Photo/vidoes courtesy NHRA

NHRA Brainerd winners: Leah Pritchett, Alexis DeJoria, Tanner Gray, Jerry Savoie

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Things got a lot tighter points-wise in all four NHRA pro classes Sunday at the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd (Minnesota) International Raceway.

Just one race remains for teams to qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs: the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis from Aug. 30 – Sept. 4, the biggest race of the season.

It was definitely Ladies Day in Sunday’s final eliminations, as Leah Pritchett won Top Fuel and Alexis DeJoria captured Funny Car.

Also winning in the 17th of 24 NHRA national events this season were Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Here’s how things played out in the Land of 10,000 Lakes:

TOP FUEL: Pritchett recorded the quickest pass in Top Fuel history (3.640 seconds at 330.63 mph) Friday night to become the No. 1 qualifier.

She then capped off the outstanding weekend by earning her fourth win of the season (3.682 seconds at 328.06 mph), defeating defending Top Fuel champ and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown (4.001 seconds, 246.35 mph).

“I really like that these numbers and (the team’s) work ethic and consistency really backs it up when I say we have the best team because we have the best hot rod,” Pruett said. “We’re going to enjoy this win.”

All was not lost for Brown, who reached his fifth consecutive final round and regained the lead in the Top Fuel point standings from Steve Torrence.

FUNNY CAR: DeJoria, who missed several races both last season and also earlier this season, earned her first win of 2017 and the fifth of her career.

DeJoria (3.906 seconds at 330.06 mph) defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.933 seconds at 324.44 mph).

She also earned the 250th national event race win by a female driver in NHRA history.

“The last two years have been really difficult,” DeJoria said. “Lots of ups and downs, injuries, no wins, we just couldn’t get up to speed with everybody else.

“We were fighting so hard out there and you start to lose yourself in it. You start to forget the love that you had in the beginning. It’s times like those that make this so much better. You really appreciate every moment. This is a huge win for us.”

PRO STOCK: Gray continues to impress in his rookie season, earning his fourth win of 2017.

The third-generation racer (6.610 seconds at 208.04 mph) defeated points leader Bo Butner (6.629 seconds at 207.85 mph) to grab the close victory.

Despite the loss, Butner has already locked himself into the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Countdown.

“I’m not sure what my team has done but they’ve got a handle on this car the last few races,” Gray said. “They got something going right for them over there. They’re making my job a whole lot easier and I’m just blessed to be able to sit in the driver’s seat.”

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: In a final round battle of teammates, reigning PSM champ Jerry Savoie earned his second win of the season (6.846 seconds at 194.80 mph) over LE Tonglet (6.910 seconds at 194.02 mph).

“The season has been really good,” Savoie said. “I’ve had some misfortune a couple times and my riding hasn’t been like it should be.

“LE is solid as a rock so when you beat him it’s pretty rewarding. He’s taught me a lot and I’ve taught him some things and we thrive off each other. We bring out the best in each other and that’s what it takes to win races.”

Despite the loss, Tonglet, who has five wins this season, remains No. 1 in the PSM standings.

The NHRA enjoys next weekend off before heading to the U.S. Nationals.

Here’s the final statistics from Brainerd:

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett; 2. Antron Brown; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Brittany Force; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7. Tony Schumacher; 8. Scott Palmer; 9. Shawn Langdon; 10. Chris Karamesines; 11. Terry Haddock; 12. Terry McMillen; 13. Rob Passey; 14. Steven Chrisman; 15. Luigi Novelli; 16. Troy Coughlin Jr.

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

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

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. LE Tonglet; 3. Andrew Hines; 4. Matt Smith; 5. Eddie Krawiec; 6. Hector Arana Jr; 7. Cory Reed; 8. Angie Smith; 9. Joey Gladstone; 10. Karen Stoffer; 11. Scotty Pollacheck; 12. Mike Berry; 13. Jim Underdahl; 14. Freddie Camarena; 15. Angelle Sampey; 16. Steve Johnson.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Leah Pritchett, 3.682 seconds, 328.06 mph def. Antron Brown, 4.001 seconds, 246.35 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.906, 330.96 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.933, 324.44.

PRO STOCK: Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.610, 208.04 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.629, 207.85.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.846, 194.80 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.910, 194.02.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Antron Brown, 3.695, 331.77 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.734, 318.62; Clay Millican, 3.655, 330.23 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.261, 221.67; Leah Pritchett, 3.709, 325.30 def. Rob Passey, 4.321, 247.75; Brittany Force, 3.728, 327.03 def. Steven Chrisman, Foul – Red Light; Doug Kalitta, 3.697, 328.54 def. Terry Haddock, 4.267, 226.92; Tony Schumacher, 3.711, 324.67 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., 16.216, 22.28; Steve Torrence, 3.726, 328.62 def. Luigi Novelli, 6.418, 98.82; Scott Palmer, 3.787, 327.90 def. Terry McMillen, 4.302, 194.69;

