(Photo courtesy NHRA)

NHRA: After first 2 rounds, most Countdown battles tighten

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With two rounds of the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs now in the books, the point standings have tightened up for the most part.

The closest battles are in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle. But that doesn’t mean the Funny Car or Pro Stock standings are any less competitive.

Let’s break things down in each respective class following what happened in this past weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals near St. Louis:

In Top Fuel, two-time and defending champion Antron Brown has his hands full with a stout challenge from Doug Kalitta.

Brown, who dominated last year’s Countdown en route to the championship, holds just a 13-point edge over Kalitta heading into this weekend’s midpoint of the Countdown, the Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove (Pa.) Raceway.

After three runner-up finishes over the years, Kalitta is potentially in the best position he ever has been to earn his first championship in 20 years on the NHRA national tour. Trust me, Brown hears Kalitta’s footsteps, and they just got a lot louder after Sunday’s race near St. Louis.

Several other drivers are further back, but they’re far from out of the running. Eight-time champion Tony Schumacher is third, 54 points back. Sunday’s winner, Shawn Langdon, jumped up to fourth in the points, just 77 points behind.

Brittany Force and Steve Torrence are 91 and 97 points behind Brown, respectively, followed by seventh and eighth place holders J.R. Todd (-106) and Richie Crampton (-131), who qualified No. 1 this past weekend.

Unfortunately, two drivers have each struggled in the first two Countdown races: Leah Pritchett (-151) and Clay Millican (-174). Unless they get their game back on track, their Countdown hopes could essentially be over far before the season-ending race in Pomona, California.

Here’s how the points stack up heading into Maple Grove:

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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Funny Car, Ron Capps reached Sunday’s semifinals, protecting the lead he’s had for much of this season.

With a class-high five wins thus far this season, Capps holds a 48-point edge over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. and leads another teammate, Jack Beckman, by 70 points.

Beckman significantly closed the gap on Capps by winning Sunday at St. Louis – jumping from eighth place to third.

Just 22 points separate fourth-ranked John Force (-74), defending champion Del Worsham (-84) and Matt Hagan (-96). Dipping in the standings are the other two John Force Racing Funny Car drivers, Robert Hight (-114) and Courtney Force (-124), with Tim Wilkerson sitting ninth (-129).

Alexis DeJoria rounds out the 1o-driver Funny Car Countdown and has struggled in the first two races, leaving her 205 points behind Capps – the third-biggest points spread between a driver and a leader in any of the four pro classes.

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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Pro Stock, Alex Laughlin pulled off a stunning win Sunday at St. Louis. Not only did Laughlin fail to qualify for the Countdown, Sunday’s triumph was the first of his Pro Stock career.

And Laughlin’s win somewhat shook up the Pro Stock standings – opening them up rather than closing the gap – leaving the largest spread between first and tenth in any of the four pro classes.

KB Racing holds a stranglehold on the top three spots with points leader Jason Line, Greg Anderson (-63) and Bo Butner (-87).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the bottom half of the Pro Stock Countdown field has struggled in the first two races: Sixth-ranked Chris McGaha (-175), Allen Johnson (-183), and Drew Skillman (-184), but especially five-time champion Jeg Coughlin (-226) and two-time defending champion Erica Enders (-258).

After two outstanding seasons, Enders has had a very rough campaign in 2016, with several first round exits in the first 20 races that put her – and have kept her – behind the eight-ball. She failed to qualify for the first Countdown race at Charlotte and suffered yet another first-round exit at St. Louis.

Unless Enders can somehow bounce back and win her first race of the season – and then some more – in the next couple of races, she mathematically could be eliminated from the Countdown as early as this weekend at Maple Grove or Round 4 of the playoffs on Oct. 16 at Texas.

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.

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In Pro Stock Motorcycle, we see the tightest championship battle of all four pro classes thus far.

Just 17 points separate the top three riders: defending champion and five-time champ Andrew Hines, Angelle Sampey (-2) and Charlotte winner Chip Ellis (-17). And St. Louis winner Jerry Savoie – an alligator farmer from Louisiana – took a big chomp out of Hines’ lead, jumping up to fourth place, just 42 points behind.

Former champion Eddie Krawiec isn’t far behind in fifth place (-76).

The remaining five riders are all within striking distance, from sixth-ranked LE Tonglet IV (-122) to Hector Arana Jr. (-145), Hector Arana (-153), Cory Reed (-155) and Matt Smith (-164).

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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IMSA results, points, stats package after Sunday at Road America

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Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor delivered Team Penske’s first victory this season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, winning at Road America from the pole position Sunday and moving up to sixth in points after finishing no better than seventh in the first three races this season.

The Team Penske No. 7 Acura DPi led a race-high 48  of 63 laps, including the final four after Castroneves seized a restart to take first from Renger van der Zande, who finished second with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi.

Other class winners at the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, road course were the No. 81 ORECA LMP2 07 of Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley in LMP2, the No. 3 Corvette C8.R of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor in GTLM and the No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3 of Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo in GTD.

RAIN-SOAKED RELIEF: Castroneves delivers Penske’s first win with late pass

Here are the race stats, points and results from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Road America:


RESULTS: Click here for the overall finishing order and here for the class breakdown.

POINTS: In the DPi standings, the No. 10 Cadillac of Briscoe and van der Zande leads by six points (124-118) over the No. 5 Cadillac of Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais.

The No. 3 Corvette of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor leads the GTLM standings with 130 points, 10 more than the No. 912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor.

In GTD, the No. 12 Lexus of Bell and Montecalvo moved into the lead by four points (121-117) over AIM Vasser Sullivan teammates Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz in the No. 14 Lexus.

The No. 38 of Performance Tech Motorsport leads in LMP2.

Click here for the points standings for drivers and teams after Road America.

STATS PACKAGE FOR ROAD AMERICA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Leader sequence

Lap chart

Race analysis by lap

NEXT: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT classes will race Aug. 21-22 at Virginia International Raceway.