INDYCAR: Alexander Rossi dominates, holds off Will Power to win Long Beach GP

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Alexander Rossi and his NAPA Honda dominated from start to finish to win Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Starting from the pole, Rossi led 71 of the 85 laps to earn his first win of 2018 and the third of his career, behind the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and Watkins Glen last season.

“I can’t really put into words how good the car was all weekend,” Rossi told NBCSN. “I think we proved that and I’m just so glad we were able to capitalize on that and nothing crazy happened.

“When the car’s that good, I don’t have to work so hard.”

Rossi, who won in his home state (he’s a native of Auburn, California, near Sacramento), finished with an average speed of 88.622 mph, taking the checkered flag with a 1.2413 second margin over runner-up Will Power.

“This is kind of like our second home race (Sonoma is his first home track),” Rossi said. “We had a lot of people here. It was really cool to be able to get them the result.

“They didn’t get to see me race in Europe, so the fact they’re here and we were able to get redemption on last year (engine failure relegated him to a 19th-place finish at Long Beach) is really special. I’m really happy.”

Rossi also takes a 22-point lead atop the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with his win.

Power gave the strongest challenge of any driver in the race to Rossi, using push-to-pass several times in the last 10 laps, but could not get enough to pass Rossi.

“They were definitely very good,” Power said. “That was absolutely driving as hard as I could go, and I’m sure that was as hard as (Rossi) could go, too.”

Second-year IndyCar driver Ed Jones of Chip Ganassi Racing finished third, followed by Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate, Zack Veach and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal.

It was Jones’ second podium in his brief IndyCar career. He finished third in last year’s Indianapolis 500.

“It’s great to be back up on the podium,” Jones told NBCSN. “Hopefully, this is the start of many.

“Long Beach has been good to me. I won here in Indy Lights, was sixth in IndyCar last year and third today. It’s been a good track for me and hopefully next year it’ll be a win for me.”

Veach was the highest-finishing rookie with his best IndyCar finish, including his first top-five and top-10.

“I’m just so thankful, this feels like a win,” Veach told NBCSN. “Our qualifying pace hasn’t been what we want it to be. It’s just putting that lap together is so tough in these things. I feel like once we got into the race, things started to flow our way.

“To be fourth in my fifth ever IndyCar race; hopefully we can get on the podium at Barber (next race, April 22) and keep going up from there.”

Sixth through 10th were Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti, Phoenix winner and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan of A.J. Foyt Racing, defending Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Charlie Kimball of Carlin Racing.

 

IN-RACE NOTES:

* On the first lap, heading into Turn 1, Graham Rahal got into the rear of Simon Pagenaud, appearing to break the rear suspension and ending his day. Rahal was given a drive-through penalty for the incident.

“It seemed like, felt like he never broke,” Pagenaud told NBCSN about Rahal. “It’s a real shame. It could be very costly in the championship.

“I don’t know what else we could have done. It’s on to the next one. I had a car to win the race. I don’t think anything is going to solve my pain, so it is what it is.”

Rahal tweeted an apology to Pagenaud after the race:

* Ryan Hunter-Reay also got some residual damage after his right front wing clipped the left rear tire of Scott Dixon when the field bunched together to avoid Pagenaud and Rahal. Hunter-Reay came back into the pits on the following lap to change the front wing.

Later, on Lap 47, Hunter-Reay suffered a flat left rear tie after touching tires with Jordan King. He was forced to pull aside and let the field go past as he limped his way to pit road.

* Robert Wickens, who came close to wins in the first two races, experienced gearbox problems after 25 laps, causing him to pit twice to make repairs, ending his hopes of potentially getting a win today.

* Kyle Kaiser added to his weekend woes when he stopped in Turn 8 on Lap 42. He actually was two laps down at the time of the incident.

* On Lap 60, rookie Zachary Claman De Melo wrecked, bringing out the caution.

* With about 22 laps to go, rookie Jordan King – who was on track for a potential top-five finish – had to pit to bleed the brakes on his car because he was having stopping issues.

* Scott Dixon had worked his way up to second place, but was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for stopping on pit road for service before he was allowed to do so under De Melo’s caution.

* On Lap 71, Sebastien Bourdais, Hunter-Reay, King and Wickens were involved in the fourth caution of the race. King made a rookie mistake by trying to squeeze past Bourdais on the inside of the hairpin turn and spun him, collecting Hunter-Reay and Wickens in the process. Everyone was able to get going except Wickens, who couldn’t get his car restarted.

* With 8 laps to go, Hunter-Reay’s rough weekend continued as he hit the wall, breaking a wing and damaging his suspension.

PRE-RACE NOTES:

* Coming into Sunday’s race, there had been different winners in the last six races at Long Beach.