QUARTERFINALS — Pritchett, 3.715, 330.63 def. Palmer, 3.906, 257.48; Millican, 3.658, 330.47 def. Schumacher, 3.718, 327.66; Brown, 3.681, 332.43 def. Force, 3.675, 332.75; Torrence, 3.723, 328.30 def. Kalitta, 3.709, 332.10;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.706, 331.61 def. Torrence, 3.726, 323.19; Pritchett, 3.666, 330.88 def. Millican, 3.792, 263.00;

FINAL — Pritchett, 3.682, 328.06 def. Brown, 4.001, 246.35.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.862, 334.90 def. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.808, 195.11; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.850, 331.45 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.168, 258.32; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 5.714, 128.92 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, Broke; John Force, Camaro, 3.901, 333.25 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, Broke; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.922, 328.86 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 7.147, 106.26; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.290, 207.56 def. Brian Stewart, Ford Mustang, Foul – Red Light; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.416, 210.05 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.650, 271.13; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.894, 330.96 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.973, 323.35;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.932, 326.48 def. C. Force, 8.099, 84.74; Hight, 3.828, 336.23 def. Capps, 3.938, 304.80; J. Force, 3.896, 335.48 def. Beckman, 9.505, 72.67; DeJoria, 3.883, 330.96 def. Pedregon, 4.505, 192.47;

SEMIFINALS — DeJoria, 3.892, 329.02 def. J. Force, 3.909, 331.94; Johnson Jr., 6.875, 128.60 def. Hight, 9.806, 78.40;

FINAL — DeJoria, 3.906, 330.96 def. Johnson Jr., 3.933, 324.44.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.659, 207.78 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.657, 207.66; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.634, 207.05 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.965, 165.42; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.588, 209.20 def. Deric Kramer, Dodge Dart, 6.691, 206.48; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.614, 208.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.855, 198.79; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.641, 207.11 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, Broke; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.601, 207.69 was unopposed; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.623, 207.43 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.976, 196.90; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.621, 207.75 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.704, 205.51;

QUARTERFINALS — Butner, 6.619, 207.50 def. S. Gray, 6.665, 207.11; Line, 6.624, 207.27 def. Skillman, 6.628, 208.20; T. Gray, 6.620, 207.46 def. Enders, 6.648, 207.66; Anderson, 6.594, 208.30 def. Johnson, 6.628, 207.21;

SEMIFINALS — T. Gray, 6.620, 207.56 def. Line, 7.140, 159.89; Butner, 6.642, 207.37 def. Anderson, Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — T. Gray, 6.610, 208.04 def. Butner, 6.629, 207.85.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.881, 192.85 def. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.026, 190.48; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.929, 195.90 def. Angelle Sampey, 8.326, 107.91; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.864, 194.66 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, Foul – Red Light; Angie Smith, Buell, 6.935, 193.29 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.942, 192.58; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.883, 194.91 def. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.939, 193.60; Cory Reed, 6.944, 190.03 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.960, 191.54; Matt Smith, 6.859, 194.55 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.104, 189.98; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.893, 194.49 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.079, 190.46;

QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.845, 192.77 def. A. Smith, 7.001, 190.62; Hines, 6.918, 195.31 def. Arana Jr, 6.919, 194.24; Tonglet, 6.850, 194.77 def. Reed, 6.961, 190.00; M. Smith, 6.884, 194.21 def. Krawiec, 6.894, 194.18;

SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.869, 194.66 def. M. Smith, 9.011, 97.00; Tonglet, 6.869, 194.63 def. Hines, 6.952, 195.79;

FINAL — Savoie, 6.846, 194.80 def. Tonglet, 6.910, 194.02.

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UPDATED DRIVER STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Antron Brown, 1,513; 2. Steve Torrence, 1,482; 3. Leah Pritchett, 1,453; 4. Tony Schumacher, 1,121; 5. Brittany Force, 1,052; 6. Doug Kalitta, 1,038; 7. Clay Millican, 1,014; 8. Terry McMillen, 722; 9. Scott Palmer, 649; 10. Troy Coughlin Jr., 576.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps, 1,383; 2. Robert Hight, 1,247; 3. Matt Hagan, 1,214; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 1,180; 5. Jack Beckman, 1,160; 6. Courtney Force, 1,012; 7. John Force, 954; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 792; 9. J.R. Todd, 788; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 664.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner, 1,526; 2. Tanner Gray, 1,300; 3. Greg Anderson, 1,263; 4. Jason Line, 1,123; 5. Drew Skillman, 1,089; 6. Erica Enders, 1,044; 7. Jeg Coughlin, 1,006; 8. Vincent Nobile, 899; 9. Allen Johnson, 657; 10. Chris McGaha, 645.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. LE Tonglet, 874; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 690; 3. Jerry Savoie, 655; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 632; 5. Matt Smith, 581; 6. Andrew Hines, 529; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 528; 8. Joey Gladstone, 427; 9. Karen Stoffer, 408; 10. Angie Smith, 394.

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Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”