NHRA: Brown, Pedregon, Line and Stoffer hold on to No. 1 spots heading into Sunday’s eliminations at Atlanta

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In a sense, it was déjà vu during Saturday’s second and final day of qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga.

The same quickest drivers from Friday’s first day of qualifying held on to their advantages Saturday, as well, at Atlanta Dragway.

Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all held on to their early leads and will go into Sunday’s eliminations still ranked No. 1 in their respective classes.

Pedregon, Line and Stoffer all set their class-leading elapsed times during Friday’s two qualifying rounds and held on their respective edges in Saturday’s final two qualifying rounds.

Brown was No. 1 on Friday and improved on his time and speed on Saturday.

Here’s how Sunday’s final eliminations in the seventh of 24 national events on the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series stacks up:

* Top Fuel: Brown earned the 38th No. 1 qualifying spot of his NHRA career with a Saturday-best pass of 3.758 seconds at 319.82 mph. In addition, Brown is seeking his fourth career win at Atlanta.

“We can’t be happier with the way our car is working right now,” Brown said in a NHRA media release. “It’s doing everything we want it to do. We just hope we can keep it that way tomorrow for race day.”

Brown’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate and eight-time world champion (including 2014), Tony Schumacher, qualified second with a 3.767 at 324.12 mph. Schumacher is still looking for his first career win at Atlanta. He’ll face Larry Dixon in the first round, who leads all Top Fuel drivers with four career wins there.

* Funny Car: Pedregon’s 4.010 second pass (at 313.95 mph) on Friday held up as the top elapsed time Saturday. It’s his second career No. 1 spot at Atlanta and the 59th No. 1 spot of his career.

Pedregon is seeking his second career win at Atlanta. The two-time Funny Car world champ’s first win at Atlanta came back in 1998.

“It’s amazing how much we had to touch on the car to make it down the track today vs. yesterday and it worked,” Pedregon said. “We have no excuses. If we can go out there, race and not have anything goofy happen (Sunday), we should be a factor (to win).”

Sixteen-time Funny Car champ John Force qualified second (4.031 seconds at 317.64 mph). Force leads all Funny Car drivers with seven career wins at Atlanta.

* Pro Stock: Line held on to the top spot he set on Friday (6.546 seconds at 211.23 mph) and has now earned the No. 1 spot in the last three races. It is also his 40th No. 1 spot in his career.

“We tested a couple things, and considering we tested some things, I still thought we ran reasonably well,” Line said. “We learned a few things, I can’t say they were positive, but we did learn some things so all-in-all it was a pretty good day. There’s a lot of really good cars out there and the difference between being No. 1 and No. 3 really comes down to thousandths and doing everything perfect.”

Defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders-Stevens qualified second (6.546 seconds at 211.06 mph).

* Pro Stock Motorcycle: Stoffer held on to the No. 1 spot that she earned on Friday (6.889 seconds at 195.00 mph). This is her first No. 1 qualifying spot since 2010.

“I don’t know if I’m back to where I was a couple of years ago, but I do feel very comfortable,” Stoffer said. “Maybe I came back an even better rider. No matter what, I do feel like we are competitive right now, and that’s the important thing. We’re having fun. I have to pinch myself a lot right now.”

Jim Underdahl qualified second (6.880 seconds at 192.22 mph).

Eliminations begin at 11 am ET on Sunday morning, with the final round set to go off at 3:50 pm ET.

Sunday’s first-round elimination pairings:

Top Fuel — 1. Antron Brown, 3.758 seconds, 320.28 mph  vs. 16. Shawn Langdon, 4.025, 303.37; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.767, 324.12  vs. 15. Larry Dixon, 3.977, 306.33; 3. Leah Pritchett, 3.792, 321.81  vs. 14. Chris Karamesines, 3.962, 306.53; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.796, 321.35  vs. 13. Clay Millican, 3.926, 313.88; 5. Dave Connolly, 3.805, 321.58  vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.916, 315.93; 6. J.R. Todd, 3.807, 321.35  vs. 11. Morgan Lucas, 3.915, 289.82; 7. Richie Crampton, 3.852, 316.90 vs. 10. Brittany Force, 3.912, 312.71; 8. Doug Kalitta, 3.863, 319.60  vs. 9. Spencer Massey, 3.891, 318.84.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Cory McClenathan, 4.026, 293.09; 18. Pat Dakin, 4.109, 300.53.

Funny Car — 1. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.010, 313.95  vs. 16. John Hale, Dodge Charger, 6.903, 130.87; 2. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.031, 317.64  vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 6.383, 112.13; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.033, 310.63  vs. 14. Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 4.563, 188.78; 4. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.040, 319.37  vs. 13. Dave Richards, Solara, 4.390, 245.90; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.040, 312.86  vs. 12. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.147, 288.58; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.048, 313.00  vs. 11. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.139, 307.30; 7. Chad Head, Camry, 4.060, 310.77  vs. 10. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.079, 319.14; 8. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.064, 303.30  vs. 9. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.068, 315.93.

Pro Stock — 1. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.546, 211.59  vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Avenger, 6.713, 207.27; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.546, 211.06  vs. 15. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 6.699, 207.66; 3. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.551, 211.30  vs. 14. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.634, 208.62; 4. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.556, 210.90  vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.609, 210.14; 5. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.560, 211.83  vs. 12. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.607, 210.57; 6. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.561, 211.69  vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.587, 210.97; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.562, 210.90  vs. 10. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.580, 211.00; 8. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.565, 211.89  vs. 9. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.580, 211.30.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.875, 195.59  vs. 16. Angie Smith, Victory, 7.047, 188.89; 2. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.880, 195.85  vs. 15. Chip Ellis, Buell, 7.013, 193.54; 3. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.893, 196.73  vs. 14. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.987, 190.78; 4. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.893, 194.55  vs. 13. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.978, 195.56; 5. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.901, 195.36  vs. 12. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.952, 192.22; 6. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.906, 193.88  vs. 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.948, 192.41; 7. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.909, 195.62  vs. 10. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.941, 193.10; 8. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.912, 193.90 vs. 9. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.934, 193.40.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Chaz Kennedy, 7.051, 189.79; 18. Joe DeSantis, 7.098, 190.73; 19. Mike Berry, 7.120, 188.99; 20. Redell Harris, 7.149, 187.99; 21. Eddie Reed, 7.167, 189.76; 22. Roy Olsen, 7.398, 177.98.

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).