Surprises, struggles: NHRA at one-third mark of ’15 season

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With the completion of the Kansas Nationals this past Sunday, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has reached the one-third point of the 2015 season.

Not surprisingly after eight races on the 24-race schedule, there have been some significant surprises and disappointments.

With this weekend off before the middle part of the season begins June 4-7 with the Toyota Summernationals at one of the most popular tracks on the circuit, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., let’s break down the four major pro classes to see who’s hot and who’s not.

Top Fuel: Don Schumacher Racing has made a big statement in the first eight races. Teammates Antron Brown (1st), defending 2014 champ and eight-time champ Tony Schumacher (2nd) and Spencer Massey (4th) have been leading the way.

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Antron Brown leads the Top Fuel points standings. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

One of the biggest surprises is the driver sandwiched among the three DSR drivers, namely Australian native Richie Crampton. With his win at Kansas, Crampton is now up to 3rd in the standings.

Crampton (Las Vegas, Topeka) and Brown (Charlotte, Atlanta) are the only two-time winners thus far this season.

Shawn Langdon, racing for Alan Johnson Racing, is a respectable seventh in the standings, despite the fact the team had its sponsorship pulled by former benefactor Al-Anabi just a month before the start of the season. Langdon won the season-opening Circle K Winternationals in storybook fashion, but has trailed off of late.

As for drivers who have struggled, Brittany Force, who signed with Monster Energy three weeks ago, is sitting 11th and continues in search of her first career Top Fuel win.

And Dave Connolly and Terry McMillen are 13th and 14th respectively, certainly not off to the kind of season start either expected.

Race winners thus far this season:

Pomona: Shawn Langdon
Phoenix: Tony Schumacher
Gainesville: Spencer Massey
Charlotte: Antron Brown
Las Vegas: Richie Crampton
Houston: Doug Kalitta
Atlanta: Antron Brown
Topeka: Richie Crampton

Top Fuel standings
(Following event 8 of 24 events)
(Includes events through Topeka, Kan.)
Position  Driver   Points   PB   Change Make
1    Antron Brown  628 0 DSR
2    Tony Schumacher  575 -53 DSR
3    Richie Crampton  547 -81 MLR
4    Spencer Massey  530 -98 DSR
5    Doug Kalitta  502 -126 Hadman
6    Larry Dixon  476 -152 Hadman
7    Shawn Langdon  473 -155 Hadman
8    J.R. Todd  411 -217 Hadman
9    Clay Millican  395 -233 Hadman
10    Steve Torrence  392 -236 Hadman
Drivers that have struggled thus far this season:
11    Brittany Force 384 -244 Force
12    Leah Pritchett 315 -313 Hadman
13    Dave Connolly 274 -354 Hadman
14    Terry Mc Millen 228 -400 MLR
15    Troy Buff 126 -502 Bill Miller

 

Funny Car: It’s a very tight battle in the Funny Car ranks as we head into the middle third of the season.

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Ron Capps is the current points leader in Funny Car. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Three drivers have won six of the first eight races – two each: Defending 2014 champ Matt Hagan (Pomona, Phoenix), Jack Beckman (Charlotte, Topeka) and Ron Capps (Gainesville, Houston).

The resurgent Capps is off to one of the best season starts of his career and holds the points lead in the standings. But Hagan is only five points back and Beckman, with former John Force crew chief Jimmy Prock, is 49 points behind Capps.

Perhaps the biggest positive surprise is series veteran Del Worsham. Even though he hasn’t won a race yet in 2015, Worsham is in fourth place in the standings, 73 points behind Capps and just five points ahead of fifth-ranked and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, who has just one win this season (Las Vegas) thus far.

Force’s daughter, Courtney, is having a difficult time of it this season, currently ranked 11th. But perhaps having the toughest time among the top 15 drivers in the Funny Car ranks is former champion Tony Pedregon, who is 14th in the standings, already a massive 325 points behind Capps.

