NHRA: Long journey to victory at Bristol home track ends for Matt Hagan

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While it is only 115 miles away from his hometown of Christiansburg, Va., it took Matt Hagan tens of thousands of miles – both on the road and the racetrack – over the years to finally arrive at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway.

The defending and two-time NHRA Funny Car champ, Hagan realized a dream that began in 2008 (his first season in Funny Car) by winning for the first time ever at his home track in Sunday’s final eliminations of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Other winners in the pro ranks were Richie Crampton (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Hagan muscled his Funny Car to a race-winning run of 4.164 seconds at 303.23 mph, defeating Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the final round.

It’s Hagan’s fourth win of 2015 and the 18th of his Funny Car career. It also allowed him to increase his points lead over Capps in the standings.

“This is just such a special race for me,” Hagan said in an NHRA media release. “I’m two hours down the road and have so many friends and family out here. It just makes it special. I’ve wanted to win Bristol for a long time. I consider it my home track.”

In Top Fuel, Crampton, last year’s rookie of the year, outran (3.884 seconds at 321.04 mph) former three-time world champ Larry Dixon (4.004 seconds at 250.41 mph).

Like Hagan, it was Crampton’s first-ever win at Bristol, his third of the season and fifth of his career (5-0 now in final rounds). He also moved up in the standings to third place.

“To have a winning record over a former world champion is pretty exciting for me,” said Crampton, who is now 3-0 (all this season) against Dixon (still looking for his first win in 2015, but moved up to fourth place) in final rounds.

“I can’t believe we keep racing each other in final rounds,” Crampton added. “They are a great group of guys. The law of averages says he is going to get me back real soon.”

In Pro Stock, Enders (6.685 seconds at 206.95 mph) won for the second straight year at Bristol, defeating Chris McGaha (6.689 at 207.46).

It was Enders’ fourth win of 2015 and 16th of her career, which leaves her two triumphs behind legendary Top Fuel driver Shirley Muldowney for second on the all-time wins list for women in the NHRA pro ranks.

Enders also regained the points lead in Pro Stock with Sunday’s win.

“I’m not shy to say that Bristol is one of my favorite places to race,” Enders said. “It’s always been good to me. I guess every driver has their tracks that no matter what you do wrong it always ends up right, even if it’s not always pretty. That was what last year here was. Today we earned it.”

The NHRA takes next week off before resuming July 2-5 in the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, the halfway point of the 24-race schedule.

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

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

FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Richie Crampton, 3.884 seconds, 321.04 mph  def. Larry Dixon, 4.004 seconds, 250.41 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.164, 303.23  def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.186, 307.02.

PRO STOCK: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.685, 206.95  def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.689, 207.46.

FINALS ROUND-BY-ROUND:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — J.R. Todd, 3.822, 321.58 def. Brittany Force, 3.870, 290.26; Larry Dixon, 4.046, 242.50 def. Clay Millican, 18.597, 102.34; Shawn Langdon, 3.827, 319.07 def. Pat Dakin, 10.947, 71.07; Doug Kalitta, 3.814, 321.88 def. Terry McMillen, 9.128, 74.82; Tony Schumacher, 3.851, 321.19 def. Troy Buff, 3.875, 303.64; Leah Pritchett, 3.837, 301.40 def. Spencer Massey, 3.843, 317.42; Richie Crampton, 3.863, 314.39 def. Antron Brown, 4.242, 224.62; Dave Connolly, 3.883, 311.27 def. Steve Torrence, foul; QUARTERFINALS — Dixon, 3.931, 302.41 def. Pritchett, 4.244, 246.80; Crampton, 3.885, 315.12 def. Langdon, 4.219, 253.33; Todd, 4.945, 146.07 def. Schumacher, broke; Kalitta, 3.901, 302.62 def. Connolly, 6.081, 110.59; SEMIFINALS — Crampton, 3.859, 319.14 def. Kalitta, 3.906, 316.97; Dixon, 3.907, 317.79 def. Todd, 5.364, 131.59; FINAL — Crampton, 3.884, 321.04 def. Dixon, 4.004, 250.41.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.100, 314.97 def. Terry Haddock, Toyota Solara, 15.737, 36.19; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.133, 301.87 def. John Hale, Charger, 5.693, 124.78; Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.116, 309.98 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.648, 192.66; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.124, 308.78 def. Jeff Diehl, Solara, 4.310, 277.83; Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.261, 247.66 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 8.822, 80.36; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.151, 303.71 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.350, 228.11; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.125, 301.07 def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.193, 300.20; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.141, 307.86 def. Robert Hight, Chevrolet Camaro, 4.270, 257.83; QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 4.228, 295.14 def. J. Force, 4.739, 198.09; Hagan, 4.139, 300.66 def. C. Pedregon, 4.163, 287.72; T. Pedregon, 4.180, 299.66 def. Worsham, 4.171, 302.48; Beckman, 4.188, 301.47 def. Wilkerson, 4.222, 294.31; SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.183, 304.46 def. T. Pedregon, 9.268, 88.07; Hagan, 4.201, 302.55 def. Beckman, 4.214, 295.27; FINAL — Hagan, 4.164, 303.23 def. Capps, 4.186, 307.02.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.702, 206.83 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.707, 206.20; Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.730, 206.42 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.711, 206.57; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.702, 206.95 def. Richie Stevens, Dodge Dart, foul; Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.708, 206.92 def. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.692, 206.42; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.704, 206.54 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 29.314, 23.12; V. Gaines, Dart, 6.713, 206.01 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.707, 207.24; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.695, 206.51 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.787, 196.27; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.678, 207.24 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.750, 204.51; QUARTERFINALS — J. Gray, 6.748, 205.01 def. Gaines, 6.756, 205.22; S. Gray, 6.745, 205.07 def. Morgan, 6.730, 207.11; Enders, 6.698, 206.64 def. Line, foul; McGaha, 6.697, 206.73 def. Nobile, 6.731, 206.29; SEMIFINALS — Enders, 6.703, 206.45 def. S. Gray, 6.724, 206.20; McGaha, 6.731, 205.82 def. J. Gray, foul; FINAL — Enders, 6.685, 206.95 def. McGaha, 6.689, 207.46.

UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 826; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 824; 3.  Richie Crampton, 754; 4.  Larry Dixon, 699; 5. Spencer Massey, 693; 6.  Doug Kalitta, 666; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 626; 8.  Brittany Force, 585; 9. J.R. Todd, 563; 10.  Clay Millican, 511.

Funny Car: 1.  Matt Hagan, 866; 2.  Ron Capps, 779; 3.  John Force, 713; 4.  Del Worsham, 704; 5.  Jack Beckman, 669; 6.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 643; 7.  Cruz Pedregon, 592; 8.  Robert Hight, 576; 9.  Alexis DeJoria, 574; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 570.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders, 964; 2.  Greg Anderson, 950; 3.  Jason Line, 828; 4.  Chris McGaha, 750; 5. Allen Johnson, 588; 6.  Shane Gray, 583; 7.  Drew Skillman, 573; 8.  Larry Morgan, 570; 9.  Vincent Nobile, 561; 10.  Rodger Brogdon, 526.

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”