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Rookie Robert Wickens takes St. Petersburg pole for first career IndyCar race

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Oh, Canada!

Rookie driver and Canadian native Robert Wickens overcame rain and slick track conditions during Saturday’s qualifying for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the season-opening event for the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Entered into the first IndyCar race of his career and first qualifying effort, Wickens, grabbed the pole on the last lap of qualifying for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and will start from the front after an effort of 1:01.6643.

Rookie Robert Wickens will start Sunday’s IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from the pole.

“I’m a little speechless,” Wickens said. “My goal going into today was to make top 10. It was tough … but we kept our cool, made changes for the wet and we got it. I’m super happy. I hope we can take this pole position tomorrow and get a good result.”

Added Wickens’ teammate, James Hinchcliffe, “I knew he could do it. This kid’s got talent. He proved the car’s quick. It’s the first pole of his first career in his first race. It’s just awesome. I’m real happy.”

Wickens is one of three rookies to make the Firestone Fast Six.

Will Power will start second (1:01.7346), followed by rookie Matheus Leist (1:01.7631), rookie Jordan King (1:01.7633), Takuma Sato (1:01.8821) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (1:02.0385).

“It was really unpredictable, especially the way the paint was so slippery in Turn 1,” Power said of the qualifying conditions.

Added Leist: “That’s awesome. It’s a dream come true for me. First IndyCar race, first IndyCar season. I’m so happy. The A.J. Foyt team did a great job and I’m really, really happy.”

Here’s the full final qualifying grid:

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Qualifying Notes:

* Rookie Jordan King broke Will Power’s old track record (1:00.0658) with a run of 1:00.0476 in Round 1.

* Drivers that advanced from Round 1 to Round 2 in Group 1 were:

Jordan King: 1:00.0476
Alexander Rossi: 1:00.0936
Robert Wickens: 1:00.0999
Tony Kanaan: 1:00.2828
Simon Pagenaud: 1:00.3242
Ryan Hunter-Reay: 1:00.4087

* Those that did not advance to Round 2 from Group 1 were: Josef Newgarden, Zach Veach, Ed Jones, Jack Harvey, Charlie Kimball, Rene Binder

* Drivers that advanced from Round 1 to Round 2 in Group 2 of qualifying were:

Will Power 1:00.5969
Mattheus Leist 1:00.6331
Scott Dixon 1:00.8435
James Hinchcliffe 1:00.8441
Gabby Chaves 1:00.8507
Takuma Sato 1:00.9580

* Those that did not advance to Round 2 from Group 2 were: Spencer Pigot, Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais (who started 21st and last one year ago, but then rallied to win), Graham Rahal, Max Chilton and Zachary Claman De Melo.

* In the second round of qualifying, Wickens was quickest (1:00.5428), followed by Will Power (1:00.5911), Ryan Hunter Reay, Jordan King (1:00.7305), Matheus Leist (1:00.7679) and Takuma Sato (1:00.8470).

* Failing to make the Firestone Fast Six were: Alexander Rossi (due to penalty), James Hinchcliffe, Gabby Chaves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud.

* It was somewhat surprising that Team Penske had just one driver in the top 12 (Power), while Chip Ganassi Racing also only had one (Dixon).

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There were several incidents of note throughout all three rounds of qualifying:

* Rain began to fall slightly during Group 2’s qualifying session, but it quickly stopped. However, it appeared Graham Rahal’s loop around in Turn 10 may have been due to the sprinkles.

* Rain returned a few moments later with a slight mist as the Fast 12 second round of qualifying got underway.

* Spencer Pigot and Marco Andretti were involved in an incident that Race Control was reviewing.

* Takuma Sato looped his car around in Turn 2 with about 2:45 left in the Fast 12 round of qualifying.

* Just a few moments later, Scott Dixon had to get on the brakes hard in Turn 2, but managed to keep going. Ditto for Simon Pagenaud, who spun on three consecutive laps while fighting to get into the Fast Six, costing him a chance to advance. It also brought out a red flag to end the session slightly early.

* In the Firestone Fast Six battle to earn the pole, just after Will Power almost lost it on the front stretch, Ryan Hunter Reay slid coming into Turn 1, followed by Jordan King and Takuma Sato.

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Here’s some selected driver quotes about qualifying:

James Hinchcliffe: “It went away quick (said of the conditions once the drizzle began). Once the paint gets wet, it gets incredibly slippery and we saw so many cars going off there in Turn 1. Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug. I’m happy Robby made it in, which is good for the team.”

