NHRA: Langdon (Top Fuel) earns storybook Winternationals win; Hagan (Funny Car), Line (Pro Stock) also triumph

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Shawn Langdon missed out on setting a national elapsed time record in Top Fuel, but that didn’t stop him from a storybook win in the season-opening NHRA Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Langdon, who recorded the quickest elapsed time in Top Fuel history Saturday (3.700 seconds), missed setting the national record by .04 of a second in his four subsequent rounds in Sunday’s final eliminations at Auto Club Raceway.

But the more important thing is Langdon, who a month ago appeared headed to the unemployment line after Al-Anabi Racing unexpectedly pulled its entire funding support of the two-car Alan Johnson Racing team, came back to win Sunday.

AJR has been reduced to just one dragster, driven by Langdon. And with one-off sponsorship for this weekend from several sources, including noted cook Guy Fieri, Langdon and his Knuckle Sandwich/AJPE-funded team were somehow able to motor on to victory.

Sunday’s win could be a big boost for AJR’s search for additional sponsorship, particularly since it is only committed to continue racing in the next event in two weeks in Phoenix.

After that, AJR’s future is uncertain.

Coming into Sunday’s eliminations as the event’s No. 1 qualifier, Langdon (3.799 seconds, 309.91 mph) defeated Antron Brown (3.804 seconds, 310.70 mph) in the final round. It was a race that was neck-and-neck all the way until Langdon slightly pulled ahead of Brown just before the finish line.

It was Langdon’s 10th career win in his Top Fuel career, and his second career triumph in the Winternationals.

“There are things that happen in life and then there are moments when things just fall into place,” Langdon said in a NHRA media release. “We had a lot going on positively with Guy Fieri here this weekend.

“We had to come out here and do well and make a statement. Now we’ll take what we did here and move on to Phoenix and continue what we are doing. We are still looking for sponsorship and trying to do the best we can.”

In Funny Car, defending 2014 national champion Matt Hagan picked up where he left off at the end of last season, winning the first race of 2015.

Hagan (4.011 seconds, 320.89 mph) bounced back from a motor explosion during Friday’s qualifying to defeat Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps (4.078, 314.90) in Sunday’s final round.

“These [race cars] are animals out there and you never know what you are going to get when you crawl in there to drive one,” Hagan said. “It’s always an experience. You have to respect it, but you can’t fear it.”

Hagan ended 2014 and clinched his second career Funny Car championship in four years with a win in last November’s World Finals, also at Auto Club Raceway. Sunday was his first win in the Winternationals. He now has back-to-back wins at Pomona and four overall in his career.

“Pomona is very special to me and it’s an historical track,” Hagan said of his 15th career Funny Car win. “The fans are awesome here. It’s been great. The history of this track and everything that’s happened here through the years, it puts it in perspective for me and makes [winning here] even more special.”

In Pro Stock, 2014 season runner-up Jason Line (6.545 seconds, 211.83 mph) started the new season off the right way with a win over rookie Drew Skillman (6.556 seconds, 211.13 mph). It was Line’s his fourth career Winternationals win and 36th career Pro Stock win.

“It’s great to get off to a good start,” Line said. “To be honest, I didn’t expect to come here and do this well. I didn’t think the off-season had gone well enough for us, but apparently it has. And it feels great to win.

“What a really exciting day. We have some new faces in the class, and congrats to Drew Skillman for making the final at his first race, that’s phenomenal.”

It also Chevrolet’s 91st win in Pro Stock, setting a victory record for a manufacturer.

The next event on the 24-race NHRA national event schedule will be the Carquest Auto Parts Nationals, Feb. 20-22 in Chandler, Ariz.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER

TOP FUEL: 1. Shawn Langdon; 2. Antron Brown; 3. Larry Dixon; 4. Spencer Massey; 5. Leah Pritchett; 6. Steve Torrence; 7. Doug Kalitta; 8. Richie Crampton; 9. Tony Schumacher; 10. Brittany Force; 11. Troy Buff; 12. Dave Connolly; 13. Steven Chrisman; 14. Clay Millican; 15. J.R. Todd; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Del Worsham; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Courtney Force; 7. John Hale; 8. Bob Bode; 9. Alexis DeJoria; 10. Tony Pedregon; 11. Tim Wilkerson; 12. Jeff Arend; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. Gary Densham; 15. John Force; 16. Chad Head.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line; 2. Drew Skillman; 3. Rodger Brogdon; 4. Erica Enders-Stevens; 5. Chris McGaha; 6. Larry Morgan; 7. Shane Gray; 8. Allen Johnson; 9. Vincent Nobile; 10. Jonathan Gray; 11. V. Gaines; 12. Deric Kramer; 13. Greg Anderson; 14. Matt Hartford; 15. Joey Grose; 16. Jimmy Alund.
FINAL RESULTS

TOP FUEL: Shawn Langdon, 3.799 seconds, 309.91 mph  def. Antron Brown, 3.804 seconds, 310.70 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.011, 320.89  def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.078, 314.90.

