th career No. 1 qualifying spot in Pro Stock (6.517 seconds at 212.19 mph), but still trails points leader Erica Enders-Stevens by 19 points.

Enders-Stevens, who qualified third, is seeking to become the first female to ever win an NHRA Pro Stock championship.

“The way the (elimination) ladder worked out, it should set up for a phenomenal day (Sunday) if she and I race in the final,” Line said of Enders-Stevens. “Whoever wins that would win the championship.

“This is a cool place. This is where champions are crowned. I’ve always said I like (the season-opening race at) Pomona at the beginning of the year because you’re ready to get back to racing, and at the end of the year (the season finale) you’re done, you’re worn out. I have one more day before I’m worn out, though.”

Hector Arana Jr. earned his third No. 1 qualifying position (6.832 seconds/197.62 mph) and will lead the way in Pro Stock Motorcycle in Sunday’s eliminations.

However, the real show will be for the PSM championship. Andrew Hines leads teammate Eddie Krawiec by a fairly stout 89 points. If Hines wins his first round elimination race, regardless of what Krawiec does, Hines will earn his fourth career NHRA PSM world championship.

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Sunday’s first-round elimination pairings:

Top Fuel — 1. Richie Crampton, 3.711 seconds, 325.45 mph vs. 16. Troy Buff, 3.834, 314.90; 2. Antron Brown, 3.720, 322.58 vs. 15. Clay Millican, 3.825, 312.64; 3. Morgan Lucas, 3.738, 323.35 vs. 14. Billy Torrence, 3.799, 321.12; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.745, 328.30  vs. 13. Steve Torrence, 3.790, 324.83; 5. J.R. Todd, 3.745, 325.06  vs. 12. Bob Vandergriff, 3.774, 321.42; 6. Spencer Massey, 3.748, 326.48  vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, 3.768, 323.50; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.751, 325.85 vs. 10. Dom Lagana, 3.763, 322.42; 8. Larry Dixon, 3.760, 327.03  vs. 9. Tony Schumacher, 3.761, 323.81. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry McMillen, 3.836, 321.04; 18. Brittany Force, 3.917, 306.26; 19. Steve Faria, 4.064, 286.38; 20. Steven Chrisman, 4.220, 284.75; 21. Jenna Haddock, 4.440, 216.65.

Funny Car — 1. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.998, 314.39  vs. 16. Gary Densham, Chevy Impala, 4.136, 306.46; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.003, 317.34  vs. 15. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.134, 306.12; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.005, 318.02  vs. 14. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.126, 287.05; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.011, 311.77  vs. 13. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.102, 313.73; 5. John Force, Mustang, 4.015, 316.60  vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.072, 312.93; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.016, 319.60  vs. 11. Chad Head, Camry, 4.070, 313.88; 7. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.029, 313.29  vs. 10. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.062, 314.97; 8. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.036, 317.87  vs. 9. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.055, 316.60. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jeff Diehl, 4.196, 266.27; 18. John Bojec, 4.235, 298.47; 19. Jon Capps, 4.693, 187.34; 20. Shane Westerfield, 5.107, 233.20; 21. Terry Haddock, 8.246, 84.68; 22. Bob Bode, 18.203, 721.92.

Pro Stock — 1. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.517, 212.19  vs. 16. Jeff Isbell, Camaro, 6.724, 206.80; 2. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.522, 211.79  vs. 15. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.601, 209.39; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.526, 212.03  vs. 14. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.583, 209.85; 4. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.534, 211.89  vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.577, 211.43; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.538, 211.96  vs. 12. Matt Hartford, Pontiac GXP, 6.562, 211.06; 6. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.539, 211.33  vs. 11. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.550, 211.36; 7. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.543, 211.83  vs. 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.548, 211.00; 8. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.547, 211.89  vs. 9. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.547, 211.73. Did Not Qualify: 17. Joey Grose, 6.948, 198.85.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.832, 197.62  vs. 16. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.974, 194.63; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.834, 195.76  vs. 15. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.962, 191.57; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.842, 195.99  vs. 14. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.952, 191.05; 4. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.863, 195.17  vs. 13. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.945, 192.17; 5. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.884, 193.02  vs. 12. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.940, 191.40; 6. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.888, 195.62  vs. 11. Elvira Karlsson, Suzuki, 6.937, 190.73; 7. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.924, 193.68  vs. 10. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.936, 195.31; 8. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.931, 192.49  vs. 9. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.933, 193.60. Did Not Qualify: 17. Redell Harris, 7.055, 189.82; 18. Rhett Lougheed, 7.092, 186.77; 19. Gert-Jen Laseur, 7.114, 183.15; 20. Lance Bonham, 7.344, 181.62; 21. Bill Burkhart, 7.490, 181.13; 22. Michael Ray, 10.856, 177.88.

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Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

‘THEY’VE STUCK BEHIND ME’: Kyle Larson comments on future, Outlaws plans

“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.