NHRA: Tommy Johnson Jr. (FC), Tony Schumacher (TF), Chris McGaha (PS) qualify No. 1 at New Hampshire


Sunday’s final eliminations of the NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H., stacks up like this:

In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. will enter the four rounds of eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier.

Johnson Jr. was at the top of his game in Saturday’s two final rounds of qualifying, including a field-best of 4.047 seconds at 319.45 mph. It’s his first No. 1 of the season (and at Epping) and 11th of his career. Johnson, seeking his first win of the season, will meet Bob Tasca III in the first round of eliminations.

“Today was in my opinion more impressive than yesterday,” Johnson said Saturday. “To have a car that goes out and runs 4.13 twice in the conditions we had today makes you very confident in your car.”

Cruz Pedregon qualified No. 2 and will face Jeff Diehl in the first round. John Force and daughter Courtney qualified No. 3 and No. 4, respectively.

In Top Fuel, eight-time champion Tony Schumacher will be looking for his 79th career win. Schumacher ran a track record (3.742 seconds at 324.12 mph) on Friday and that mark held up for No. 1 through Saturday’s qualifications. It’s Schumacher’s 78th career No. 1, second of the season and his first at Epping.

Schumacher will face Morgan Lucas in the opening round Sunday morning.

“We are getting the data we need,” Schumacher said. “Mike [Green, crew chief] and Neal [Strasbaugh, assistant crew chief] with this new car, every round they get stronger and better. It’s going down the track. We made four runs down the track and because of that we have more data.”

Two-time season winner Richie Crampton qualified No. 2 and will face Canadian Dan Mercier, making his first Mello Yello Series start, in the opening round. Shawn Langdon will start No. 3 and Steve Torrence will start fourth.

In Pro Stock, Chris McGaha (6.520 seconds at 212.66 mph) will start No. 1. This is his third No. 1 of the season and fifth of his career.

“It feels pretty good to start the show with signs of consistency,” said McGaha, who will have a bye into the second round. “That’s the important thing at this point. We did some experimenting today. It showed signs of improvement.”

Four-time world champ Greg Anderson, who won last week at Englishtown, N.J., will start No. 2, followed by two-time world champ Jason Line in No. 3 and defending world champion Erica Enders in No. 4.

Eliminations begin at 11 am ET.

Here’s today’s first-round pairings:

Top Fuel: 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.742 seconds, 324.28 mph vs. 16. Morgan Lucas, 10.229, 302.48; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.744, 325.92  vs. 15. Dan Mercier, 4.376, 295.21; 3. Shawn Langdon, 3.745, 324.98 vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 4.056, 305.70; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.765, 323.04  vs. 13. Dave Connolly, 3.870, 309.84; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.773, 327.66  vs. 12. Leah Pritchett, 3.861, 315.05; 6. Antron Brown, 3.784, 320.74  vs. 11. Larry Dixon, 3.824, 321.88; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.795, 323.12  vs. 10. Brittany Force, 3.819, 320.89; 8. J.R. Todd, 3.813, 322.27  vs. 9. Clay Millican, 3.817, 318.17.

Funny Car: 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.047, 319.45  vs. 16. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.650, 219.90; 2. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.052, 308.14  vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.632, 237.55; 3. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.055, 318.24  vs. 14. Dave Richards, Solara, 4.624, 195.17; 4. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.059, 319.45  vs. 13. Dom Lagana, Solara, 4.240, 301.87; 5. Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 4.068, 320.13  vs. 12. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.187, 288.15; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.070, 318.24  vs. 11. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.145, 308.50; 7. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.073, 313.66  vs. 10. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.095, 310.20; 8. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.075, 309.42  vs. 9. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.081, 315.42. Did Not Qualify: 17. John Hale, 4.747, 180.19.

Pro Stock: 1. Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.520, 212.90  vs. Bye; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.521, 213.30  vs. 15. Val Smeland, Chevy Cobalt, broke; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.530, 212.83  vs. 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Avenger, 6.673, 209.62; 4. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.543, 212.66  vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 6.643, 211.00; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.552, 212.39  vs. 12. John Gaydosh Jr, Pontiac GXP, 6.641, 209.82; 6. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.553, 212.09  vs. 11. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.602, 210.01; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.562, 211.63  vs. 10. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.590, 211.10; 8. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.563, 212.26  vs. 9. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.569, 212.69.

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With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”