PRO STOCK: Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.545, 211.83  def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.556, 211.13.

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Larry Dixon, 3.841, 312.13 def. Dave Connolly, 4.022, 236.84; Steve Torrence, 3.774, 324.05 def. Troy Buff, 3.828, 316.30; Richie Crampton, 4.369, 202.18 def. J.R. Todd, 9.379, 78.33; Doug Kalitta, 3.763, 330.88 def. Terry McMillen, 10.090, 86.42; Shawn Langdon, 3.741, 325.53 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.148, 255.39; Spencer Massey, 3.751, 323.74 def. Clay Millican, 6.941, 96.89; Antron Brown, 3.732, 326.87 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.787, 323.66; Leah Pritchett, 3.791, 323.04 def. Brittany Force, 3.811, 321.19;

QUARTERFINALS — Dixon, 3.848, 310.20 def. Crampton, 9.623, 80.59; Massey, 3.808, 325.37 def. Torrence, 3.821, 324.05; Langdon, 3.748, 323.19 def. Pritchett, 3.801, 323.66; Brown, 3.758, 322.73 def. Kalitta, 7.817, 94.51;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.790, 322.27 def. Dixon, 3.774, 320.36; Langdon, 3.762, 326.48 def. Massey, 3.778, 327.98;

FINAL — Langdon, 3.799, 309.91 def. Brown, 3.804, 310.70.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.065, 318.84 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.381, 227.54; John Hale, Charger, 4.264, 266.42 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 5.028, 159.25; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.045, 315.19 def. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.568, 193.52; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.097, 312.42 def. Gary Densham, Chevy Impala, 5.422, 137.71; Bob Bode, Camry, 5.126, 202.82 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.599, 156.72; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.137, 305.22 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.110, 301.07; Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 4.066, 315.05 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.385, 208.97; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.048, 317.05 def. Chad Head, Camry, broke;

QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 4.104, 313.88 def. Bode, broke; Hight, 4.085, 313.29 def. Johnson Jr., 4.080, 306.33; Worsham, 4.068, 316.60 def. C. Force, 7.289, 87.42; Hagan, 4.128, 303.50 def. Hale, foul;

SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.134, 312.57 def. Hight, 7.854, 84.40; Hagan, 4.068, 316.75 def. Worsham, 4.081, 314.90;

FINAL — Hagan, 4.011, 320.89 def. Capps, 4.078, 314.90.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.547, 211.66 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, foul; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.589, 211.26 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.637, 211.56; Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.546, 212.56 def. Jimmy Alund, Pontiac GXP, 14.251, 59.26; Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.574, 211.83 def. Vincent Nobile, 6.561, 211.76; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.570, 211.53 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.586, 210.93; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.545, 212.09 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, foul; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.548, 211.43 def. Matt Hartford, GXP, 6.651, 208.78; Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.548, 212.43 def. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.609, 209.95;

QUARTERFINALS — Skillman, 6.595, 210.90 def. Johnson, 6.595, 211.10; Enders-Stevens, 6.569, 211.36 def. McGaha, 6.565, 210.73; Brogdon, 6.565, 211.46 def. Morgan, 6.566, 212.36; Line, 6.564, 211.56 def. S. Gray, 6.574, 211.00;

SEMIFINALS — Skillman, 6.590, 210.41 def. Enders-Stevens, 6.573, 211.53; Line, 6.560, 211.36 def. Brogdon, 6.560, 211.76;

FINAL — Line, 6.545, 211.83 def. Skillman, 6.556, 211.13.

POINTS STANDINGS

Top Fuel: 1. Shawn Langdon, 124; 2. Antron Brown, 92; 3. Spencer Massey, 78; 4. Larry Dixon, 73; 5. Richie Crampton, 59; 6. Doug Kalitta, 56; 7. Steve Torrence, 54; 8. Leah Pritchett, 52; 9. Tony Schumacher, 36; 10. Brittany Force, 33.

Funny Car: 1. Matt Hagan, 107; 2. Ron Capps, 94; 3. Del Worsham, 74; 4. Robert Hight, 73; 5. Courtney Force, 61; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 60; 7. John Hale, 51; 8. Bob Bode, 46; 9. John Force, 40; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 38.

Pro Stock: 1. Jason Line, 123; 2. Drew Skillman, 97; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, 81; 4. Rodger Brogdon, 80; 5. Chris McGaha, 55; 6. Larry Morgan, 54; 7. (tie) Shane Gray, 52; Allen Johnson, 52; 9. (tie) Greg Anderson, 34; Vincent Nobile, 34.

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Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”