Scott Dixon: “I guess we probably thought it was going to get drier as that session went on. It’s extremely slippery. We just misread it there. We were fast, quickest this morning, have good speed in the car. … We came here to win. I think the car is fast enough. We just have to see how we race.”

Gabby Chaves: “I would say we’re pretty happy, looking at where we started in practice yesterday. We took it very calmly, looked at the data, made the right changes and improved the car so much. … We knew with a little bit of luck and the right changes that we could make the final group and we did.”

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NHRA Bristol: Schumacher, Capps, Coughlin Jr. take home wins

Tony Schumacher, from left, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Ron Capps. Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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You’ve heard of classic rock, right?

Well, Sunday’s 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tennessee) Dragway was classic drag racing – old school style, you might say.

Drivers who have combined for 14 national championships between them emerged at the top of the heap, with eight-time champ Tony Schumacher taking Top Fuel honors, former champ Ron Capps took Funny Car honors and five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. grabbing Pro Stock honors.

In Top Fuel, Schumacher earned his sixth career win at Thunder Valley, as well as his first win overall of 2018.

Known as “The Sarge” due to his U.S. Army sponsorship, Schumacher marched through the field to reach the Winner’s Circle.

Schumacher (3.946 seconds at 313.58 mph) defeated Mike Salinas in what would prove to be Schumacher’s third final round of the season and the 150th of his career.

He now is 6-2 in career final round showings at Thunder Valley.

“We have had little things bite us this season, but we knew we had to overcome adversity and we knew we had a great car that was capable of winning,” Schumacher said. “I’m proud of my team for sticking to our plan, and I know our team is going to be a factor for the rest of the season.”

Schumacher was the No. 2 qualifier in the race and defeated Terry McMillen, Pat Dakin, points leader Steve Torrence and Salinas to take the win.

It was the first runner-up finish of Salinas’ career, defeating Leah Pritchett, No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican and Scott Palmer before meeting Schumacher in the final.

In Funny Car, like Schumacher, Capps won for the first time this season on the NHRA national event circuit. It was also his second consecutive win at Bristol, having won last year’s event there.

Capps earned the 59th win of his career with a pass of 4.234 seconds at 296.37 mph, defeating Bob Tasca III.

Capps also earned Don Schumacher his 300th career nitro victory as a team owner.

“This is a great facility, and when you roll into this place you get a special feeling,” Capps said. “Getting to the Winner’s Circle at a track like this is even more special because you feel like you really had to earn it, and this weekend I am proud of what my team accomplished in some tough conditions.”

Capps went to the top of the Funny Car mountain starting from the No. 11 qualifying position, defeating 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, 2017 Funny Car national champ Robert and J.R. Todd before defeating Tasca in the final round.

Capps qualified 11th for the event before defeating John Force, defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight and J.R. Todd on his path to Winner’s Circle.

Tasca was the No. 4 qualifier and defeated Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and points leader Courtney Force to reach his first final round since at Seattle in 2013.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin earned his second win in the last three races. It took an effort of 6.709 seconds at 205.10 mph to defeat points leader Greg Anderson in the final round.

“My team has made some transitions this season and now we are running much faster, and it feels pretty great to be on the right track now this season,” Coughlin Jr. said. “Winning at Thunder Valley is historic and it feels fantastic, so to be crowned a champion here is really special.”

Coughlin qualified No. 2 and beat Tommy Lee, Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman en route to overtaking Anderson in the final round.

Anderson now has two runner-up finishes this season, but continues to seek his first win of 2018.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule moves on to its 12th race of the season – the halfway mark of the 2018 campaign – next weekend at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, from June 21-24.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher; 2. Mike Salinas; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Scott Palmer; 5. Pat Dakin; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Brittany Force; 10. Leah Pritchett; 11. Shawn Reed; 12. Richie Crampton; 13. Dom Lagana; 14. Bill Litton; 15. Terry Totten; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. Courtney Force; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. Robert Hight; 6. Jack Beckman; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8. Cruz Pedregon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Del Worsham; 11. Jonnie Lindberg; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Jim Campbell; 14. Matt Hagan; 15. John Force; 16. Jeff Diehl.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Greg Anderson; 3. Tanner Gray; 4. Drew Skillman; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Tim Freeman; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Jason Line; 10. Bo Butner; 11. Alex Laughlin; 12. John Gaydosh Jr.; 13. Wally Stroupe; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Deric Kramer; 16. Tommy Lee.

