NHRA Sonoma winners: Alexander, Hight, Coughlin Jr., Tonglet; John Force makes 750th career start

Sonoma winners, from left: Alexander, Coughlin Jr., Hight, Tonglet. Photo and videos courtesy of NHRA

John Force continued to set NHRA history Sunday, starting his 750th national event – a streak that extends over the last 42 seasons.

However, the 69-year-old, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ fell short of what he had also hoped to accomplish during the day – winning the 150th national event of his career – in the Toyota NHRA Nationals at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

Still, it was a good day overall for Force in the 15th race of the 24-race 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

He defeated his daughter, Funny Car points leader and Sonoma No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force, in the first round of eliminations, and advanced all the way to the semifinals before falling to 2016 Funny Car champ Ron Capps.

Here’s how the event played out:

In Top Fuel: Californian Blake Alexander did some home cooking, earning his second career win in front of Sunday’s sellout crowd.

Alexander (4.004 seconds at 287.41 mph) defeated the winningest driver in Top Fuel history, Tony Schumacher (4.345 seconds at 219.65 mph).

Sunday marked just the sixth time Alexander has competed in a race this season, but has compiled a lofty overall record in that stretch: two wins and a runner-up finish. He is now one of only four Top Fuel drivers to claim multiple wins this season.

“We may be a part-time team but we come out to the track trying to win every race, and so far this year we have had a lot of success with that,” Alexander said. “My life has changed this year with how well we have been running, and the opportunity that Bob [Vandergriff] has given me to drive his racecar has been paramount in my career to take me to higher levels.”

Alexander had a tough road to the win, defeating Mike Salinas in the first round, three-time Top Fuel world champ Antron Brown in the quarterfinals, Scott Palmer in the semifinals and then Schumacher in the finals.

Despite being part of a part-time team, by winning his second race of 2018, Alexander is closing in on clinching a spot in the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Also of note in the final round, Schumacher has now finished three times as a runner-up and has closed the gap on points leader Steve Torrence.

Speaking of the Countdown to the Championship, Torrence, Schumacher, No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican, Doug Kalitta and Leah Pritchett have qualified for the playoffs.

In Funny Car: Even though John Force fell short of victory lane, one of his drivers – and president of John Force Racing — Robert Hight captured the overall win.

Last season’s Funny Car world champ, Hight (3.984 seconds at 319.75 mph) defeated Capps (4.077, 296.11) in the final round, earning his second win of the season and the second win of his career in Sonoma.

“This track is unbelievable and we were fortunate to have three great days of racing because of these conditions this weekend,” Hight said. “This is the time of year you have to get it together if you want to win a championship, and we know we need to keep clicking before we start off the Countdown to the Championship.”

Starting from the No. 11 qualifying position, Hight defeated Tim Wilkerson, Bob Tasca III, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Capps to lock up his spot in the upcoming Countdown. Also locking up their spots in the Countdown are Capps, teammate Matt Hagan and Courtney Force.

In Pro Stock: Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.532 seconds at 212.16 mph) defeated Deric Kramer (6.534 seconds at 210.54 mph) to claim his third win of the season.

Coughlin, who is in pursuit of his sixth career Pro Stock championship, earned for the third time in his career at Sonoma.

“We’ve weathered a few storms over the past few seasons, but this team is a lot of fun and the fact that we are a threat to win every weekend is a real testament to how far this team has come,” Coughlin Jr. said. “We never once felt like we had to back-off because of these conditions, and seeing four win lights turn on at this track is an amazing feeling.”

Coughlin Jr. defeated Alex Laughlin, Tanner Gray, No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson and Kramer to take home the winning “Wally” trophy.

Even though he fell to Coughlin in the semifinals, Anderson became the first driver in the Pro Stock class to qualify for the Countdown.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: LE Tonglet (6.771 seconds at 198.52 mph) defeated points leader Andrew Hines (6.802 seconds at 197.48 mph) to capture the two-wheel class.

Not only was it Tonglet’s second win of the season, it also was his third consecutive PSM victory at Sonoma Raceway.

“We got lucky in the first round because I had a terrible light, but once we got that (first) round win we just kept rolling and turning on win lights,” Tonglet said. “We came off the trailer going fast this weekend and that kept going with each round, so that made today a great day.”

Tonglet defeated Cory Reed, Joey Gladstone, No. 1 qualifier Eddie Krawiec and Hines en route to the victory.

Hines is still winless this season, but has four runner-up finishes. Still, he’s already clinched his spot in the Countdown, along with Tonglet, Krawiec, Hector Arana Jr. and 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie.

The final leg of the annual “Western Swing” takes place next weekend (August 3-5) at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle.

Nine races remain in the 2018 season.



TOP FUEL: 1. Blake Alexander; 2. Tony Schumacher; 3. Doug Kalitta; 4. Scott Palmer; 5. Antron Brown; 6. Bill Litton; 7. Brittany Force; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Richie Crampton; 10. Steve Torrence; 11. Jim Maroney; 12. Terry McMillen; 13. Shawn Reed; 14. Leah Pritchett; 15. Mike Salinas.

