Photo: Ron Lewis/John Force Racing. Videos courtesy NHRA

NHRA: Brown, Hight, Line and Hines are No. 1 qualifiers for Sunday’s finals at Texas

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If conditions remain the same as Saturday’s final two rounds of qualifying, Sunday’s eliminations of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex could see one of the quickest race days this season.

And the end result at the track south of Dallas could also go a long way towards potentially determining some of this season’s eventual champions.

Defending and two-time champion Antron Brown qualified No. 1 in Top Fuel Saturday, along with Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

In Top Fuel, Brown set a track record during Friday’s qualifying (3.682 seconds at 330.55 mph) that held up during Saturday’s two rounds. It’s the 47th time Brown has qualified No. 1, his third of the season and the first of his career at Texas Motorplex. He also remains No. 1 in the Top Fuel standings.

“We’ve been racing good in the Countdown but we haven’t been getting those qualifying points like we need to,” said Brown, who will face 84-year-old racer Chris Karamasines in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

“A lot of these teams have been racking up on us,” Brown said. “To come here and to qualify the way we have has been phenomenal. We just hope that can carry over to race day. That’s where all the points are at. Right now, I couldn’t be happier for my whole team.”

Leah Pritchett (3.698 seconds at 327.43 mph) qualified No. 2, while eight-time Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher (3.705 at 326.71) qualified No. 3.

In Funny Car, Hight held on to the No. 1 qualifying spot and track record he recorded Friday night (3.839 seconds – the third-quickest pass in Funny Car history – at a stout 332.02 mph).

Hight will face Brandon Welch in Sunday’s first round.

“To come out here to Texas, my sponsor’s race, and make four runs in the 3.80s, that shows we’ve got it going on,” said Hight, a two-time past winner at Texas. “My teammates are running 3.80s and we’re right at the top. It’s exciting to have a qualifying like this, but tomorrow is a new day. We’ve been having problems with sealing the deal on Sunday. It’ll be a tough match tomorrow.”

Jack Beckman qualified No. 2 (3.483 seconds at a track record speed of 333.66 mph), while Tommy Johnson Jr. qualified No. 3 (3.847 at 325.06).

In Pro Stock, two-time world champion Line earned his No. 1 qualifying spot this season and 48th of his career with a Saturday run of 6.568 seconds at 210.34 mph.

Line comes into Sunday’s first round match against Alan Prusiensky seeking a ninth win (he also has five runner-up finishes).

“Everybody is close,” Line said. “It really comes down to just making the best decision. It’s like a big chess match. I think we had a good day using all three (Ken Black Racing) cars, and we used them wisely today. We learned some things and hopefully all three cars are good for tomorrow.”

Teammate Greg Anderson qualified No. 2 (6.579 at 210.11), while Alex Laughlin qualified No. 3.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Savoie earned his first No. 1 spot of the season and sixth of the season with a run of 6.805 seconds at 197.31 mph.

It’s also the second time he’s qualified No. 1 in his career at Texas Motorplex, where he is the defending winner of this event last year. He’ll open Sunday’s eliminations facing Joe DeSantis.

“At this point in the game it is really important to get as many points as you can,” said Savoie, who makes his full-time living as an alligator farmer in Louisiana. “I don’t know if I’m more excited about being No. 1 or to win a race.

“It’s a good weekend and Dallas is my home track now since we don’t run in Houston. After our showing last year, hopefully we can repeat it and have some fun.”

Five-time and defending PSM champ Andrew Hines, who won at Texas in 2014, qualified No. 2 (6.811 at 195.90), while teammate Eddie Krawiec qualified No. 3.

Sunday’s eliminations begin at Noon ET.