Race winners thus far this season:

Pomona: Matt Hagan
Phoenix: Matt Hagan
Gainesville: Ron Capps
Charlotte: Jack Beckman
Las Vegas: John Force
Houston: Ron Capps
Atlanta: Tim Wilkerson
Topeka: Jack Beckman

Funny Car standings:
Position  Driver   Points   PB   Change Make
1    Ron Capps  580 0
2    Matt Hagan  575 -5
3    Jack Beckman  531 -49
4    Del Worsham  507 -73
5    John Force  502 -78
6    Robert Hight  460 -120
7    Tommy Johnson  456 -124
8    Tim Wilkerson  447 -133
9    Alexis De Joria  395 -185
9    Cruz Pedregon  395 -185
 Drivers that have struggled thus far this season:
11    Courtney Force 388 -192
12    John Hale 369 -211
13    Chad Head 347 -233
14    Tony Pedregon 255 -325
15    Jeffrey Diehl 82 -498

 

Pro Stock: Although she got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season, 2014 Pro Stock champ Erica Enders has rallied back to become the hottest driver not just in Pro Stock of late, but in all four major NHRA pro categories.

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Erica Enders leads the Pro Stock standings. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Enders (who recently shortened her name from Enders-Stevens for business reasons) has won three of the last four Pro Stock national events (Las Vegas, Houston and Topeka).

As a result, she’s taken a commanding lead over 2nd-ranked Jason Line (58 points back) and 3rd-ranked Greg Anderson (65 points back).

After that, Enders spread over the rest of the field gets massive: 4th-ranked Chris McGaha is 177 points back, while 5th-ranked and Phoenix winner Rodger Brogdon is 226 points in arrears.

It’s good to see veteran drivers like Anderson and Larry Morgan having comeback seasons. Both earned victories this season (Anderson at Gainesville, Morgan at Charlotte) after long dry spells in their careers.

One big name missing from the Pro Stock class is five-time champion Jeg Coughlin, who announced earlier this year that he will not compete on a full-time basis.

This is the second time Coughlin has taken a hiatus from NHRA racing, having sat out the entire 2011 season, as well.

As for drivers who have struggled thus far in 2015, the most notable names are 11th-ranked Jonathan Gray (364 points behind Enders) and 12th-ranked V Gaines (425 points back).

Race winners thus far this season:

Pomona: Jason Line
Phoenix: Rodger Brogdon
Gainesville: Greg Anderson
Charlotte: Larry Morgan
Las Vegas: Erica Enders
Houston: Erica Enders
Atlanta: Jason Line
Topeka: Erica Enders

Pro Stock standings:
Position  Driver   Points   PB   Change Make
1    Erica Enders  719 0
2    Jason Line  661 -58
3    Greg Anderson  654 -65
4    Chris McGaha  542 -177
5    Rodger Brogdon  493 -226
6    Larry Morgan  452 -267
7    Drew Skillman  424 -295
8    Vincent Nobile  421 -298
9    Shane Gray  401 -318
10    Allen Johnson  369 -350
 Drivers that have struggled thus far this season:
11    Jonathan Gray 355 -364
12    V Gaines 294 -425
13    Jimmy Alund 250 -469
14    Deric Kramer 155 -564
15    John Gaydosh 93 -626
15    Joey Grose 93 -626
15    Matthew Hartford 93 -626

 

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Because PSM riders compete in a 16-race schedule, there have only been three races to date. The majority of events (13 will be contested at all but three of the remaining NHRA national event weekends) start with next week’s Summernationals.

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Eddie Krawiec leads the way in Pro Stock Motorcycle. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Thus far, the competition has been spread fairly even, with different winners in each of the first three races.

Not surprisingly, those three winners are all in the top five in the PSM points standings.

Former champ Eddie Krawiec, who won at Charlotte in late March holds a 74-point lead over defending series champ Andrew Hines. Hines has yet to win an event this season.

Veteran driver Hector Arana Sr., who is ranked third, 85 points behind Krawiec, won his first race since 2009 at Atlanta. Six points behind the senior Arana is his son, Hector Arana Jr., who like Hines is also seeking his first win of 2015.

Rounding out the top five is Karen Stoffer, who shocked the category by winning the season-opening race at Gainesville in March.

