NHRA Countdown battle tightens: Langdon, Beckman, Laughlin, Savoie win at St. Louis

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With two races down and now just four remaining, the 2016 NHRA Countdown to the Championship is shaping up to be one of the closest battles in the playoffs’ 10-year history.

Not only did teams tighten the bolts on their respective rides this weekend, the points standings tightened up considerably with the results of Sunday’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

Sunday’s winners were: Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), “Fast Jack” Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Here’s recaps of how each pro category played out:

In Top Fuel, Langdon earned his third victory of the season and jumped to fourth in the standings, less than 80 points behind series leader and defending series champion Antron Brown.

Langdon (3.798 seconds at 323.66 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate and eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher (3.783 seconds at 317.49 mph) in the final round to take the event victory.

It was Langdon’s 14th career win in Top Fuel and his first at Gateway. The biggest key for the 2013 Top Fuel world champion was beating Brown in the first round Sunday, followed up by wins over Doug Kalitta and No. 1 qualifier Richie Crampton before facing Schumacher.

“We didn’t really have a dominant car in qualifying, but we just kept picking away at it,” said Langdon, whose other wins thus far this season came at Bristol, Tenn., and Norwalk, Ohio. “That’s what we’ve been doing since we got those two victories (earlier this year). The car has just responded well.

“All in all, this was a great team effort. The whole team did a great job and gave me a great racecar today.”

Despite his early exit, Brown remains the points leader in Top Fuel, but saw his lead shrink over second-ranked Kalitta to just 13 points.

In Funny Car, Beckman avenged early first-round exits in the previous two races – Indianapolis and Charlotte – and lived up to his nickname indeed.

Having qualified No. 2, Beckman (3.928 seconds at 324.51 mph) defeated fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Joe Johnson (4.185 seconds at 231.40 mph) to capture the Funny Car class win.

It was Beckman’s 24th career win, his second win of 2016 (also won at Chicago) and his second career win at Gateway. He is seeking his second Funny Car world championship in the last five seasons, having done so in 2012.

Beckman made a huge jump up in the standings after the win, going from eighth coming into this weekend’s race to third place, now just 70 points behind series leader Ron Capps.

Aiding in that big points jump for Beckman were quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Charlotte winner and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force and Capps, respectively.

“Our team was in a slump and we did what was incredibly difficult with the way our car was acting unpredictably,” Beckman said. “I’m not quite sure what changed, but I think I had a good outing as a driver today, the guys tuned smart and we turned on the win-light every time.”

Johnson, who has one win thus far in 2016 (Bristol, Tennessee), made his fourth final round of the season. In doing so, he jumped to No. 2 in the points, now just 48 points behind Capps.

In Pro Stock, Laughlin – who did not qualify for the Countdown – earned his first career victory in the class.

Laughlin (6.611 seconds at 208.68 mph) defeated Bo Butner (6.637 seconds at 209.26 mph) in the final round. The way it turned out, no matter who won would have been a first-time winner, as Butner has reached the final round five times this season and six overall in his career, but has yet to reach victory lane.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Laughlin said. “It’s not even real at this point. This has got to be a dream. The whole day has been a blur.

“Took it one round at a time and ended up coming up to the final. I was a little nervous but took a couple deep breaths and told myself, ‘It’s just like any other round, just go up there and do your deal.’ As soon as I let the clutch out, I knew my crew chief gave me a good car.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Savoie (6.933 seconds at 189.36 mph) defeated Angelle Sampey, who fouled at the starting line when she red-lighted.

Savoie, a Louisiana alligator farmer, earned his first win of the season (in four final round appearances), the fifth of his career and his second at St. Louis. He also jumped up to fourth in the PSM point standings.

“You go to the finals four times and win one, but out here the competition is so strong and it takes a little bit of luck,” Savoie said. “We got some luck in the finals. Losing hurts so bad, but winning feels so good. My team is a great team. Our bike is really consistent and we’ve had some issues, but today was our day.”

Even though she lost in the final round, Sampey still received a consolation prize of sorts, moving up to second in the PSM point standings.

