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NHRA at Bristol: Courtney Force earns 7th No. 1 spot of 2018; Greg Anderson takes 100th career No. 1

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When you’re hot, you’re hot.

And at Bristol (Tennessee) Dragway on Saturday, it wasn’t just the weather that was hot but also the racing action to wrap up qualifying for Sunday’s eliminations in the 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Courtney Force, who has been the hottest driver in Funny Car this season, earned her seventh No. 1 qualifying position in the first 11 races – including five of the last seven races – of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Force led all Funny Car entrants with a pass of 3.993 seconds at 325.92 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro recorded during her second qualifying run Friday, which carried over through Saturday’s final two qualifying efforts.

Force, the youngest daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, was the only driver to run under the four-second mark during Friday’s and Saturday’s four total rounds of qualifying.

“This has been a great start to the season for my team, we have a good thing going and we are really excited with the direction our season is headed,” Force said. “We have a few wins and are in a good spot with the points lead, but we know we have to stay focused one round at a time to keep this success going.”

Force will start off Sunday’s eliminations at Thunder Valley vs. Swedish driver Jonnie Lindberg in the first round.

J.R. Todd qualified second (4.072 seconds at 313.15 mph) ad will face Del Worsham in Sunday’s first round.

But wait, there was even more heat among drivers out there.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson took the No. 1 qualifying spot. And like Millican and Force, he also grabbed the top spot during Friday’s two round of qualifying – and then held on through Saturday’s final two make-or-break rounds.

Anderson captured the top spot for the seventh time in this season’s first 11 races with a run of 6.674 seconds at 205.35 mph. It was also the 100th No. 1 qualifying spot for the four-time NHRA Pro Stock world champ.

“Getting to 100 No. 1 qualifiers has taken a lot of hard work and late nights, but it’s a team award and we are definitely going to celebrate this milestone,” Anderson said. “We know it’s going to be hot and rough out there (on Sunday), so it’s going to come down to who can handle this track best on race day.”

However, even though he’s qualified No. 1 seven times, Anderson is still in search of his first win of the season. He hopes to start on the road to that elusive first victory when he faces Wally Stroupe in Sunday’s first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified No. 2 (6.683 seconds at 205.22 mph).

In Top Fuel, Clay Millican earned his fifth No. 1 qualifying spot of the season.

Millican covered the 1,000-foot drag strip in 3.817 seconds at 322.88 mph on Friday, a time and speed that carried through Saturday’s qualifying as well.

Millican is also the defending Top Fuel winner at Bristol and is seeking his third win in the last four races on Sunday.

“The way our car went down the track today with some of the other teams struggling is pretty incredible,” Millican said. “This has just been a great racecar for us right now, and our goal is to put four good runs in a row together for tomorrow.”

Millican faces Terry Totten in Sunday’s first round. Meanwhile, Tony Schumacher, who has seen a resurgence of late, qualified No. 2 (3.830 seconds at 323.66 mph) and will face Terry McMillen in the first round.

Eliminations begin at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS (and top qualifying efforts):

TOP FUEL: 1. Clay Millican, 3.817 seconds, 322.88 mph vs. 16. Terry Totten, 6.899, 84.96; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.830, 323.66 vs. 15. Terry McMillen, 4.724, 159.34; 3. Antron Brown, 3.832, 319.67 vs. 14. Richie Crampton, 4.626, 169.81; 4. Scott Palmer, 3.863, 319.82 vs. 13. Bill Litton, 4.111, 302.82; 5. Brittany Force, 3.875, 320.20 vs. 12. Doug Kalitta, 4.091, 243.81; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.879, 321.81 vs. 11. Shawn Reed, 4.019, 263.62; 7. Dom Lagana, 3.886, 321.19 vs. 10. Pat Dakin, 4.002, 306.53; 8. Mike Salinas, 3.917, 314.97 vs. 9. Leah Pritchett, 4.001, 296.31.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.993, 325.92 vs. 16. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.771, 202.82; 2. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.072, 313.15 vs. 15. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.335, 231.91; 3. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.077, 316.97 vs. 14. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.298, 290.13; 4. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.078, 312.06 vs. 13. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.262, 251.81; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.109, 304.05 vs. 12. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 4.215, 295.98; 6. John Force, Camaro, 4.115, 313.51 vs. 11. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.193, 301.07; 7. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.130, 307.86 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.191, 299.00; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.167, 303.03 vs. 9. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.188, 296.24. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Haddock, 9.984, 92.31.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.674, 205.44 vs. 16. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.552, 133.18; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.683, 205.26 vs. 15. Tommy Lee, Camaro, 7.012, 195.39; 3. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.685, 204.82 vs. 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.866, 201.49; 4. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.688, 205.60 vs. 13. John Gaydosh Jr., Chevrolet Camaro, 6.800, 203.12; 5. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.692, 203.58 vs. 12. Tim Freeman, Camaro, 6.744, 203.46; 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.700, 204.57 vs. 11. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.710, 205.26; 7. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.703, 205.22 vs. 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.706, 206.13; 8. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.703, 204.08 vs. 9. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.704, 205.07.

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Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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