NHRA: Arana, Wilkerson wins a long time coming at Atlanta

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Hector Arana won his first Pro Stock Motorcycle national event since 2009, while Tim Wilkerson won his first Funny Car national event since 2011 to highlight Sunday’s final eliminations of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga.

Also winning in their respective classes at Atlanta Dragway in the seventh stop on the 24-race NHRA national event tour were Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Jason Line (Pro Stock).

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana earned his first victory in six years and his seventh career victory. Arana (7.236 seconds, 196.30 mph) defeated Eddie Krawiec in the final round.

“I knew I could keep winning, but I had to believe in myself,” Arana said. “In the final, the bike jumped like a bronco,” Arana said. “It pulled to the right, but I was not giving up unless he was way in front of me. As long as I had control of the bike, I was staying with it.”

In Funny Car, Wilkerson (4.318 seconds, 260.31 mph) defeated Ron Capps (5.781 seconds, 125.90 mph) as both drivers lost traction early in the run. It is Wilkerson’s 18th career win and first ever at Atlanta.

“As the track got hotter, I did a good job until the finals,” Wilkerson said. “I’m really unhappy about what it did in the final. I was trying to go about a .14, and the thing broke the tires loose.”

The win boosts Wilkerson to 8th in the Funny Car standings. And even with the loss, Capps remains No. 1 in the Funny Car standings.

In Top Fuel, Brown capped off a stellar weekend, capturing his 49th career NHRA win, with a final round run of 3.887 seconds at 310.48 mph to defeat Leah Pritchett (4.202 seconds, 260.41 mph). It was Pritchett’s first career final round appearance in three years on the Top Fuel circuit.

As for Brown, it was his fourth win at Atlanta, tying him with Larry Dixon for most wins by a single Top Fuel driver there.

Brown not only remains the Top Fuel points leader, he is also the only driver in the category to win two races thus far this season.

“It wasn’t just a good day, but a good weekend,” Brown said. “(Crew chiefs) Brian Corradi, Mark Oswald, and all the Matco boys have been putting the work in together. It definitely showed this weekend.”

In Pro Stock, Line (6.606 seconds, 211.33 mph) defeated teammate Greg Anderson (8.628 seconds, 114.39 mph) in the final round for his 37th career win and second at Atlanta.

“This is the way that you normally dream about it, but it usually doesn’t work out that way,” Line said. “Today, it did. I really thought the final was going to go the other way. I got a bit of luck. I wasn’t fast today. I was maybe mediocre.

“Greg had the car to beat. He was driving better than everyone else, and he should have won it. He wants to win more than anyone I’ve ever met, and that’s what makes him the best.”

Anderson defeated Line earlier this year at Gainesville. With Sunday’s win, Line closes the gap in all-time final round meetings between the two teammates to 14-10 in Anderson’s favor.

The next NHRA event is next weekend, with the NHRA Kansas Nationals on May 22-24 in Topeka, Kan.

 

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Erica Enders; 4.  Rodger Brogdon; 5.  Larry Morgan; 6.  Shane Gray; 7.  Drew Skillman; 8.  Allen Johnson; 9.  V. Gaines; 10.  Bo Butner; 11.  Vincent Nobile; 12.  John Gaydosh Jr; 13.  Jonathan Gray; 14.  Kenny Delco; 15.  Chris McGaha; 16.  Alan Prusiensky.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Hector Arana; 2.  Eddie Krawiec; 3.  Scotty Pollacheck; 4.  Hector Arana Jr; 5.  Angelle Sampey; 6.  Jim Underdahl; 7.  Angie Smith; 8.  Shawn Gann; 9.  Karen Stoffer; 10.  Chip Ellis; 11. Freddie Camarena; 12.  Andrew Hines; 13.  Jerry Savoie; 14.  Matt Smith; 15.  Steve Johnson; 16. LE Tonglet.

 

FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Antron Brown, 3.887 seconds, 310.48 mph  def. Leah Pritchett, 4.202 seconds, 260.41 mph.

Funny Car: Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.318, 260.31  def. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 5.781, 125.90.

Pro Stock: Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.606, 211.33  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 8.628, 114.39.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hector Arana, Buell, 7.236, 162.47  def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 10.107, 85.28.

