NHRA: Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton enjoying sophomore trump, not slump

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No matter if it’s on four or two wheels, many racers experience a sophomore slump in their second full-time season as a pro.

But NHRA Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton is having a sophomore trump, you might say, as he keeps getting better and better.

Crampton enters this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway, ranked fourth in the Top Fuel driver standings.

Sure, he’s a distant 320 points behind Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher, but Crampton proves with every race that he is not only a force to be reckoned with now, but will continue to be for many seasons to come.

In the first 16 races of the 24-race NHRA schedule, Crampton has amassed three wins (Las Vegas, Topeka and Bristol), picking up from where he left off in 2014, when he was named the sport’s top rookie driver.

Next on his agenda is to qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s championship playoff series.

“Our focus is on race day consistency and not trying to change too much,” Crampton said in an NHRA media release. “We have a good race car right now, and we need to focus on every little detail and continue doing what we’ve been doing.

“The entire team is excited about the outlook of the Countdown, given our current position in points. We’re going to try to put an exclamation point on that.”

Crampton’s teammate, Morgan Lucas, is defending Top Fuel winner at Brainerd (as well as Funny Car’s Ron Capps and Pro Stock’s Jason Line).

“A lot of the pressure of being the new guy is obviously gone now,” Crampton said. “There’s no pressure to win the rookie of the year award.

“My comfort level is a lot higher inside the race car and outside the race. All of that being said, being able to just concentrate on going and racing each event is where I’m at right now.”

Doing well at Brainerd is important. Not only is Crampton part of the Morgan Lucas Racing team, its primary sponsor, Lucas Oil, is also the event’s primary sponsor, as well.

“Racing in Brainerd is huge to the entire MLR team and any Lucas Oil car, for that matter,” Crampton said. “Particularly for me, driving for the Lucas family and coming back to a racetrack where the Lucas team has had a lot of success – and also where we have a lot of fun with the amazing fans – is very exciting. It’s one of the highlights of the tour for the Lucas team.

“We have the staff, we have great racecars that we build ourselves, and we have all the resources we need to try and contend for a championship.”

LUCAS OIL NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Aug. 20-23

TELEVISION:      

Saturday, Aug. 22, ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 11 p.m. (ET).

Sunday, Aug. 23, ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations coverage starting at 9 p.m. (ET).

2014 EVENT WINNERS: Morgan Lucas, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock.

MOST VICTORIES: John Force, 11, FC; Joe Amato, 6, TF; Kenny Bernstein, 5, FC/TF; Antron Brown, 5, TF/PSM; Ron Capps, 4, FC; Jeg Coughlin, 4, PS;.

TRACK RECORDS:            

Top Fuel – 3.722 sec. by Doug Kalitta, Aug. ’14; 328.54 mph by Richie Crampton, Aug. ’14.

Funny Car – 3.998 sec. by Alexis DeJoria, Aug. ’14; 320.89 mph by John Force, Aug. ’14.

Pro Stock – 6.542 sec. by Erica Enders, Aug. ’12; 210.87 mph by Allen Johnson, Aug. ’12.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.865 sec. by Andrew Hines, Aug. ’12; 196.82 mph by Andrew Hines, Aug. ’05.

NATIONAL RECORDS:    

Top Fuel – 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.; 332.51 mph by Larry Dixon, June ’15, Norwalk, Ohio.

Funny Car – 3.921 sec. by Jack Beckman, Aug. ’15, Sonoma, Calif.; 325.06 mph by Courtney Force, May ’15, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88mph by Hector Arana Jr., April ’15, Charlotte, N.C.

POINTS STANDINGS

Top Fuel: 1.  Tony Schumacher, 1,289*; 2.  Antron Brown, 1,202*; 3.  Larry Dixon, 1,034; 4.  Richie Crampton, 969; 5.  Doug Kalitta, 944; 6.  J.R. Todd, 896; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 872; 8.  Spencer Massey, 855; 9. Brittany Force, 851; 10.  Steve Torrence, 835.

Funny Car: 1.  Matt Hagan, 1,177*; 2.  Jack Beckman, 1,172*; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 1,063; 4.  John Force, 1,025; 5.  Del Worsham, 1,004; 6.  Ron Capps, 988; 7.  Cruz Pedregon, 872; 8.  Tim Wilkerson, 870; 9.  (tie) Alexis DeJoria, 819; Robert Hight, 819.

Pro Stock: 1.  Greg Anderson, 1,322*; 2.  Erica Enders, 1,271*; 3.  Chris McGaha, 1,175*; 4.  Jason Line, 1,102*; 5.  Allen Johnson, 951; 6.  Larry Morgan, 906; 7.  Shane Gray, 834; 8.  Jonathan Gray, 823; 9.  Vincent Nobile, 787; 10.  Drew Skillman, 779.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 702; 2.  Hector Arana Jr, 596; 3.  Andrew Hines, 546; 4.  Karen Stoffer, 468; 5. Jim Underdahl, 459; 6.  Jerry Savoie, 429; 7.  Hector Arana, 417; 8.  Matt Smith, 389; 9.  Scotty Pollacheck, 376; 10.  Angelle Sampey, 336.

* Secured a berth in Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs.

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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.”