NHRA: Watch Courtney Force walk away from huge explosion – and still qualifies No. 1!

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Courtney Force walked away uninjured following a massive explosion of her Funny Car Friday during Friday’s opening round of qualifying for the NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, New Hampshire.

Force was in the left lane against “Fast Jack” Beckman and crossed the finish line first at a top qualifying speed of 331.53 mph, a new track record and an elapsed time of 3.842 seconds.

Suddenly, her car exploded (see video above) and ended up against the left wall. She hopped out of the car and was met quickly by NHRA’s safety crew.

The daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force then returned to the track for a second round qualifying effort with a backup car and new motor. But she suffered more problems as her car shut off after leaving the starting line and coasted to a stop about 300 feet down the track.

Her car was pushed back to the pits, where her team will likely have a long night of repairs ahead of Saturday’s two final rounds of qualifying.

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”