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS: 

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Richie Crampton, 3.784, 324.98 def. Brittany Force, 3.839, 322.27; Terry McMillen, 3.932, 316.45 def. Dave Connolly, 3.981, 282.36; Leah Pritchett, 3.805, 317.64 def. Chris Karamesines, 3.998, 305.15; Larry Dixon, 3.779, 325.45 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.790, 323.58; Antron Brown, 3.787, 318.32 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.936, 303.71; Clay Millican, 3.958, 317.64 def. Steve Torrence, 4.801, 184.57; J.R. Todd, 3.911, 326.32 def. Morgan Lucas, 4.224, 196.87; Doug Kalitta, 3.805, 317.12 def. Spencer Massey, 3.815, 326.48; QUARTERFINALS — McMillen, 3.915, 319.07 def. Millican, 4.883, 158.87; Pritchett, 3.813, 319.29 def. Todd, 5.433, 132.19; Dixon, 6.836, 96.76 def. Crampton, foul; Brown, 3.856, 315.56 def. Kalitta, 4.024, 272.89; SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.915, 309.56 def. McMillen, 10.174, 67.45; Pritchett, 3.936, 298.47 def. Dixon, 8.977, 76.60; FINAL — Brown, 3.887, 310.48 def. Pritchett, 4.202, 260.41.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.108, 309.84 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 7.867, 104.09; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.084, 314.61 def. Dave Richards, Toyota Solara, 4.399, 236.88; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.128, 314.31 def. Jeff Diehl, Solara, foul; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.074, 313.00 def. John Hale, Charger, 4.933, 163.47; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.066, 313.07 def. Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 4.573, 188.25; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.035, 317.79 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.106, 311.77; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.163, 294.37 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.569, 193.54; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.081, 311.99 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.091, 311.92; QUARTERFINALS — J. Force, 4.146, 311.92 def. C. Force, 4.330, 249.21; Capps, 4.168, 267.00 def. C. Pedregon, 6.466, 100.57; Wilkerson, 4.085, 309.42 def. Beckman, 4.285, 242.58; Hagan, 4.302, 263.15 def. Johnson Jr., 8.045, 88.17; SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.179, 300.73 def. Hagan, 7.379, 107.73; Wilkerson, 4.163, 300.00 def. J. Force, 4.265, 298.54; FINAL — Wilkerson, 4.318, 260.31 def. Capps, 5.781, 125.90.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Larry Morgan, Chevy Camaro, 6.588, 211.66 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 7.072, 152.23; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.584, 210.41 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.626, 210.37; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.541, 211.76 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 12.593, 68.94; Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.588, 210.57 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.614, 210.01; Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.586, 210.28 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.579, 210.70; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.576, 210.50 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Avenger, broke; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.543, 211.49 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 6.739, 206.92; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.566, 211.10 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 7.287, 141.86; QUARTERFINALS — Brogdon, 6.601, 210.87 def. Johnson, 11.448, 77.50; Line, 6.573, 210.64 def. Morgan, 6.565, 212.29; Enders, 6.561, 210.97 def. S. Gray, 6.571, 210.90; Anderson, 6.560, 211.73 def. Skillman, 6.573, 211.30; SEMIFINALS — Line, 6.585, 211.39 def. Brogdon, 6.635, 211.33; Anderson, 6.562, 211.59 def. Enders, 6.582, 210.83; FINAL — Line, 6.606, 211.33 def. Anderson, 8.628, 114.39.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.962, 191.51 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 7.030, 187.08; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.948, 192.99 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, foul; Angie Smith, 7.199, 162.98 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, foul; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.944, 192.71 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.969, 195.05; Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.979, 192.11 def. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.945, 192.44; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.895, 194.66 def. Matt Smith, 7.055, 187.91; Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.962, 192.33 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, broke; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.915, 195.70 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.979, 184.27; QUARTERFINALS — Krawiec, 6.933, 193.21 def. A. Smith, foul; Pollacheck, 7.007, 191.51 def. Sampey, foul; Arana, 6.915, 195.96 def. Underdahl, 7.022, 192.52; Arana Jr, 6.963, 195.00 def. Gann, DQ; SEMIFINALS — Krawiec, 6.901, 195.03 def. Pollacheck, foul; Arana, 6.930, 195.22 def. Arana Jr, 7.146, 168.14; FINAL — Arana, 7.236, 162.47 def. Krawiec, 10.107, 85.28.

 

UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 567; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 514; 3.  Spencer Massey, 475; 4.  Doug Kalitta, 445; 5. Shawn Langdon, 437; 6.  Richie Crampton, 427; 7.  Larry Dixon, 389; 8.  Clay Millican, 363; 9. Steve Torrence, 360; 10.  J.R. Todd, 355.

