Photo courtesy NHRA

NHRA Topeka: C. Force wins 3rd of year; Millican (TF), Kramer (PS) also win

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John Force isn’t the only member of the family that can make news in the NHRA Funny Car ranks.

Youngest daughter Courtney Force won her third race of the season in Monday’s rain-delayed Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kansas.

Force has now back-to-back races and three of the first eight races of the 24-race 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Final eliminations were originally scheduled for 12 Noon ET on Sunday, but weather forced an eight-hour delay before racing resumed.

With the lateness of the evening, as well as additional bad weather approaching, NHRA and Heartland Park Topeka officials were forced to complete elimination rounds on Monday.

Other victorious drivers included Clay Millican, who earned his second career Top Fuel win, and Deric Kramer earned his first career Pro Stock national event triumph.

Millican, Kramer and Force all were No. 1 qualifiers going into final eliminations. It was also Force’s fifth No. 1 qualifier this season.

Here’s how the final round of eliminations played out:

IN FUNNY CAR: Force defeated reigning NHRA Funny Car champion and John Force Racing teammate, Robert Hight, in Monday’s final round.

Force covered the 1,000-foot drag strip in 3.928 seconds at 329.83 mph to earn the 11th win of her Funny Car career. This has been a turnaround season for Force, who did not win any races in 2017.

“Coming off a back-to-back win is just insane,” Force said. “I got on the radio and told my guys that they’re unbelievable and that it’s so much fun to drive this race car.

“Coming out to a track where the conditions have changed a lot, I have to give credit to my crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Dan Hood.”

IN TOP FUEL: Millican was not to be denied of his second career Top Fuel win, defeating Terry McMillen in the final round.

Millican won the race with an ET of 3.727 seconds at a stout 332.59 mph. It was only the second time in 10 final rounds in NHRA Top Fuel competition that he emerged victorious.

“The car has been really good,” Millican said. “Pretty much didn’t matter what I did because that car was going to win today.

“It’s just awesome with all of the work [crew chief] David Grubnic has put in. He found some consistency which is what I’ve been saying all along.”

IN PRO STOCK: Kramer captured his first Pro Stock win with a pass of 6.615 seconds at 209.36 mph, defeating two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders in the final round.

Kramer becomes the 67th different driver to earn a NHRA Pro Stock national event win.

“I’ve been working a long time for this,” Kramer stated. “The first win leaves me a little speechless but I’m already looking for the next one.

“Always great as a driver to do your part and I’ve certainly been doing that all weekend.”

The NHRA national event tour enjoys the Memorial Day weekend off before resuming May 31st to June 3rd at the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois (about 50 miles southwest of downtown Chicago).

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

PRO STOCK: 1. Deric Kramer; 2. Erica Enders; 3. Jason Line; 4. Greg Anderson; 5. Tanner Gray; 6. Drew Skillman; 7. Matt Hartford; 8. Richard Freeman; 9. Vincent Nobile; 10. Mark Hogan; 11. Chris McGaha; 12. Will Hatcher; 13. Alex Laughlin; 14. Jeg Coughlin; 15. Bo Butner; 16. Alan Prusiensky.

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FINAL RESULTS:

 TOP FUEL: Clay Millican, 3.727 seconds, 332.59 mph def. Terry McMillen, 6.169 seconds, 104.47 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.928, 329.83 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.087, 265.90.

PRO STOCK: Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.615, 209.36 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 7.409, 143.58.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.723, 328.06 def. Richie Crampton, 4.264, 303.98; Terry McMillen, 3.934, 313.22 def. Mike Salinas, 4.674, 165.11; Leah Pritchett, 4.060, 304.39 def. Antron Brown, 4.254, 301.07; Clay Millican, 3.780, 331.36 def. Terry Totten, 5.452, 136.62; Steve Torrence, 3.734, 333.25 def. Terry Haddock, 9.583, 72.99; Billy Torrence, 3.734, 329.75 def. Kebin Kinsley, 4.333, 196.59; Tony Schumacher, 3.781, 326.24 def. Bill Litton, 3.950, 270.48; Doug Kalitta, 3.774, 326.24 def. Scott Palmer, 3.798, 327.90;

QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.931, 231.71 def. Pritchett, 9.302, 87.02; S. Torrence, 3.684, 334.24 def. Force, 8.715, 78.72; McMillen, 3.781, 319.14 def. B. Torrence, 4.714, 175.64; Millican, 3.724, 334.90 def. Kalitta, 7.301, 72.09;

SEMIFINALS — Millican, 3.676, 331.20 def. Schumacher, 5.198, 139.31; McMillen, 3.758, 326.48 def. S. Torrence, 3.784, 320.51;

FINAL — Millican, 3.727, 332.59 def. McMillen, 6.169, 104.47.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 8.883, 84.25 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, Foul – Red Light; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.766, 262.18 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 6.291, 103.95; Courtney Force, Camaro, 5.323, 176.70 def. Richard Townsend, Camry, 5.929, 138.39; J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.385, 237.17 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 5.347, 155.06; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.776, 186.77 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, Broke; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.950, 325.06 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.391, 284.03; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.021, 322.19 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.322, 315.64; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.942, 326.79 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.024, 314.31;

QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 3.949, 323.12 def. Beckman, 4.058, 310.20; Hight, 3.924, 330.23 def. Johnson Jr., 3.986, 327.98; Langdon, 4.011, 324.12 def. Lindberg, 12.378, 75.64; C. Force, 3.934, 328.54 def. Hagan, 3.936, 328.94;

SEMIFINALS — C. Force, 3.895, 330.39 def. Todd, 4.495, 188.81; Hight, 3.911, 330.55 def. Langdon, 7.038, 97.06;

FINAL — C. Force, 3.928, 329.83 def. Hight, 4.087, 265.90.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Matt Hartford, Chevy Camaro, 7.378, 135.81 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.645, 206.61 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, Broke; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 11.581, 77.19 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.611, 208.97 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 7.736, 125.65; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 7.594, 135.40 def. Will Hatcher, Dodge Dart, 7.616, 145.20; Richard Freeman, Camaro, 6.650, 207.53 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 7.060, 158.20; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.612, 208.39 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.935, 197.54; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.596, 209.79 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, Foul – Red Light;

QUARTERFINALS — Kramer, 6.621, 208.91 def. Hartford, 6.604, 208.65; Enders, 6.550, 209.65 def. Gray, 6.574, 209.33; Line, 6.583, 210.05 def. Freeman, 6.635, 207.69; Anderson, 6.567, 210.93 def. Skillman, 6.594, 209.04;

SEMIFINALS — Kramer, 6.600, 209.49 def. Line, 6.580, 210.11; Enders, 6.603, 209.36 def. Anderson, 6.581, 210.60;

FINAL — Kramer, 6.615, 209.36 def. Enders, 7.409, 143.58.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 664; 2. Clay Millican, 569; 3. Tony Schumacher, 539; 4. Doug Kalitta, 497; 5. Leah Pritchett, 489; 6. Terry McMillen, 432; 7. Brittany Force, 428; 8. Antron Brown, 423; 9. Richie Crampton, 312; 10. Mike Salinas, 308.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 670; 2. Jack Beckman, 590; 3. Matt Hagan, 540; 4. Robert Hight, 512; 5. J.R. Todd, 504; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 490; 7. Ron Capps, 440; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 399; 9. Shawn Langdon, 373; 10. Jonnie Lindberg, 351.

PRO STOCK: 1. Vincent Nobile, 573; 2. Greg Anderson, 543; 3. Erica Enders, 541; 4. Deric Kramer, 539; 5. Bo Butner, 518; 6. Drew Skillman, 496; 7. Chris McGaha, 495; 8. Tanner Gray, 493; 9. Jason Line, 442; 10. Alex Laughlin, 381.

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Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”