* Scott Pruett, who retired from racing after this year’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, was grand marshal of the race and gave the command to start engines. And true to the form he became famous for in his career, he made sure to say “hi to my family back home” before giving the command.

* While this was the 44th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, it was the first without legendary racer Dan Gurney, who passed away in January at the age of 86. Gurney and promoter Chris Pook joined forces in 1973 to convince Long Beach officials to hold a race on the city’s streets along its ocean side. The Long Beach GP has gone on to be arguably the second most-popular IndyCar race in the U.S., next to the Indianapolis 500.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

2019 NHRA champions: Hight, Torrence, Enders, Hines

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Robert Hight further cemented himself as one of drag racing’s all-time greats when he clinched his third career NHRA Funny Car championship in Sunday’s Auto Club NHRA Finals in Ponoma, California.

Having previously won the Funny Car title in 2009 and 2017, Hight is well-aware of what it feels like to be crowned the champion. But make no mistake, for Hight, winning title No. 3 is just as fun as winning the first one.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Hight told NBC Sports. “I honestly feel that this is probably the most special championship that I’ve won, because of how we performed all year long. From start to finish, we’ve had the best car, and we just had consistency and really did well all year long.”

Indeed, Hight was incredibly consistent in 2019, most notably during the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, which he led from start to finish.

With his third title forever enshrined in the NHRA record books, Hight – who has 52 career Funny Car victories – has now joined a very special club featuring some of the best racers in NHRA history.

“It’s pretty cool to me that now I’m in a pretty elite group with more than two championships. Kenny Bernstein, Raymond Beadle, John Force, and Don Prudhomme are the only ones with more than two. It’s still hard for me to wrap my arms around that my name is on that list. It’s pretty amazing.”

Of course, Hight wasn’t the only driver to celebrate in the winner’s circle Sunday. He was also joined by Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, Pro Stock champ Erica Enders, and Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Andrew Hines.

Let’s break down each of the four pro classes from Sunday’s finals:

In Funny Car: The final round of the afternoon may have not gone exactly as planned for Hight, as his Auto Club Camaro quit on him during his burnout, handing the victory to Jack Beckman.

Beckman’s 3.920-second, 323.27-mph solo pass effortlessly gave the 2012 Funny Car champion his second and final victory of the 2019 season.

But for Hight, winning the final race of the 2019 season wasn’t a big deal; he had already done everything he needed to clinch his second title in three seasons with his win over Matt Hagan in the semifinals.

Although Hight had already been crowned World Champion twice prior, the California native had never won the title in such dominant fashion as he did in 2019.

 

“This is a dream year for me,” Hight said. “I’ve had years where I led all year and we lost in the Countdown. I’ve had years where we were terrible until we got to the Countdown and we ended up winning a championship. I think the results have showed from start to finish. This is what I’ve dreamed about, having a year where you’ve got the most wins and you’ve been in the lead all year.”

In Top Fuel: Another year meant another dominant performance by Torrence, who won his second consecutive Top Fuel title despite losing to Richie Crampton in the semifinals. Torrence entered the final race weekend of the year with a narrow lead over Brittany Force in the Top Fuel standings, whom he beat 3.74 to 3.77 in the second round of eliminations.

After defeating the 2017 champion, all Torrence needed to do was not cross the centerline in his semifinal versus Crampton to mathematically clinch the title, a task he easily accomplished.

“It’s been really special to be part of a team like ours; it’s not the driver who really does anything,” Torrence said. “The guys who work on this car – Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana, and the rest of the Capco boys – are the ones who deserve all of the credit.

“It’s special to win one championship but to be able to win two and do it back to back, I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Though it was all smiles for Torrence following the conclusion of Sunday’s racing action, the 36-year-old Texan was visibly upset following his round one victory over Cameron Ferre.

Torrence took offense at the way Ferre staged his dragster prior to the round, and shoved Ferre in the face when both drivers excited their cars following the run.

Following his round two victory over Force, Torrence apologized for his actions.

“I had to get my head out of my butt,” Torrence said. “I apologize to each and every fan out there, everybody who has supported me. I got to go find Cameron and apologize to him.

“Tensions are high, and there’s a lot of crap going on. I’ve been in his shoes where you go up there to win and you might not have the best car but you do everything you can on the starting line. With everything going on – and racing for the kid at home who lost his life – there’s no excuse to act that way. I apologize. I’m grateful for the team, and it kind of just soils the day. I’m sorry to every one of you guys.”

In the final Top Fuel round of the day, Doug Kalitta defeated Crampton to collect his third victory of the season, and his 47th overall. Kalitta ended the season second to Torrence in the overall points standings.

“It was a fun day for sure,” Kalitta said. “I was really proud of the effort we put in today but three rounds was tough to make up, but we gave it all we could, so, obviously, it’s still on my list to win a championship.