Race winners thus far this season:

Gainesville: Karen Stoffer
Charlotte: Eddie Krawiec
Atlanta: Hector Arana Sr.

Pro Stock Motorcycle standings:
Position  Driver   Points   PB   Change Make
1    Eddie Krawiec   286 0
2    Andrew Hines   212 -74
3    Hector Arana   201 -85
4    Hector Arana Jr   195 -91
4    Karen Stoffer   195 -91
6    Scott Pollacheck   175 -111
7    LE Tonglet IV  165 -121
8    Angelle Sampey   161 -125  Star Racing
9    Shawn Gann   155 -131
10    James Underdahl   128 -158
Riders that have struggled thus far this season:
11    Matt Smith 125 -161  Victory
12    Angie Smith 112 -174  Victory
13    Chaz Kennedy 93 -193
14    Mike Berry 92 -194
15    Gerald Savoie 78 -208

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Dakar Stage 8 Highlights: Ricky Brabec blows engine, retires

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The motorcycle class of the Dakar Rally has been a seesaw affair through seven stages, but Ricky Brabec seemed poised to win the class for the USA. Until he blew an engine in Stage 8 that is – and gave up a more-than seven second lead. He was the second rider to retire after starting the stage as the leader. Joan Barreda retired in Stage 3.

Brabec was looking to become the first American rider to win in 27 years, but his fate was eerily similar to last year. Three days from the end of the stage, he retired about 50 kilometers into the stage, which is precisely when and where he retired in 2018.

With Brabec’s trouble, Toby Price leapfrogged from third to second in class despite riding with a metal pin in his wrist. In the world’s most grueling endurance event, it has never been more obvious that it isn’t over till it’s over.

Meanwhile, Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to run a consistent rally. With a 46 minute advantage over Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, all he needs to do is stay error free for the final two stages to win his third Dakar.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Sebastien Loeb scored his fifth stage win of the Rally by seven minutes over Nasser Al-Attiyah, but problems in Stage 3 have kept him from being competitive for the overall lead. … Jakub Przygonski earned his third podium of the Rally. All of these have been third-place finishes.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah holds an advantage of 46:29 over Roma and 46:45 over Loeb.

In motorcycles, Ricky Brabec’s blown engine opened up the class once more. … Matthias Walkner narrowly edged Pablo Quintanilla by 45 seconds. … But it was Toby Price’s third-place finish that helped elevate him to the class lead. … Sam Sunderland was supposed to blaze the path for the riders, but a malfunctioning navigation system kept him from rolling off first. Blazing the trail is a disadvantage and officials adjudged him to have tampered with his system to avoid that fate. Sunderland was penalized an hour to finish 35th on the stage. He dropped to ninth in class.

Class Leaders: Price inherited the lead over Quintanilla by 1:03 and 6:35 over Walkner

In side by sides, Francisco Lopez Contardo scored the victory over Cristian Baumgart by 4:47. … Gerard Farres Guell rounded out the top three.

Class Leaders: Contardo holds an advantage 0f 54:10 over Rodrigo Piazolli and one hour, 08:09 over Guell

In quads, there was no surprise in Nicolas Cavigliasso winning his seventh stage of the season. … He padded his overall advantage over Gustavo Gallego by more than nine minutes. … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finished third.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso holds and advantage of one hour, 24:52 over Ferioli and one hour, 44:04 over Gallego

In trucks, Dmitry Sotnikov won the stage to take over the class lead. He beat Ton Van Genugten by 22:01. … Siarhei Viazovich rounded out the top three. … Eduard Nikolaev lost the class lead by finishing eighth – nearly one hour behind Sotnikov.

Class Leaders: Sotnikov holds an advantage of 26:49 over and one hour, 7:43 over Gerard de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Matthias Walkner [2] (Stage 2 and 8), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4) and Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [7] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [4] (Stage 2, 5, 6 and 8), Nasser Al-Attiyah [2] (Stage 1 and 4) and Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7)

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [4] (Stage 2, 6, 7 and 8), Reinaldo Varela [1] (Stage 1), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2 and 5), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Dmitry Sotnikov [2] (Stage 6 and 8) and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

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