(Photo courtesy NHRA)

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

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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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Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”