NHRA Houston winners: Brittany Force (TF), J.R. Todd (FC), Matt Hartford (PS)

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John Force may have failed to qualify for a race for the first time in 221 races (dating back to September 2008), but daughter Brittany came through for dear old dad.

Brittany Force captured the Top Fuel division in Sunday’s final round of the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston.

Also winning: J.R. Todd earned his second consecutive Funny Car victory, while Matt Hartford captured his first career Pro Stock victory.

John Force failed to reach Sunday’s four rounds of eliminations after falling short during Friday’s and Saturday’s four qualifying sessions.

That left John Force Racing to be represented Sunday by Brittany Force, sister Courtney Force and the president of the organization and also John Force’s son-in-law, Robert Hight.

It was the first win of 2018 for Brittany Force in the fifth of 24 races on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Brittany Force, the defending Top Fuel world champion, defeated Terry McMillen in the final round with a winning pass of 3.762 seconds at 299.46 mph.

Brittany finally earned her first win at Royal Purple Raceway, becoming the last of all Force family members to have won at the Baytown, Texas track. She’s also the seventh member of JFR to have won there.

It was also the eighth win of her Top Fuel career.

“The tires were spinning and I’m trying to drive the thing down there and try to get it to the finish line,” Brittany Force said of her winning run vs. McMillen. “I didn’t know where (McMillen) was next to me, but it was just about getting down there first.

“I saw our win lights come on in the final round and that was the most important one.”

In Funny Car, Todd earned back-to-back wins for the first time in his career and the 13th overall win of his career.

He defeated Hight in the final round with a run of 3.955 seconds at 313.29 mph to bring home the win to Kalitta Motorsports.

“It’s nice to have this much momentum early in the season,” Todd stated. “We struggled really bad last season and didn’t really turn around till probably the Western Swing. It’s nice as Kalitta Motorsports to come out swinging at these races this year.”

In Pro Stock, Hartford defeated local Houston-area favorite Erica Enders with a pass of 6.552 seconds at 211.36 mph, to become the 66th different driver to win in Pro Stock in NHRA history.

“We started in the back half of the field today and had to work our way through,” Hartford stated. “We earned this.

“We did a better job with our car today than the other teams. My driving is not why we won today and that is a fact. My crew tuned the car enough for us to be able to drive around her [Enders] at the end.”

The next NHRA national event is next weekend, April 27-29, with the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Brittany Force; 2. Terry McMillen; 3. Tony Schumacher; 4. Leah Pritchett; 5. Billy Torrence; 6. Steve Torrence; 7. Doug Kalitta; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Scott Palmer; 10. Bill Litton; 11. Terry Brian; 12. Antron Brown; 13. Kebin Kinsley; 14. Mike Salinas; 15. Terry Haddock; 16. Richie Crampton.

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

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

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SUNDAY’S FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Brittany Force, 3.762 seconds, 299.46 mph def. Terry McMillen, 3.818 seconds, 311.56 mph.

FUNNY CAR: J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.955, 313.29 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.993, 308.14.

PRO STOCK: Matt Hartford, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.36 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.570, 210.50.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Billy Torrence, 3.753, 318.32 def. Kebin Kinsley, 6.589, 96.12; Steve Torrence, 3.741, 309.06 def. Scott Palmer, 3.771, 314.09; Terry McMillen, 3.777, 317.79 def. Antron Brown, 4.771, 163.79; Leah Pritchett, 3.697, 327.43 def. Terry Brian, 4.233, 258.37; Brittany Force, 3.755, 316.67 def. Terry Haddock, 8.779, 73.92; Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 325.85 def. Bill Litton, 4.228, 216.31; Clay Millican, 4.662, 206.04 def. Mike Salinas, 8.614, 70.10; Doug Kalitta, 3.738, 329.02 def. Richie Crampton, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — McMillen, 3.766, 301.81 def. B. Torrence, 3.775, 311.49; Force, 3.739, 302.08 def. Kalitta, 3.819, 309.27; Schumacher, 3.737, 317.64 def. Millican, 6.473, 89.64; Pritchett, 3.740, 320.36 def. S. Torrence, 3.778, 312.64; SEMIFINALS — McMillen, 5.124, 213.64 def. Pritchett, 10.490, 73.72; Force, 3.766, 299.80 def. Schumacher, 5.074, 148.97; FINAL — Force, 3.762, 299.46 def. McMillen, 3.818, 311.56.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.951, 311.49 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.152, 245.81; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.878, 322.42 def. Todd Simpson, Charger, Broke; Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.133, 293.35 def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 5.944, 131.25; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.125, 317.12 def. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.186, 298.93; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.009, 310.20 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 6.032, 116.63; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.351, 283.85 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 7.418, 93.67; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.955, 321.73 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.989, 309.49; Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.958, 313.22 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.449, 248.71; QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 5.286, 233.72 def. Worsham, 5.563, 215.62; Hight, 3.950, 310.84 def. Lindberg, 4.002, 305.56; Wilkerson, 3.972, 308.71 def. Hagan, 4.190, 240.08; Todd, 3.985, 309.70 def. Diehl, 9.175, 48.27; SEMIFINALS — Todd, 4.017, 309.06 def. Wilkerson, 6.604, 145.45; Hight, 3.959, 312.50 def. Beckman, 4.113, 293.35; FINAL — Todd, 3.955, 313.29 def. Hight, 3.993, 308.14.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 7.496, 118.16 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 13.143, 64.83; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.569, 210.77 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.543, 210.60; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.537, 211.13 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.545, 211.39; Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.560, 209.46 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 40.752, 26.02; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.537, 211.13 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.534, 210.93; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.539, 210.54 def. John Gaydosh Jr., Chevrolet Camaro, 6.708, 208.91; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.531, 210.31 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 12.327, 71.16; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.533, 210.70 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.529, 211.03 def. Brogdon, 19.247, 40.33; Hartford, 6.530, 211.26 def. Gray, Foul – Red Light; Coughlin, 6.512, 211.03 def. Butner, 6.550, 210.90; Anderson, 6.514, 211.46 def. Laughlin, 14.034, 59.80; SEMIFINALS — Enders, 6.561, 209.95 def. Anderson, 6.572, 212.23; Hartford, 6.564, 210.83 def. Coughlin, 10.727, 98.44; FINAL — Hartford, 6.522, 211.36 def. Enders, 6.570, 210.50.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. (tie) Tony Schumacher, 385; Steve Torrence, 385; 3. Antron Brown, 324; 4. Clay Millican, 309; 5. Doug Kalitta, 304; 6. Leah Pritchett, 284; 7. Brittany Force, 270; 8. Richie Crampton, 247; 9. Terry McMillen, 240; 10. Scott Palmer, 214.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, 415; 2. Matt Hagan, 363; 3. J.R. Todd, 347; 4. Courtney Force, 342; 5. Robert Hight, 326; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 298; 7. Ron Capps, 289; 8. Shawn Langdon, 237; 9. Jonnie Lindberg, 221; 10. Del Worsham, 219.

Pro Stock: 1. Bo Butner, 374; 2. Greg Anderson, 337; 3. Chris McGaha, 330; 4. Deric Kramer, 322; 5. Vincent Nobile, 319; 6. Jason Line, 303; 7. Erica Enders, 292; 8. Tanner Gray, 287; 9. Drew Skillman, 277; 10. Alex Laughlin, 264.

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”