SUNDAY’S FIRST ROUND OF ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Antron Brown, 3.682 seconds, 330.55 mph  vs. 16. Chris Karamesines, 4.213, 232.31; 2. Leah Pritchett, 3.698, 327.82  vs. 15. Scott Palmer, 3.929, 311.41; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.705, 326.71  vs. 14. Kebin Kinsley, 3.921, 311.85; 4. J.R. Todd, 3.723, 324.90  vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.911, 314.02; 5. Brittany Force, 3.727, 325.37  vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.835, 309.84; 6. Shawn Langdon, 3.729, 324.67  vs. 11. Larry Dixon, 3.767, 320.81; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.737, 327.43  vs. 10. Clay Millican, 3.746, 321.04; 8. Richie Crampton, 3.741, 322.42  vs. 9. Doug Kalitta, 3.745, 326.00.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Haddock, 6.365, 184.98.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.839, 332.02  vs. 16. Brandon Welch, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.040, 158.39; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.843, 333.66  vs. 15. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 4.035, 298.54; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.847, 325.06  vs. 14. John Hale, Charger, 4.032, 308.78; 4. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.851, 331.85  vs. 13. John Bojec, Toyota Camry, 3.988, 315.49; 5. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.854, 324.05  vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.952, 284.99; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.857, 327.98  vs. 11. Chad Head, Camry, 3.923, 328.06; 7. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.864, 323.81  vs. 10. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.919, 322.19; 8. John Force, Camaro, 3.867, 330.39 vs. 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.911, 322.65.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Todd Simpson, broke.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.568, 210.34  vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.775, 205.54; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.579, 210.11  vs. 15. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.748, 207.75; 3. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.586, 210.73  vs. 14. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.686, 207.24; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.591, 209.98  vs. 13. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.684, 207.72; 5. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.591, 209.39  vs. 12. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.648, 207.98; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.594, 210.34  vs. 11. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.641, 208.36; 7. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.610, 209.49  vs. 10. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.631, 208.46; 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.612, 209.26  vs. 9. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.614, 210.67.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.805, 197.31  vs. 16. Joe DeSantis, Suzuki, 6.961, 192.69; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.811, 195.90  vs. 15. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.947, 192.19; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.821, 195.76  vs. 14. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.935, 194.35; 4. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.853, 195.39  vs. 13. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.916, 194.91; 5. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.863, 194.60  vs. 12. Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.914, 191.02; 6. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.863, 195.79  vs. 11. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.905, 194.77; 7. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.868, 194.24  vs. 10. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.889, 193.99; 8. Cory Reed, Buell, 6.872, 192.96  vs. 9. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.879, 194.46.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Angie Smith, 6.986, 191.19; 18. John Hall, 7.011, 189.39; 19. Mike Berry, 7.044, 187.11; 20. David Hope, 7.113, 183.79; 21. Lance Bonham, 7.222, 183.49; 22. Gunner Courtney, 7.264, 184.95.

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Penske won’t discuss if Castroneves returns to Indy in 2020

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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INDIANAPOLIS – NBC Sports.com asked Indianapolis 500 winning team owner Roger Penske if three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves would return to the team in 2020?

Penske immediately brushed off the question.

“We’re not going to talk about that right now,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “I’m just not going to talk about it. We’re going to have a meeting about it before we decide, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

“Simon won the race and that is what I’m focused on right now.”

Simon Pagenaud, gave Penske a record-extending 18thIndy 500 win on Sunday. Penske confirmed that Pagenaud will be back with the team in 2020 after he scored his first win in Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500.

Castroneves was an NTT IndyCar Series regular at Team Penske from 2000 until the 2017 season. After that, Castroneves was shifted over to the team’s Acura IMSA Sports Car program, but the three-time Indy 500 winner was given a ride at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the past two years.

The popular driver from Brazil is trying to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners.

But the whispers in Gasoline Alley indicate his future with Team Penske at Indy remain uncertain.

“I’ve heard the rumors, too,” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com on pit lane after his disappointing finish in the Indy 500. “I will definitely give it a good, hard think about coming back in 2020. I want to be the rest of the season, here.”

But, will Castroneves run the Indy 500 again?

“Who knows?” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com. “Let’s see what happens.”

Castroneves’s bid for a fourth Indianapolis 500 was derailed in a pit road incident after his first pit stop when he ran into James Davison’s Chevrolet on the team’s first pit stop on Lap 30.

The front wing of Castroneves’s Chevrolet was damaged and INDYCAR officials gave him a “Drive Through” penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Castroneves would ultimate drop three laps down but finished one lap down in 18thplace.

Castroneves explained what happened to him earlier in the race and how it affected the rest of his Indy 500.

“The accident that happened in the pits hurt us for sure,” Castroneves explained. “We had a problem with the fuel mapping, and I couldn’t go over 200 miles an hour for four or five laps. We lost 35 seconds. There was a bug in the system.

“Then, we went back out and that was it. I wasn’t able to recoup after that. I was excited. The car was very, very good entering the race.”

Castroneves spoke with second-place finisher Alexander Rossi, who was furious with the driver from Brazil earlier in the race for not moving out of the way, even though he was three laps down at the time.

The two drivers hugged, and Castroneves walked back up pit lane.

“I did what the team told me to do, and they told me to go as fast as I could,” Castroneves explained after talking to Rossi. “It’s racing and everybody is upset they didn’t win.”

Castroneves hopes his walk up pit lane is not the final time as an Indy 500 competitor.

But it could be.

“I hope I can come back next year,” Castroneves said. “I’m really upset as a competitor, but extremely happy for Team Penske and for Simon Pagenaud for winning the race.

“The good news is I go back to the Acura sports car, but I will be dreaming about coming back here again.”