NHRA Phoenix: Hagan (Funny Car) stays perfect for 2015; Schumacher (Top Fuel), Brogdon (Pro Stock) also win

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Defending NHRA Funny Car champion Matt Hagan remained perfect in 2015, going 2-0 in the new season by winning his second straight race in Sunday’s CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.

Hagan, who entered Sunday’s final eliminations as the top qualifier in Funny Car, set a track record of 3.975 seconds (at 324.83 mph) in defeating Del Worsham (4.010 seconds, 318.17 mph) in the final round.

In addition to wins in the first two races of 2015, Hagan made it three in a row, dating back to his championship-clinching victory last November in the season-ending Auto Club Finals.

“We’ve got a killer race car and race team, so I am hoping to keep turning on those win lights,” Hagan said in an NHRA media release.

It was the 16th win of Hagan’s career and his first at the suburban Phoenix drag strip.

“It keeps getting tougher each year and every car is so competitive,” said Hagan, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing. “That’s what’s so cool about this sport. It’s tough, but when you win you feel like you really did something. I am just glad to keep this [winning streak] going.”

In Top Fuel, Hagan’s DSR teammate and 2014 champ Tony Schumacher capped off one of the most significant weekends of his career.

On Friday, Schumacher set a career-best low elapsed time (3.722 seconds). On Saturday, he set an NHRA record with the 77th No. 1 qualifying spot of his career.

And then Sunday, the eight-time national champ put a bow on the weekend package with the 78th win of his Top Fuel career.

Schumacher (3.720 seconds at 326.56 mph) defeated Doug Kalitta (3.758, 325.14) to earn his fifth career win at the suburban Phoenix track.

“I have to give the trophy, the credit, every bit of it to the team this week,” Schumacher said. “I was off. My lights were slower than they’ve been, and everything I tried to do really couldn’t fix it.

“(Crew chief) Mike Green and Neal (Strausbaugh, assistant crew chief) said, ‘We’ll fight through this. Just do your best.’ They give you confidence with a fast race car.

“I’m not going to go home and put the trophy on my shelf and feel fulfilled. It should go to Mike’s house, and he should feel fulfilled.”

In Pro Stock, Rodger Brogdon (6.560 seconds, 211.49 mph) earned his third career win with an upset of defending 2014 season champ Erica Enders-Stevens (6.640, 205.51).

“This is the earliest I’ve ever won a race,” Brogdon said. “It’s great to win one early and I am the points leader for the first time in my career. I think we’ve got a great opportunity this season.

“Everybody who follows this sport knows how hard it is to win a race. This is fantastic. My crew is telling me this car is going to be faster at Gainesville, so I think we are going to have some fun this year.”

The next race is the third event on the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, March 12-15 at Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Florida.


FINAL FINISHING ORDER

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

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

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

 

FINAL RESULTS

Top Fuel: Tony Schumacher, 3.720 seconds, 326.56 mph  def. Doug Kalitta, 3.758 seconds, 325.14 mph.

Funny Car: Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.975, 324.83  def. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.010, 318.17.

Pro Stock: Rodger Brogdon, Chevy Camaro, 6.560, 211.49  def. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.640, 205.51.

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Spencer Massey, 4.227, 312.50 def. Larry Dixon, 7.616, 91.81; Brittany Force, 3.822, 323.19 def. Steve Torrence, 6.052, 119.25; Richie Crampton, 4.090, 308.14 def. Troy Buff, 5.186, 137.12; Tony Schumacher, 3.725, 325.14 def. Jenna Haddock, 4.041, 295.40; Doug Kalitta, 3.762, 328.38 def. Clay Millican, 10.228, 84.38; J.R. Todd, 3.884, 306.46 def. Terry McMillen, 3.907, 301.60; Antron Brown, 3.760, 318.92 def. Dave Connolly, 3.782, 318.69; Shawn Langdon, 3.812, 313.80 def. Leah Pritchett, 3.860, 307.02;

