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Ready, set, Big Go: Field set for Monday’s NHRA U.S. Nationals final eliminations

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BROWNSBURG, Indiana – Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will be the drivers to beat in Monday’s final eliminations of the 62nd Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

All four drivers qualified No. 1 in their respective classes at Lucas Oil Raceway in the NHRA’s biggest event of the year, nicknamed the “Big Go.”

This will be the 18th race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule and is also the final “regular season” race before the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff begins in two weeks in Charlotte.

In Top Fuel, Millican’s qualifying run Saturday night (a track record 3.692 seconds at 316.82 mph) held up through Sunday’s two final qualifying rounds to earn his fourth career No. 1 qualifier.

“It is really a proud moment for this small team to be able to go out here and be the No. 1 qualifier at the U.S. Nationals,” said Millican, who is seeking his first career Top Fuel win. “This is my fourth No. 1 qualifier with the NHRA but this is certainly the biggest one, no doubt about it.”

But Millican cannot rest on his No. 1 qualifier laurels. He comes into Monday’s race one point behind Leah Pritchett for the 10th and final qualifying spot for the Countdown to the Championship.

In Funny Car, Hagan’s first qualifying round performance (a track record 3.858 seconds at 330.80 mph) on Friday night held up over the subsequent four additional qualifying sessions Saturday and Sunday to give him the top spot heading into Monday’s eliminations.

“I didn’t think it was going to stick, but I’m glad it did,” said Hagan, who earned the 25th No. 1 qualifier of his Funny Car career. “We’ll get focused for tomorrow. Woke up this morning with a sore throat and running a fever but whether you got a cold or not, you got to get in the racecar focused.”

Also of note, former two-time Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon’s season-long struggles continued. Pedregon failed to qualify for Monday’s finals. By missing the race, he’s eliminated from potentially still making the Countdown to the Championship.

In Pro Stock, Butner grabbed the top spot Sunday with a run of 6.571 seconds at 210.24 mph, his third career No. 1 qualifier.

Butner has four runner-up finishes thus far this season, but is definitely looking for a win Monday.

“Hopefully we will get some of this hometown love,” said Butner, who is from nearby Floyds Knob, Ind. “We have a very fast car and we’ve had a very fast car all year long.

“This is the toughest class ever and it’s hard to win. You have to have a little luck and some breaks but I feel good about this weekend so I think we’ll maybe finish it up like we need to and win.”

Butner, Millican and Hagan are all seeking their respective first career wins in the U.S. Nationals.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, two-time U.S. Nationals winner (2001 and 2002) Sampey earned her 48th career No. 1 qualifying spot (a track record 6.812 seconds at 196.62 mph).

It’s also Sampey’s third No. 1 qualifier of 2016 and fifth of her career at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“When they told me I (qualified No. 1), I lost it down there like I had won the race,” Sampey said. “I was hootin’ and hollerin’ because I didn’t expect it. I was very proud of my team and very proud of myself because I did a very good job of driving it that run, which usually doesn’t happen every single run.”

Monday’s eliminations begin at 11 a.m. ET.

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MONDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS:

Top Fuel — 1. Clay Millican, 3.692 seconds, 318.77 mph  vs. 16. Terry McMillen, 3.895, 316.45; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.702, 328.62  vs. 15. Bruce Litton, 3.829, 319.14; 3. Brittany Force, 3.706, 326.00  vs. 14. Pat Dakin, 3.799, 311.70; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.717, 330.31  vs. 13. Tripp Tatum, 3.796, 326.00; 5. Antron Brown, 3.725, 326.00  vs. 12. T.J. Zizzo, 3.772, 319.82; 6. Doug Kalitta, 3.726, 328.54  vs. 11. Richie Crampton, 3.772, 324.90; 7. Shawn Langdon, 3.731, 327.11  vs. 10. Leah Pritchett, 3.738, 329.75; 8. Morgan Lucas, 3.732, 326.63  vs. 9. J.R. Todd, 3.734, 319.37.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Wayne Newby, 3.897, 308.85; 18. Terry Haddock, 4.009, 299.86; 19. Chris Karamesines, 4.662, 165.78; 20. Luigi Novelli, 4.820, 305.29.

Funny Car — 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.858, 330.80  vs. 16. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, 4.136, 299.86; 2. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.859, 333.08  vs. 15. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 4.103, 310.84; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.861, 325.30  vs. 14. Bob Bode, Solara, 4.095, 310.77; 4. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.867, 327.66  vs. 13. Jim Campbell, Charger, 3.977, 315.56; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.868, 329.99  vs. 12. John Hale, Charger, 3.969, 478.89; 6. John Force, Camaro, 3.872, 329.58  vs. 11. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 3.953, 325.92; 7. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.874, 328.86 vs. 10. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.945, 325.45; 8. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.881, 330.31  vs. 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.914, 328.46.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Cruz Pedregon, 4.753, 222.99; 18. Justin Schriefer, 5.881, 276.58; 19. Tim Gibbons, broke.

Pro Stock — 1. Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.571, 210.24  vs. 16. Curt Steinbach, Camaro, 6.674, 206.13; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.576, 209.92  vs. 15. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.659, 207.82; 3. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.577, 209.52  vs. 14. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.648, 208.14; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.582, 210.31  vs. 13. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.640, 208.07; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.593, 209.88  vs. 12. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.634, 208.23; 6. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.598, 209.62  vs. 11. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.633, 208.30; 7. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.610, 208.71  vs. 10. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.626, 209.46; 8. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.612, 208.94  vs. 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.624, 208.88.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Alan Prusiensky, 6.703, 206.10; 18. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.714, 205.98; 19. Shane Tucker, 6.752, 207.02.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.812, 197.02  vs. 16. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.918, 195.11; 2. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.841, 196.85  vs. 15. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.913, 195.34; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.848, 195.00  vs. 14. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.907, 194.83; 4. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.849, 196.53  vs. 13. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.897, 195.39; 5. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.853, 196.04  vs. 12. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.887, 194.80; 6. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.860, 196.44  vs. 11. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.876, 193.52; 7. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.864, 195.31  vs. 10. Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.875, 194.38; 8. Cory Reed, Buell, 6.868, 196.07  vs. 9. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.872, 195.56.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Mark Paquette, 6.962, 194.07; 18. Joey Gladstone, 7.018, 193.49; 19. Angie Smith, 7.038, 191.59; 20. Kristen Ashby, 7.275, 183.77; 21. Lance Bonham, 7.606, 180.96; 22. Joe DeSantis, 8.551, 190.40; 23. Anthony Vanetti, broke.

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.