NHRA: Brown (Top Fuel), Enders (Pro Stock) capture championships

(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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Antron Brown and Erica Enders capped spectacular seasons by earning 2015 NHRA championships in Top Fuel and Pro Stock, respectively, in Sunday’s finals of the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Brown captured his second career Top Fuel crown (and 55th win of his career) while Enders earned her second consecutive championship (and 21st win of her career), the only female to ever win Pro Stock titles.

Both drivers did so early: one more race remains on the NHRA national event schedule – two weeks from now (Nov. 13-15) in the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. Championships still to be decided are in Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown won his title by reaching the Top Fuel semifinals. Enders, meanwhile, captured her ninth win of the season, joining Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) as Sunday’s event winners.

Brown hoped to earn his eighth win of the season, but fell short in the semifinals to Kalitta.

“We were greedy,” said Brown, who earned $500,000 for winning the Top Fuel championship. “We really wanted to have the Toyota Wally (trophy) next to that big Wally (championship), but, hey, we’ll take the big one any day.

“I just lost a race to Doug Kalitta by five-ten-thousandths of a second. It’s probably the closest race of all year. That’s how competitive this class has gotten, and that’s what makes this so big and makes it worth it when you can go out there and win a championship like our team has.”

As for Enders, she earned $250,000 for the championship (plus $50,000 for winning the event) and becomes the second female driver in NHRA history to win back-to-back titles. Angelle Sampey won three consecutive Pro Stock Motorcycle crowns from 2000-2002.

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you get the right people around you,” said Enders, who won for the fourth time at Las Vegas. “To do it in front of all my sponsors and family here this weekend it is incredible. To cap off a second world championship here at Vegas is just crazy.”

Of note in Sunday’s eliminations:

* Kalitta earned his third win of the season and 38th of his career, defeating Larry Dixon.

“Once we got past Antron – ‘cause that was an incredibly close race – I was feeling good for the finals. Not sure what happened there in the final. It was a lucky win for us, but we’ll take it. It’s Vegas and anything can happen.”

* Hight earned his second win of the season, his fifth at Las Vegas and 36th of his career, defeating Tommy Johnson Jr. In so doing, Hight moved past Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Cruz Pedregon on NHRA’s all-time Funny Car wins list. He moved from eighth to sixth in Funny Car points.

“It’s really a bummer to me to not be in the points chase this late in the year,” Hight said. “We’re not used to that. It drives you because you want to be there. It makes you dig deep so we’re not in the same position next year.”

* Heading into the season-ending race at Pomona, Del Worsham leads Jack Beckman by 38 points. Johnson is a distant 97 points back, but is still mathematically in contention for the championship.

Worsham is hoping to become only the third driver in NHRA history to win both Top Fuel and Funny Car championships in his career.

* Andrew Hines won his third race of the Countdown for the Championship and fourth of the season. The defending PSM champ heads to Pomona in pursuit of his fifth career title, but Jerry Savoie is not going to make it easy: Hines leads Savoie by just 46 points.

“The biggest thing was that final round battle between one and two in points,” Hines said of defeating Savoie, who fouled on the run. “We’ve been running neck and neck all weekend long. I was in damage control all day and I was lucky enough to turn on a few win lights.

“That final might’ve looked pressure packed, but I was calm and confident. I knew I needed a good race. The team was able to make the motorcycle go quicker in the final and we got the win.”

SUNDAY’S FINAL STATISTICS

FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders; 2.  Bo Butner; 3.  Drew Skillman; 4.  Vincent Nobile; 5.  Chris McGaha; 6.  Jason Line; 7.  Greg Anderson; 8.  Shane Gray; 9.  Allen Johnson; 10.  Alex Laughlin; 11.  V. Gaines; 12. Matt Hartford; 13.  Deric Kramer; 14.  Jonathan Gray; 15.  Kenny Delco; 16.  Larry Morgan.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Jerry Savoie; 3.  LE Tonglet; 4.  Hector Arana; 5.  Eddie Krawiec; 6.  Scotty Pollacheck; 7.  Steve Johnson; 8.  Mike Berry; 9.  Karen Stoffer; 10.  Chip Ellis; 11.  Hector Arana Jr; 12.  Matt Smith; 13.  Jim Underdahl; 14.  Freddie Camarena; 15.  Michael Ray; 16.  Shawn Gann.

FINAL RESULTS:

Top Fuel: Doug Kalitta, 4.239 seconds, 207.59 mph  def. Larry Dixon, 8.110 seconds, 73.95 mph.

Funny Car: Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.955, 323.97  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 8.279, 85.02.

Pro Stock: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.595, 208.97  def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.610, 209.33.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.920, 193.05  def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, foul.

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Richie Crampton, 3.819, 303.64 def. Troy Buff, 3.888, 311.70; Clay Millican, 3.768, 319.52 def. Shawn Langdon, 4.437, 195.08; Antron Brown, 3.787, 321.73 def. Jenna Haddock, 3.850, 311.63; Larry Dixon, 3.770, 328.30 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.185, 266.90; Billy Torrence, 3.772, 325.53 def. Noah Stutz, 3.947, 265.69; Doug Kalitta, 3.791, 321.58 def. Steve Torrence, 3.886, 311.49; Tony Schumacher, 3.796, 321.88 def. J.R. Todd, 5.031, 153.21; Dave Connolly, 3.777, 325.06 def. Brittany Force, 6.075, 133.99;

QUARTERFINALS — Kalitta, 3.796, 317.05 def. Crampton, 3.801, 322.50; Millican, 4.186, 235.51 def. B. Torrence, 8.505, 83.41; Dixon, 3.777, 326.32 def. Schumacher, 3.812, 321.35; Brown, 3.786, 323.74 def. Connolly, 4.515, 173.23.