“There are a lot of people who would love to see me win a championship and I would love nothing more than to get it done.”

In Pro Stock: By defeating Chris McGaha in the second round of Pro Stock eliminations, Enders won her third career Pro Stock title, and first since 2015.

But to get to the second round, Enders first had to defeat Greg Anderson, who strategically qualified 15th so he could face her in the first round in attempt to help his K.B. Racing teammates Jason Line and Bo Butner with their championship chances.

But despite having a quicker reaction time at the line, Anderson was defeated by Enders at the quarter mile mark, as she quickly shifted through the gears to beat Anderson at the finish line.

“The first one was just epic in the fashion that we did it,” Enders said. “The second one we knocked them out before Vegas was over. This one symbolizes a lot because of what my team has gone through and what I’ve gone through personally. Obviously the other championships meant a lot to me, too, but this one is special.”

In the class finals, Jeg Coughlin defeated Fernando Cuadra by 0.33-second to collect his second and final victory of 2019. Coughlin finished second overall in the point standings.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hines’ hopes of winning a sixth championship were placed in limbo when the Hoosier fouled out in his first round. But luckily for Hines, title challengers Jerry Savoie and Matt Smith were unable to win the event, with both being defeated by eventual winner Jianna Salinas. 

It was the first career win for the 22-year-old rookie, and it came in her first final round.

Thus, Hines was able to maintain his point lead and win his first title since 2015. 

“This is a day that will live in fear for me for I don’t know how long,” said Hines after finally being declared the champion. “In the first round, I pulled a maneuver that I’ve done too many times in the past when I rolled backward out of the beams. I can’t thank my team enough for supporting me all day long. My Harley-Davidson team, that’s what they do best. I was so disappointed in what I did today, but we persevered all year to get those Mello Yello points and win the championship. I love my guys, and I love everything about this.”