The next race, which will take the Countdown to its midpoint, will be this coming weekend’s (Sept. 29-Oct. 2) Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Shawn Langdon; 2.  Tony Schumacher; 3.  J.R. Todd; 4.  Richie Crampton; 5.  Pat Dakin; 6.  Doug Kalitta; 7.  Leah Pritchett; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Clay Millican; 10.  Antron Brown; 11.  Kebin Kinsley; 12.  Steve Torrence; 13.  Wayne Newby; 14.  Kyle Wurtzel; 15.  Terry McMillen; 16.  Chris Karamesines.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Jack Beckman; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3.  Tim Wilkerson; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Robert Hight; 6. Matt Hagan; 7.  John Force; 8.  Courtney Force; 9.  Alexis DeJoria; 10.  Del Worsham; 11.  Brian Stewart; 12.  Dale Creasy Jr.; 13.  Chad Head; 14.  Cruz Pedregon; 15.  John Hale; 16.  John Bojec.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Alex Laughlin; 2.  Bo Butner; 3.  Shane Gray; 4.  Jason Line; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6.  Vincent Nobile; 7.  Chris McGaha; 8.  Drew Skillman; 9.  Allen Johnson; 10.  Jeg Coughlin; 11.  Aaron Strong; 12.  Deric Kramer; 13.  Erica Enders; 14.  Alan Prusiensky; 15.  Mark Hogan; 16.  Dave River.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Jerry Savoie; 2.  Angelle Sampey; 3.  Chip Ellis; 4.  Cory Reed; 5.  Matt Smith; 6.  Hector Arana; 7.  Eddie Krawiec; 8.  Andrew Hines; 9.  Hector Arana Jr; 10.  LE Tonglet; 11.  Steve Johnson; 12.  Jim Underdahl; 13.  Angie Smith; 14.  Karen Stoffer; 15.  Melissa Surber; 16.  Joe DeSantis.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Shawn Langdon, 3.798 seconds, 323.66 mph  def. Tony Schumacher, 3.783 seconds, 317.49 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.928, 324.51  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.611, 208.68  def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.933, 189.36  def. Angelle Sampey, Buell, Foul – Red Light.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.756, 324.44 def. Clay Millican, 3.760, 327.82; Leah Pritchett, 4.009, 282.95 def. Wayne Newby, 4.977, 159.40; Tony Schumacher, 3.785, 322.96 def. Chris Karamesines, Foul – Red Light; Richie Crampton, 3.810, 322.81 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.909, 302.96; Doug Kalitta, 3.751, 328.22 def. Terry McMillen, 6.426, 105.64; J.R. Todd, 3.818, 320.28 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 5.595, 119.26; Shawn Langdon, 3.771, 325.53 def. Antron Brown, 3.774, 320.20; Pat Dakin, 3.779, 324.98 def. Steve Torrence, 4.405, 186.28; QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.767, 321.42 def. Pritchett, 4.183, 215.55; Todd, 3.798, 319.22 def. Dakin, 3.827, 316.90; Crampton, 3.783, 322.42 def. Force, 4.515, 200.11; Langdon, 3.782, 322.27 def. Kalitta, 3.861, 310.91; SEMIFINALS — Langdon, 3.784, 322.27 def. Crampton, 3.844, 317.79; Schumacher, 3.757, 326.71 def. Todd, 3.802, 322.04; FINAL — Langdon, 3.798, 323.66 def. Schumacher, 3.783, 317.49.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.909, 327.66 def. John Hale, Dodge Charger, 11.042, 70.12; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.042, 309.27 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.076, 298.93; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.944, 320.74 def. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, Broke; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.984, 318.32 def. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 4.024, 316.45; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.934, 327.43 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 8.729, 86.18; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.953, 323.27 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.575, 183.72; John Force, Camaro, 3.958, 327.43 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.989, 320.28; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.940, 321.65 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.985, 323.35; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.930, 322.42 def. Hight, 3.938, 325.37; Wilkerson, 3.928, 316.52 def. Hagan, 3.948, 326.40; Capps, 3.976, 320.05 def. C. Force, 4.100, 257.73; Beckman, 3.978, 318.17 def. J. Force, 3.961, 324.83; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.954, 319.60 def. Capps, 4.112, 285.71; Johnson Jr., 3.937, 323.04 def. Wilkerson, 3.993, 283.97; FINAL — Beckman, 3.928, 324.51 def. Johnson Jr., 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.646, 208.49 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.82; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.632, 208.46 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.667, 206.70; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.609, 209.43 def. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.699, 206.35; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.641, 208.75 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.684, 206.57; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.627, 209.49 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.769, 203.98; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.619, 208.91 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.966, 198.06; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.625, 209.01 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.806, 202.06; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.635, 209.23 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.696, 205.98; QUARTERFINALS — Laughlin, 6.643, 208.59 def. Nobile, 6.655, 208.33; Butner, 6.656, 208.52 def. McGaha, 6.664, 207.56; Gray, 6.629, 209.01 def. Skillman, 6.676, 208.07; Line, 6.637, 208.49 def. Anderson, 6.645, 208.39; SEMIFINALS — Butner, 6.678, 207.75 def. Line, 6.627, 208.78; Laughlin, 6.634, 208.75 def. Gray, 6.623, 209.10; FINAL — Laughlin, 6.611, 208.68 def. Butner, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.887, 194.77 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.926, 191.16; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.948, 194.35 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.977, 192.19; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.890, 194.66 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.933, 194.07; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.873, 194.52 def. Angie Smith, 6.971, 189.98; Cory Reed, Buell, 6.873, 194.24 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.911, 193.79; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.911, 193.49 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.908, 194.52; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.890, 192.19 def. Joe DeSantis, Suzuki, 7.236, 179.92; Matt Smith, 6.940, 192.22 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.889, 194.60 def. M. Smith, 6.897, 191.81; Ellis, 6.895, 194.30 def. Hines, 6.941, 191.73; Reed, 6.921, 192.47 def. Krawiec, 6.925, 191.65; Sampey, 6.882, 195.08 def. Arana, 6.916, 193.96; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.922, 193.68 def. Reed, 7.022, 189.26; Sampey, 6.873, 194.94 def. Ellis, 6.884, 193.93; FINAL — Savoie, 6.933, 189.36 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,258; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,245; 3.  Tony Schumacher, 2,204; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 2,181; 5.  Brittany Force, 2,167; 6.  Steve Torrence, 2,161; 7.  J.R. Todd, 2,152; 8.  Richie Crampton, 2,127; 9.  Leah Pritchett, 2,107; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,084.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 2,273; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,225; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,203; 4.  John Force, 2,199; 5.  Del Worsham, 2,189; 6.  Matt Hagan, 2,177; 7.  Robert Hight, 2,159; 8.  Courtney Force, 2,149; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,144; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,068.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line, 2,310; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,247; 3.  Bo Butner, 2,223; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 2,185; 5.  Shane Gray, 2,167; 6.  Chris McGaha, 2,135; 7.  Allen Johnson, 2,127; 8.  Drew Skillman, 2,126; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 2,084; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,052.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,260; 2.  Angelle Sampey, 2,258; 3.  Chip Ellis, 2,243; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 2,218; 5.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,184; 6.  LE Tonglet, 2,138; 7.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,115; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,107; 9.  Cory Reed, 2,105; 10.  Matt Smith, 2,096.

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