QUARTERFINALS — Langdon, 3.758, 324.59 def. Crampton, 3.755, 321.50; Kalitta, 3.770, 326.87 def. Force, 3.799, 321.81; Brown, 3.742, 319.29 def. Todd, 3.776, 311.05; Schumacher, 3.768, 320.43 def. Massey, 5.726, 116.60;

SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 4.303, 242.71 def. Langdon, 4.752, 278.86; Schumacher, 3.738, 325.53 def. Brown, 3.753, 319.45;

FINAL — Schumacher, 3.720, 326.56 def. Kalitta, 3.758, 325.14.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.023, 316.38 def. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 6.670, 105.37; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.192, 273.50 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.314, 226.96; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.037, 317.05 def. John Hale, Charger, 4.183, 303.37; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.022, 320.13 def. Shane Westerfield, Charger, foul; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.072, 314.09 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 6.546, 115.94; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.038, 311.56 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 8.724, 77.62; Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 4.593, 262.44 def. John Force, Camaro, 6.713, 96.77; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.027, 311.77 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 6.260, 106.75;

QUARTERFINALS — DeJoria, 4.082, 305.84 def. Johnson Jr., 4.202, 268.76; Worsham, 4.047, 316.38 def. Head, 4.078, 307.72; Hight, 4.069, 315.78 def. C. Force, 4.057, 315.71; Hagan, 4.058, 316.30 def. C. Pedregon, 4.380, 211.63;

SEMIFINALS — Hagan, 4.027, 318.32 def. DeJoria, 6.389, 82.64; Worsham, 4.010, 315.78 def. Hight, 4.050, 316.23;

FINAL — Hagan, 3.975, 324.83 def. Worsham, 4.010, 318.17.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.606, 210.64 def. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.599, 211.20; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.588, 210.50 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 26.416, 26.94; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.567, 210.70 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 11.113, 79.58; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.591, 209.72 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 14.557, 66.85; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.588, 210.05 def. Jimmy Alund, Pontiac GXP, 6.615, 210.14; Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.570, 211.43 def. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, broke; Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.575, 211.23 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, 12.073, 71.69; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.578, 210.41 def. Matt Hartford, GXP, 6.692, 209.33;

QUARTERFINALS — McGaha, 6.599, 210.18 def. Johnson, 15.467, 54.67; Enders-Stevens, 6.570, 210.60 def. Anderson, 6.603, 210.80; Brogdon, 6.569, 211.26 def. S. Gray, 6.683, 210.14; Skillman, 6.595, 210.50 def. Line, 6.582, 210.87;

SEMIFINALS — Enders-Stevens, 6.575, 210.67 def. McGaha, 6.935, 162.65; Brogdon, 6.554, 211.36 def. Skillman, 16.529, 50.69;

FINAL — Brogdon, 6.560, 211.49 def. Enders-Stevens, 6.640, 205.51.


POINTS STANDINGS

Top Fuel: 1.  Shawn Langdon, 200; 2.  Antron Brown, 167; 3.  Tony Schumacher, 165; 4.  Doug Kalitta, 155; 5. Spencer Massey, 130; 6.  Richie Crampton, 115; 7.  Larry Dixon, 106; 8.  (tie) J.R. Todd, 88; Steve Torrence, 88; 10.  Brittany Force, 85.

Funny Car: 1.  Matt Hagan, 231; 2.  Del Worsham, 173; 3.  Robert Hight, 145; 4.  Ron Capps, 129; 5.  Courtney Force, 123; 6.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 118; 7.  Alexis DeJoria, 110; 8.  Cruz Pedregon, 93; 9.  (tie) John Hale, 82; Chad Head, 82.

Pro Stock: 1.  Rodger Brogdon, 205; 2.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 184; 3.  Jason Line, 178; 4.  Drew Skillman, 177; 5.  Chris McGaha, 130; 6.  Shane Gray, 108; 7.  Allen Johnson, 107; 8.  Larry Morgan, 89; 9. Greg Anderson, 86; 10.  Vincent Nobile, 66.

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The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”


Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”


Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500