NHRA: With two wins and tied for Funny Car lead, Tim Wilkerson has his swagger back

(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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Even though he’s been drag racing for the better part of his life, you might say Tim Wilkerson is making up for lost time.

Prior to last season, the Springfield, Illinois native had not won an NHRA Funny Car national event since 2011. Then, when he got to Atlanta Dragway last spring, Wilkerson ended his long winless streak.

But that was only the start.

Thus far this season, the 55-year-old Wilkerson already has two wins in the first six races of the 24-race national event schedule.

Equally as impressive is Wilkerson, who now has 21 career wins in NHRA competition (20 in Funny Car), is now tied with Courtney Force for the Funny Car points lead.

2016_Tim_Wilkerson
Tim Wilkerson

And now Wilkerson finds himself right back where he started things last year: Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia, for this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals.

“It’s been a good start, no doubt,” Wilkerson said about his season in an NHRA media release. “I’m excited to do as well as we’ve been doing and I think we’ve shown a lot of potential.

“We’ve got a good car and we’ve created those opportunities. We want to beat somebody that’s tough to beat and I think we’ve proven that so far this year, and having a good car has really helped our cause.”

Wilkerson’s wins this season have come at Phoenix and Charlotte, and he just barely missed a third triumph in the most recent race at Houston. After qualifying No. 1, he roared through eliminations before just barely losing to Courtney Force in the final round.

“We did some crazy, bizarre things (in Houston) and the car seemed to respond,” Wilkerson said. “But we got beat in Houston and I was not happy about that.”

Still, Wilkerson managed to accumulate enough points to tie Courtney Force for the lead in the point standings.

“It’s a long year and it really is a marathon and not a sprint,” Wilkerson said. ‘You can be a hero today and a zero next week. But we’ve got a car that we believe can win its share of rounds this year and that’s a good feeling to have.”

Or, as Wilkerson added, “We’ve got our swagger back a little.”

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

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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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.”