Photos and videos courtesy NHRA

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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Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.