(Photos courtesy NHRA)

2016 NHRA season in review: 16-time Funny Car champ John Force

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MotorSportsTalk wishes you a Merry Christmas as we continue our season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Through Jan. 4 (we started this series on Dec. 12), we will feature a daily in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five  in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, our Christmas present to you is the 2016 season in review of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force:

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Driver: John Force

Age: 67

Hometown: Yorba Linda, California

Team: John Force Racing

Sponsor/car: Peak Chevrolet Camaro SS

Crew chief: Jon Schaffer

2016 season statistics: Finished 4th in Funny Car; 24 races, 4 wins, 2 runner-up, 3 semifinals, 5 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier zero times. Round-by-round record: 33 wins, 20 losses.

Career statistics: 708 races, 147 wins, 100 runner-up, 113 semifinals, 153 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 154 times. Round-by-round record: 1,263 wins, 543 losses. 18 DNQ. 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion (1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2013).

What went right in 2016: Force earned four wins, most in a season since he won four in 2013, when he captured his 16th and most recent Funny Car championship. … Reached the final round in three of the six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, including wins at Charlotte 2 and Las Vegas (beat daughter Courtney Force in the final round). Lost to Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round of the season finale at Pomona.

What went wrong in 2016: While the ageless Force showed he’s still one of the most successful and toughest drivers to beat on the Funny Car circuit, he was haunted by 10 first-round losses – nearly half of the 24-race season – including three straight (Seattle, Brainerd and Indianapolis), as well as back-to-back first-round losses in the Countdown (Reading and Dallas). Had Force cut down on the number of first-round exits, he had the potential to win a 17th championship.

What to look for in 2017: Force is rumored to be getting the old band back together: although no official announcement has been made yet, he will reportedly have a number of old faces back with John Force Racing in 2017, including crew chiefs John Medlen and Jimmy Prock. That could be just the thing Force needs to get him over the hump and win title No. 17. Force still has hopes of winning 20 championships in his career, and 2017 has the potential to allow him to move one title closer to that ultimate goal.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.