SEMIFINALS — Dixon, 3.800, 322.65 def. Millican, 3.829, 318.32; Kalitta, 3.774, 322.73 def. Brown, 3.786, 317.94;

FINAL — Kalitta, 4.239, 207.59 def. Dixon, 8.110, 73.95.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.002, 319.60 def. Tony Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 9.913, 82.26; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.952, 325.53 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.007, 317.94; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.014, 310.98 def. Bob Bode, Toyota Solara, 9.484, 92.63; Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.035, 318.54 def. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.508, 204.94; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.998, 320.28 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.077, 292.46; Chad Head, Camry, 4.028, 314.24 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 10.500, 85.92; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.004, 314.90 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.261, 307.02; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.977, 322.19 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.773, 167.59;

QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 3.988, 321.88 def. Beckman, 3.988, 318.47; Head, 4.012, 314.75 def. C. Force, 4.094, 308.85; Hight, 3.983, 318.92 def. Worsham, 3.994, 319.37; Johnson Jr., 4.008, 309.13 def. DeJoria, 4.008, 291.32;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.968, 313.07 def. Capps, 3.978, 319.22; Hight, 3.971, 323.89 def. Head, 4.035, 313.88;

FINAL — Hight, 3.955, 323.97 def. Johnson Jr., 8.279, 85.02.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.699, 207.94 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.698, 207.43; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.625, 209.07 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.632, 208.59; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.617, 208.88 def. Larry Morgan, Camaro, foul; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.608, 208.78 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.636, 208.10; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.619, 208.75 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.670, 207.53; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.598, 209.14 def. Matt Hartford, Pontiac GXP, 6.676, 207.53; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.585, 209.59 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.692, 206.23; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.600, 208.78 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 7.108, 155.65;

QUARTERFINALS — Butner, 6.642, 208.78 def. McGaha, 6.619, 209.07; Skillman, 6.605, 209.04 def. Line, 6.622, 208.55; Nobile, 6.615, 208.75 def. Anderson, 6.630, 209.04; Enders, 6.596, 209.39 def. S. Gray, 6.630, 208.46;

SEMIFINALS — Butner, 6.616, 208.62 def. Nobile, 6.625, 208.65; Enders, 6.598, 208.97 def. Skillman, foul;

FINAL — Enders, 6.595, 208.97 def. Butner, 6.610, 209.33.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.923, 193.07 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.065, 191.84; Hector Arana, Buell, 7.032, 191.67 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, foul; Mike Berry, Buell, 7.060, 188.31 def. Michael Ray, Buell, 7.092, 184.55; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.973, 191.97 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.016, 191.54; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.987, 190.81 def. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.960, 192.36; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.945, 192.96 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.970, 193.21; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.965, 191.76 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, foul; Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.966, 190.70 def. Matt Smith, 7.003, 190.32;

QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.939, 193.60 def. Johnson, 7.011, 190.08; Arana, 7.051, 190.08 def. Berry, 18.023, 22.66; Hines, 6.964, 192.77 def. Pollacheck, 7.007, 190.70; Tonglet, 6.922, 193.79 def. Krawiec, 6.959, 192.93;

SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.973, 191.92 def. Arana, 7.001, 191.54; Savoie, 6.906, 194.10 def. Tonglet, 6.980, 192.66;

FINAL — Hines, 6.920, 193.05 def. Savoie, foul.

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,588; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 2,426; 3.  Larry Dixon, 2,372; 4.  Richie Crampton, 2,356; 5.  Brittany Force, 2,331; 6.  Doug Kalitta, 2,316; 7.  Steve Torrence, 2,289; 8.  Shawn Langdon, 2,275; 9.  Dave Connolly, 2,271; 10.  J.R. Todd, 2,249.

Funny Car: 1.  Del Worsham, 2,545; 2.  Jack Beckman, 2,507; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,448; 4.  Ron Capps, 2,405; 5.  Matt Hagan, 2,361; 6.  Robert Hight, 2,314; 7.  John Force, 2,300; 8.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,260; 9.  Cruz Pedregon, 2,233; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,227.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders, 2,631; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,409; 3.  Chris McGaha, 2,389; 4.  Drew Skillman, 2,374; 5.  Allen Johnson, 2,331; 6.  Larry Morgan, 2,324; 7.  Jason Line, 2,298; 8.  Vincent Nobile, 2,293; 9.  Jonathan Gray, 2,252; 10.  Shane Gray, 2,236.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,534; 2.  Jerry Savoie, 2,488; 3.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,451; 4.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,363; 5.  Chip Ellis, 2,337; 6.  Matt Smith, 2,329; 7.  Karen Stoffer, 2,314; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,291; 9.  Jim Underdahl, 2,189; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck, 2,160.

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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”