Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) qualifies No. 1 for U.S. Nationals; also Greg Anderson (PS), Chip Ellis (PSM)

Photo courtesy NHRA

BROWNSBURG, Indiana – It’s been quite a career ride for Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon, but none more challenging than the last 5 1/2 years.

In that time, Dixon went from winning his third Top Fuel championship in 2010 to going winless and finished fourth in the standings in 2011.

Then came a dark three-year period, when he competed in just three races in 2012 and only nine races in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

But make no mistake about it: Dixon is back in 2015 – in a big way.

Even though he’s failed to win in the five final rounds he’s appeared in thus far this season, he’s been one of the strongest drivers in the category, back to full-time status driving for Bob Vandergriff Jr.

The high point, though, came Sunday, as Dixon earned the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel for Monday’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Dixon topped the 22-driver field for the biggest race of the season in the NHRA with a best elapsed time of 3.744 seconds at 326.00 mph.

It was Dixon’s second No. 1 of the season, the 53rd of his career and fourth at the U.S. Nationals, the NHRA’s biggest race of the season.

“I know I had great opportunities driving for Don Prudhomme and Alan Johnson and felt real blessed for those opportunities,” Dixon said. “We had a lot of wins, championships, a lot of great teams and a lot of fun – but then it’s over.

“An opportunity presented itself with Bob (Vandergriff). I started out part-time last year and full-time this year. … All of us, we’re trying to take advantage of the situation we’re in. The car is running great, we’ve got some poles, got to several final rounds, we’re up in the points and we want to take advantage of the opportunity that’s in front of us, not just for this race but also for when the playoffs start. We have a chance at another title.”

Billy Torrence (3.771 seconds, 323.58 mph) qualified No. 2, followed by his son, Steve Torrence (3.778/326.08), Dave Connolly (3.793/323.58) qualified No. 4 and J.R. Todd (3.795/323.58) took the No. 5 spot.

In addition, defending and eight-time NHRA national Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher, who qualified ninth (3.812/322.88), is looking to break the U.S. Nationals’ all-time victory record.

Schumacher is currently tied with Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden, with nine wins at Indy in their respective careers.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson will go into Monday’s eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier. Anderson topped the field with an elapsed time of 6.562 seconds at 210.70 mph.

Jonathan Gray (6.567/210.05) was second-quickest, followed by Drew Skillman (6.569/210.37), defending Pro Stock champ Erica Enders (6.571/210.54) and Allen Johnson (209.26/210.28).

And in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Chip Ellis took the top spot in qualifying with a time of 6.855 seconds at 195.73 mph. Defending PSM champ Andrew Hines (6.879/193.29) was second-quickest, followed by Jerry Savoie (6.896/194.35), Angelle Sampey (6.899/193.65) and Matt Smith (6.900/191.67).

Here’s the first-round pairings for Monday’s eliminations of the 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals:

Top Fuel — 1. Larry Dixon, 3.744 seconds, 326.00 mph  vs. 16. Doug Kalitta, 3.995, 290.63; 2. Billy Torrence, 3.771, 323.58  vs. 15. T.J. Zizzo, 3.942, 278.98; 3. Steve Torrence, 3.778, 326.08  vs. 14. Richie Crampton, 3.892, 305.15; 4. Dave Connolly, 3.793, 323.58  vs. 13. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.887, 315.78; 5. J.R. Todd, 3.795, 323.58  vs. 12. Antron Brown, 3.868, 318.69; 6. Morgan Lucas, 3.795, 320.13  vs. 11. Leah Pritchett, 3.840, 320.66; 7. Brittany Force, 3.798, 319.60  vs. 10. Pat Dakin, 3.817, 319.75; 8. Shawn Langdon, 3.806, 319.29  vs. 9. Tony Schumacher, 3.812, 322.88.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Kebin Kinsley, 4.035, 280.78; 18. Luigi Novelli, 4.163, 275.90; 19. Terry McMillen, 4.339, 263.41; 20. Wayne Newby, 4.387, 189.36; 21. Clay Millican, 4.838, 299.26; 22. Chris Karamesines, 4.900, 294.82.

Funny Car — 1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.936, 323.74  vs. 16. Bob Bode, Toyota Solara, 4.736, 178.10; 2. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.971, 322.96  vs. 15. John Bojec, Solara, 4.211, 297.55; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.976, 318.32  vs. 14. John Hale, Charger, 4.196, 306.88; 4. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.978, 322.11  vs. 13. Chad Head, Camry, 4.157, 300.20; 5. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.998, 319.75  vs. 12. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.152, 293.28; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.000, 314.97  vs. 11. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.113, 314.09; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.017, 305.91  vs. 10. John Force, Camaro, 4.090, 309.49; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.023, 315.49  vs. 9. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.033, 317.34.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Justin Schriefer, 6.780, 116.48.

Pro Stock — 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.562, 210.97  vs. 16. Aaron Stanfield, Dodge Dart, 6.636, 208.88; 2. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.567, 210.21  vs. 15. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.630, 209.62; 3. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.569, 210.37  vs. 14. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.628, 209.20; 4. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.571, 210.54  vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.620, 209.01; 5. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.576, 210.28  vs. 12. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.612, 209.07; 6. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.579, 210.37  vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.605, 209.95; 7. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.580, 210.14  vs. 10. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.602, 208.84; 8. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.582, 210.50  vs. 9. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.588, 209.95.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Matt Hartford, 6.647, 208.39; 18. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.681, 206.48; 19. Kenny Delco, 6.706, 206.80; 20. Steve Schmidt, 6.824, 203.19; 21. Wally Stroupe, 6.962, 199.40.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.855, 196.22  vs. 16. Angie Smith, Victory, 7.011, 189.52; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.879, 194.30  vs. 15. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.998, 191.21; 3. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.896, 194.74  vs. 14. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.978, 192.52; 4. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.899, 193.68  vs. 13. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.967, 191.08; 5. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.900, 192.19  vs. 12. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.962, 191.76; 6. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.903, 195.73  vs. 11. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.915, 194.21; 7. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.903, 195.65  vs. 10. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.915, 195.62; 8. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.905, 195.45  vs. 9. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.908, 194.74.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Redell Harris, 7.064, 189.98; 18. Mike Berry, 7.075, 188.46; 19. Lance Bonham, 7.430, 185.15; 20. Joe DeSantis, broke.

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Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”