Funny Car: 1.  Ron Capps, 523; 2.  Matt Hagan, 502; 3.  Del Worsham, 435; 4.  Robert Hight, 428; 5.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 424; 6.  Jack Beckman, 413; 7.  John Force, 407; 8.  Tim Wilkerson, 387; 9.  Alexis DeJoria, 361; 10.  (tie) Courtney Force, 356. Cruz Pedregon, 356.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 624; 2.  Erica Enders, 592; 3.  Greg Anderson, 555; 4.  Chris McGaha, 464; 5.  Rodger Brogdon, 460; 6.  Drew Skillman, 392; 7.  Larry Morgan, 375; 8.  Vincent Nobile, 369; 9. Shane Gray, 348; 10.  Allen Johnson, 335.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 286; 2.  Andrew Hines, 212; 3.  Hector Arana, 201; 4.  (tie) Hector Arana Jr, 195; Karen Stoffer, 195; 6.  Scotty Pollacheck, 175; 7.  LE Tonglet, 165; 8.  Angelle Sampey, 161; 9.  Shawn Gann, 155; 10.  Jim Underdahl, 128.

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Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

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In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

NHRA: How this weekend’s championship battles shape up

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After nine months and 23 races, the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season all comes down to this: one race for the championship.

This weekend’s Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, California will crown champions in a number of classes, most notably the four professional ranks of Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

This weekend’s race is one of only two – the other is the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day Weekend – that offers drivers 1.5 times as many points as they earn in the season’s other 22 races.

To give you a better idea of how valuable those extra points are, here’s how they break down for all four classes: Winner (150 points), runner-up (120 points), third-round loser (90), second-round loser (60) and first-round loser (30 points).

Drivers also earn qualifying points: 10 for first, 9 for second, 8 for third, 7 for fourth, 6 for fifth and sixth, 5 for seventh and eighth, 4 for ninth through 12th and 3 for 13th through 16th.

In addition, every driver that qualifies earns 15 points each. Plus, performance bonus points are awarded for each qualifying session for: low elapsed time of each session (4 points), second-quickest (3 points), third-quickest (2 points) and fourth-quickest (1 point).

Here’s a quick breakdown of what – and more importantly, who – to watch for in those four pro categories:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence is going for his second consecutive championship. But the route to this year’s title has not been nearly as easy as it was last year, when Torrence became the first driver in NHRA history to sweep all six races of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Steve Torrence (Photo: NHRA)

Torrence has still had a very strong season, but his championship hopes are anything but secure. He leads 2017 champion Brittany Force, who has come on strong late in the season, by a mere 16 points coming into this weekend.

And don’t count out third-ranked Doug Kalitta, who at 55 points behind Torrence is less than two rounds of points away from taking the top spot if Torrence is upset. Kalitta is seeking his first career Top Fuel championship.

Mathematically at 86 points behind, even fourth-ranked Billy Torrence – Steve’s father – is still in contention, although it would take a complete first- or second-round meltdown in Sunday’s four final rounds of eliminations by his son, Force and Kalitta for dear old dad to rally to win the championship.

Still, that’s the beauty of NHRA racing: anything can happen.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight is aiming for his third championship but has some of the best in the class all still within striking distance heading into this weekend.

Robert Hight (Photo: NHRA)

Hight, who is president of John Force Racing when he isn’t hurtling down a drag strip in his AAA Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro, leads a pair of Don Schumacher Racing drivers, Jack Beckman (46 points behind Hight) and Matt Hagan (-56).

And don’t rule out 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, who is 72 points behind his teammate. Force needs to win the race, as well as have Hight, Beckman and Hagan all lose in the first two rounds, to potentially earn his 17th championship.

Still in it mathematically is Bob Tasca III, but at 104 points behind Hight, he would likely have to be No. 1 qualifier, set both ends of the speed and elapsed time national records, and have the four drivers in front of him all be eliminated in the first or second rounds.

PRO STOCK: Erica Enders has a very healthy lead in her quest for a third Pro Stock championship.

Erica Enders (Photo: NHRA)

Enders leads teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. by 92 points heading into this weekend.

Three other drivers are mathematically still in the running, but if Enders gets past the second round, they’ll be eliminated unless they potentially go on to victory.

Those three drivers – who are separated by just five points – are 2017 champion Bo Butner (113 points behind Enders), Jason Line (-116) and Matt Hartford (-118).

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: About the only way Andrew Hines fails to clinch his sixth career PSM championship is if he fails to qualify for Sunday’s finals, is kidnapped by one of his rivals or simply doesn’t show up.

Andrew Hines (Photo: NHRA)

Fat chance of any of those things happening.

Hines has a commanding 115-point lead over 2016 champion Jerry Savoie.

Right behind is three-time champ Eddie Krawiec (-116 points), leads last year’s PSM champion, Matt Smith, by 117 points and has a 124-point edge over Karen Stoffer.

Follow @JerryBonkowski