NHRA: Kalitta (Top Fuel), Johnson (Funny Car), Line (Pro Stock) lead way in first day of Winternationals qualifying

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After a long off-season, fans looking for speed at the 55th annual and season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals sure got what they hoped for during Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying.

Blistering mph and blink-of-an-eye quick elapsed times were certainly the story of the day at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

In Top Fuel, after recording a first run of 3.809 seconds at 323.12 mph, Doug Kalitta stepped it up significantly in his second run, posting a field-best 3.733 second pass at 327.59 mph to take the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot.

“We’re real happy with those two runs,” Kalitta said in an NHRA media release. “I’m not sure with the weather, I think it might be a little cooler tomorrow (Saturday). There’s just a lot of good running cars that can run better than we did. So, hopefully I’m hear again tomorrow talking to you guys. We’ll see how it goes.”

Reigning Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher was the No. 2 provisional qualifier with a run of 3.757 seconds at 320.20 mph. Don Schumacher Racing teammate Spencer Massey qualified third at 3.761 seconds, but with the fastest run of the day of any car at 328.30 mph.

In Funny Car, another DSR driver, Tommy Johnson Jr., set the pace and earned the provisional No. 1 qualifier spot with a 4.018 second, 314.46 run down the 1,000-foot dragstrip.

“The team has just picked up right where we left off and gives me a lot of confidence,” said Johnson, who finished third in the Funny Car standings last season. “I know we have a very competitive team. We can roll it right off of the box at Pomona and pick up right where we left off. I think we’re on the right track to have a great season.”

Chad Head recorded the second-quickest time, 4.060 seconds, at 309.63 mph.

MORE: Multitasking: Drag racer tees up Funny Car and then tees off (video)

Sixteen-time Funny Car champion John Force had a successful debut for both his new sponsor (PEAK Anti-Freeze) and new manufacturer (Chevrolet), with a run of 4.061 seconds at 313.66 mph, good for No. 3 in the provisional qualifying.

Matt Hagan, reigning Funny Car champ, had a stout first run (4.090 seconds at 310.70 mph), but suffered a spectacular engine fire in the second round. Hagan escaped from his car uninjured.

In Pro Stock, three-time Winternationals winner and runner-up in last season’s championship bid, Jason Line, was quickest at 6.523 seconds at 212.76 mph.

“It was a good run,” Line said. “It was a nice run. I know I usually whine and say it wasn’t perfect but it was a nice run. It’s nice to be up here and I’m pretty happy about that. It’s fun to start Day One of the 2015 Mello Yello drag racing season this way.”

Drew Skillman was second quickest (6.527 seconds at 212.09 mph), followed by Greg Anderson (6.535 seconds, 211.99 mph).

One of the biggest surprises of the day involved reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders-Stevens, who failed to complete either of her two qualifying passes, losing traction both times.

Enders-Stevens will have two more rounds on Saturday to make Sunday’s final eliminations. There will also be two more rounds of qualifying Saturday for all other drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock.

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FRIDAY’S RESULTS:

Top Fuel: 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.733 seconds, 327.59 mph; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.757, 323.35; 3. Spencer Massey, 3.761, 328.30; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.764, 323.97; 5. Larry Dixon, 3.776, 321.35; 6. Brittany Force, 3.779, 323.97; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.788, 325.45; 8. Leah Pritchett, 3.797, 320.81; 9. Shawn Langdon, 3.803, 320.36; 10. Antron Brown, 3.803, 313.73; 11. Troy Buff, 3.815, 310.77; 12. J.R. Todd, 3.914, 242.54.  Not Qualified: 13. Terry McMillen, 3.996, 285.41; 14. Steven Chrisman, 4.338, 221.20; 15. Steve Faria, 4.506, 182.55; 16. Clay Millican, 4.767, 151.97; 17. Dave Connolly, 13.570, 23.48.

Funny Car: 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.018, 314.46; 2. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.060, 309.63; 3. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.061, 313.66; 4. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.066, 299.73; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.067, 300.93; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.085, 305.84; 7. Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 4.086, 314.09; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.090, 310.70; 9. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.097, 302.75; 10. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.102, 311.34; 11. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.106, 309.34; 12. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.131, 274.55.  Not Qualified: 13. Gary Densham, 4.182, 306.12; 14. Jeff Arend, 4.223, 263.56; 15. Terry Haddock, 4.286, 293.03; 16. John Hale, 4.440, 224.02; 17. Jack Beckman, 4.485, 204.35; 18. Bob Bode, 12.819, 41.70.

Pro Stock: 1. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.523, 212.76; 2. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.09; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.535, 211.99; 4. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.538, 212.26; 5. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.538, 212.03; 6. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.540, 212.43; 7. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.546, 211.89; 8. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.551, 212.69; 9. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.553, 211.93; 10. Jimmy Alund, Pontiac GXP, 6.568, 211.46; 11. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.614, 210.37; 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.623, 210.57.  Not Qualified: 13. Joey Grose, 6.625, 209.20; 14. Jeff Isbell, 6.677, 207.78; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.736, 206.92; 16. Vincent Nobile, 7.907, 123.05; 17. Erica Enders-Stevens, 9.708, 113.01.

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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”