The 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will kick off with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Feb. 6-9 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL:
1. Doug Kalitta; 2. Richie Crampton; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Leah Pritchett; 5. Brittany Force; 6. Shawn Reed; 7. Justin Ashley; 8. Jordan Vandergriff; 9. Scott Palmer; 10. Cameron Ferre; 11. Austin Prock; 12. Billy Torrence; 13. Clay Millican; 14. Terry McMillen; 15. Antron Brown; 16. Mike Salinas.
FUNNY CAR:
1. Jack Beckman; 2. Robert Hight; 3. Matt Hagan; 4. Blake Alexander; 5. Shawn Langdon; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Steven Densham; 8. Ron Capps; 9. Cruz Pedregon; 10. Bob Tasca III; 11. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 12. Jonnie Lindberg; 13. John Force; 14. Jeff Arend; 15. Tim Wilkerson; 16. John Hale.
PRO STOCK:
1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Fernando Cuadra; 3. Bo Butner; 4. Erica Enders; 5. Chris McGaha; 6. Aaron Stanfield; 7. Jason Line; 8. Steve Graham; 9. Greg Anderson; 10. Alex Laughlin; 11. Deric Kramer; 12. Matt Hartford; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Joey Grose; 15. Kenny Delco; 16. Val Smeland.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:
1. Jianna Salinas; 2. Jerry Savoie; 3. Karen Stoffer; 4. Matt Smith; 5. Angelle Sampey; 6. Ryan Oehler; 7. Hector Arana Jr; 8. Steve Johnson; 9. Eddie Krawiec; 10. Scotty Pollacheck; 11. Hector Arana; 12. Angie Smith; 13. Freddie Camarena; 14. Kelly Clontz; 15. Katie Sullivan; 16. Andrew Hines.
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FINAL ROUND RESULTS:
TOP FUEL: Doug Kalitta, 3.716 seconds, 332.67 mph def. Richie Crampton, 4.884 seconds, 154.28 mph.
FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.920, 323.27 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, Broke.
PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.558, 210.54 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.604, 209.72.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.464, 180.81 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, Broke.
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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:
TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Jordan Vandergriff, 3.721, 329.50 def. Austin Prock, 4.140, 245.09; Doug Kalitta, 3.740, 328.38 def. Terry McMillen, 5.811, 112.50; Richie Crampton, 4.204, 260.46 def. Mike Salinas, Broke; Justin Ashley, 4.364, 183.44 def. Clay Millican, 4.434, 181.86; Leah Pritchett, 3.753, 319.90 def. Scott Palmer, 3.813, 312.50; Steve Torrence, 3.734, 327.82 def. Cameron Ferre, 4.040, 294.82; Shawn Reed, 4.274, 217.11 def. Billy Torrence, 4.360, 241.07; Brittany Force, 4.075, 218.41 def. Antron Brown, 6.601, 114.89;
QUARTERFINALS — Crampton, 3.796, 322.81 def. Reed, 3.865, 281.77; Pritchett, 3.748, 323.12 def. Vandergriff, 18.760, 59.83; Kalitta, 4.068, 245.49 def. Ashley, 4.705, 157.74; S. Torrence, 3.749, 326.48 def. Force, 3.776, 302.41;
SEMIFINALS — Crampton, 3.762, 327.51 def. S. Torrence, 3.751, 324.59; Kalitta, 3.730, 331.85 def. Pritchett, 3.908, 302.08;
FINAL — Kalitta, 3.716, 332.67 def. Crampton, 4.884, 154.28.
FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Steven Densham, Ford Mustang, 5.380, 135.29 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 7.949, 129.11; Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 4.013, 322.27 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.410, 142.29; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.946, 321.65 def. John Hale, Chevy Impala, 13.434, 39.58; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.114, 275.11 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.998, 162.98; Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.981, 318.69 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.056, 294.43; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.945, 327.82 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.234, 141.97; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.974, 323.19 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.101, 258.02; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.949, 326.00 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.982, 321.58;
QUARTERFINALS — Alexander, 4.157, 279.27 def. Densham, 4.522, 294.69; Beckman, 3.958, 324.20 def. Todd, 4.005, 318.47; Hight, 3.976, 324.75 def. Langdon, 4.004, 315.12; Hagan, 4.005, 323.04 def. Capps, 6.338, 83.99;
SEMIFINALS — Hight, 3.977, 324.59 def. Hagan, 4.015, 326.95; Beckman, 3.956, 320.28 def. Alexander, 4.020, 308.85;
FINAL — Beckman, 3.920, 323.27 def. Hight, Broke.
PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Aaron Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 6.632, 209.23 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 7.515, 139.26; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.602, 209.56 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.598, 209.23; Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.601, 209.59 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.599, 209.43; Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.610, 208.97 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.590, 210.01; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.573, 211.03 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 7.735, 132.49; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.562, 210.05 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.650, 208.78; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.570, 210.41 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.575, 210.31; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.570, 210.28 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.670, 207.82;
QUARTERFINALS — Butner, 6.595, 210.80 def. Graham, 14.023, 62.91; Coughlin, 6.599, 209.49 def. Stanfield, 6.611, 209.56; Enders, 6.597, 209.69 def. McGaha, 6.593, 210.08; F. Cuadra, 6.617, 207.40 def. Line, 8.371, 110.36;
SEMIFINALS — F. Cuadra, 6.586, 209.33 def. Enders, 6.612, 210.08; Coughlin, 6.588, 209.98 def. Butner, 6.582, 210.64;
FINAL — Coughlin, 6.558, 210.54 def. F. Cuadra, 6.604, 209.72.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Ryan Oehler, 6.932, 193.49 def. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.945, 194.60; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.886, 193.65 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.893, 195.22; Hector Arana Jr, 6.934, 193.82 def. Hector Arana, 6.974, 194.72; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.888, 195.05 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, Foul – Red Light; Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 6.987, 187.29 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.903, 190.94 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.027, 193.57; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.912, 191.87 def. Angie Smith, 7.022, 189.66; Matt Smith, 6.885, 196.70 def. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.119, 187.44;
QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.860, 194.21 def. Arana Jr, Foul – Red Light; Salinas, 7.062, 184.55 def. Johnson, 13.432, 58.11; Stoffer, 6.894, 195.51 def. Sampey, 6.907, 193.96; M. Smith, 6.893, 195.90 def. Oehler, 6.944, 194.55;
SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 7.024, 186.85 def. M. Smith, 8.969, 97.85; Savoie, 6.855, 195.79 def. Stoffer, Foul – Red Light;
FINAL — Salinas, 7.464, 180.81 def. Savoie, Broke.
******************
FINAL SEASON POINT STANDINGS:
TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,607; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,604; 3. Brittany Force, 2,555; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,474; 5. Billy Torrence, 2,458; 6. Richie Crampton, 2,399; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,381; 8. Austin Prock, 2,379; 9. Antron Brown, 2,329; 10. Clay Millican, 2,300.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,637; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,629; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,563; 4. John Force, 2,471; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,446; 6. Ron Capps, 2,414; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,391; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,360; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,358; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,283.
PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,635; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,614; 3. Bo Butner, 2,524; 4. Jason Line, 2,495; 5. Matt Hartford, 2,448; 6. Deric Kramer, 2,409; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,408; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,345; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,329; 10. Val Smeland, 2,203.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,599; 2. Jerry Savoie, 2,573; 3. Matt Smith, 2,553; 4. Karen Stoffer, 2,534; 5. Eddie Krawiec, 2,474; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,389; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,381; 8. Angie Smith, 2,281; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,271; 10. Hector Arana, 2,209.