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SUNDAY’S FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Tony Schumacher, 3.946 seconds, 313.58 mph def. Mike Salinas, 5.251 seconds, 152.18 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.234, 296.37 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.709, 205.10 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.741, 205.07.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Mike Salinas, 4.023, 295.53 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.011, 287.72; Scott Palmer, 4.017, 304.39 def. Bill Litton, 4.172, 261.07; Clay Millican, 4.018, 295.14 def. Terry Totten, 4.542, 182.58; Tony Schumacher, 3.917, 316.82 def. Terry McMillen, 5.112, 141.40; Antron Brown, 3.897, 316.82 def. Richie Crampton, 4.057, 297.22; Doug Kalitta, 3.998, 286.38 def. Brittany Force, 3.942, 307.51; Steve Torrence, 3.970, 303.71 def. Shawn Reed, 4.018, 283.25; Pat Dakin, 4.015, 307.30 def. Dom Lagana, 4.107, 272.12; QUARTERFINALS — Salinas, 4.035, 299.20 def. Millican, 9.938, 76.57; Palmer, 4.067, 302.41 def. Kalitta, 4.292, 230.92; Schumacher, 4.028, 288.64 def. Dakin, 4.041, 298.14; Torrence, 4.232, 253.33 def. Brown, 5.090, 155.65; SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 4.042, 301.07 def. Palmer, 4.356, 211.89; Schumacher, 4.038, 297.02 def. Torrence, 4.104, 254.04; FINAL — Schumacher, 3.946, 313.58 def. Salinas, 5.251, 152.18.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.757, 227.23 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 5.978, 124.51; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.169, 307.65 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.382, 262.18; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.213, 300.26 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.362, 252.61; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.133, 303.09 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.183, 289.82; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.582, 229.00 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 5.030, 159.02; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.243, 296.37 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.824, 128.57; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.283, 281.30 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.569, 266.37; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.253, 291.26 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.381, 142.06; QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 4.197, 298.14 def. Johnson Jr., 5.139, 158.45; Tasca III, 4.233, 292.90 def. Pedregon, 5.757, 126.33; Todd, 4.203, 295.92 def. Beckman, 4.333, 277.49; Capps, 4.208, 299.33 def. Hight, 4.233, 300.73; SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.242, 298.93 def. Todd, 4.372, 285.65; Tasca III, 4.219, 298.60 def. C. Force, 4.271, 286.62; FINAL — Capps, 4.234, 296.37 def. Tasca III, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.739, 204.45 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.776, 204.45; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.736, 205.32 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.729, 204.88 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.726, 203.95; Tim Freeman, Camaro, 6.787, 202.58 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.823, 201.94; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.754, 205.13 def. John Gaydosh Jr., Chevrolet Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.715, 204.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 9.845, 93.14; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.716, 204.35 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.027, 176.70; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.719, 205.10 def. Tommy Lee, Camaro, Broke – No Show; QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.789, 204.94 def. Freeman, Foul – Red Light; Coughlin, 6.740, 205.26 def. McGaha, 16.733, 48.09; Anderson, 6.723, 204.73 def. Nobile, 6.755, 204.29; Skillman, 6.727, 203.98 def. Enders, 6.743, 204.54; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.750, 204.51 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light; Anderson, 6.768, 204.91 def. Gray, 6.764, 205.19; FINAL — Coughlin, 6.709, 205.10 def. Anderson, 6.741, 205.07.

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UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 896; 2. Clay Millican, 786; 3. Tony Schumacher, 760; 4. Doug Kalitta, 717; 5. Leah Pritchett, 663; 6. Antron Brown, 588; 7. (tie) Brittany Force, 552; Terry McMillen, 552; 9. Scott Palmer, 461; 10. Mike Salinas, 421.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 937; 2. Jack Beckman, 736; 3. Robert Hight, 717; 4. J.R. Todd, 694; 5. Ron Capps, 693; 6. Matt Hagan, 669; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 606; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 508; 9. John Force, 502; 10. Bob Tasca III, 500.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 823; 2. Tanner Gray, 768; 3. Vincent Nobile, 758; 4. Erica Enders, 738; 5. Drew Skillman, 679; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 671; 7. Chris McGaha, 659; 8. Bo Butner, 642; 9. Deric Kramer, 627; 10. Jason Line, 569.

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