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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Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.