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

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

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. LE Tonglet; 2. Andrew Hines; 3. Eddie Krawiec; 4. Jim Underdahl; 5. Joey Gladstone; 6. Jerry Savoie; 7. Hector Arana Jr.; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Steve Johnson; 11. Angie Smith; 12. Ryan Oehler; 13. Angelle Sampey; 14. Cory Reed; 15. Karen Stoffer; 16. Scotty Pollacheck.



TOP FUEL: Blake Alexander, 4.004 seconds, 287.41 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 4.345 seconds, 219.65 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.984, 319.75 def. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.077, 296.11.

PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.532, 212.16 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.534, 210.54.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.771, 198.52 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.802, 197.48.



TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Blake Alexander, 3.774, 330.15 def. Mike Salinas, Foul – Centerline; Clay Millican, 3.697, 332.75 was unopposed; Bill Litton, 4.169, 219.76 def. Leah Pritchett, Foul – Red Light; Antron Brown, 3.786, 326.87 def. Jim Maroney, 3.879, 302.96; Tony Schumacher, 3.743, 330.88 def. Shawn Reed, 4.776, 157.04; Brittany Force, 3.759, 329.91 def. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 325.14; Scott Palmer, 3.798, 329.34 def. Terry McMillen, 4.726, 133.46; Doug Kalitta, 3.746, 332.26 def. Steve Torrence, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Alexander, 3.791, 330.23 def. Brown, 3.822, 317.72; Kalitta, 3.772, 329.50 def. Millican, 5.111, 147.79; Schumacher, 4.375, 192.71 def. Force, 4.985, 144.77; Palmer, 3.811, 325.92 def. Litton, 4.163, 231.68; SEMIFINALS — Alexander, 3.878, 313.15 def. Palmer, 7.634, 106.52; Schumacher, 3.836, 317.42 def. Kalitta, 3.837, 274.44; FINAL — Alexander, 4.004, 287.41 def. Schumacher, 4.345, 219.65.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.995, 318.99 def. Richard Townsend, Toyota Camry, 10.192, 85.25; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.983, 325.22 def. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.091, 300.00; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.973, 320.58 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.242, 225.18; Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.004, 317.27 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.022, 317.79; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.958, 320.89 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.115, 310.13; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.974, 322.65 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.010, 321.96; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.012, 321.58 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.103, 306.40; John Force, Camaro, 4.026, 323.12 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.000, 321.27; QUARTERFINALS — Hight, 4.010, 317.19 def. Tasca III, 12.467, 67.36; Capps, 3.969, 322.65 def. Hagan, 4.512, 190.59; Johnson Jr., 4.016, 323.35 def. Beckman, 4.013, 314.83; J. Force, 4.069, 316.75 def. Worsham, 4.080, 268.87; SEMIFINALS — Hight, 3.956, 322.04 def. Johnson Jr., 3.990, 323.81; Capps, 4.000, 321.04 def. J. Force, 4.081, 321.42; FINAL — Hight, 3.984, 319.75 def. Capps, 4.077, 296.11.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.532, 211.79 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.560, 211.49; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.530, 211.56 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 7.155, 146.35; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.509, 211.79 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.553, 210.73; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.537, 211.86 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.582, 208.97; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.506, 211.16 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, Foul – Red Light; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.558, 210.18 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 8.274, 110.94; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.528, 211.49 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, 18.077, 43.99; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.505, 211.96 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.620, 209.62; QUARTERFINALS — Coughlin, 6.534, 211.43 def. Laughlin, 6.563, 210.28; Anderson, 6.534, 211.36 def. Skillman, 6.585, 211.33; Kramer, 6.523, 211.39 def. Gray, 6.532, 211.46; Line, 6.538, 211.10 def. Enders, 6.547, 211.96; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.548, 211.13 def. Anderson, 6.554, 212.43; Kramer, 6.525, 211.10 def. Line, 6.551, 211.26; FINAL — Coughlin, 6.532, 212.16 def. Kramer, 6.534, 210.54.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.856, 194.91 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.853, 196.96; Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.863, 196.82 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.892, 194.46; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.778, 198.47 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 7.305, 145.89; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.806, 197.48 def. Cory Reed, Buell, 6.914, 196.73; Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.814, 195.45 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.896, 194.46; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.832, 200.35 def. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.906, 196.90; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.846, 199.05 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.952, 193.90; Matt Smith, 6.803, 196.90 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.901, 195.90; QUARTERFINALS — Krawiec, 6.771, 200.08 def. Savoie, 6.876, 196.19; Underdahl, 7.004, 173.90 def. Arana Jr, 9.242, 96.10; Tonglet, 6.803, 198.32 def. Gladstone, 6.853, 194.72; Hines, 6.798, 197.94 def. M. Smith, 12.443, 64.66; SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.820, 197.57 def. Underdahl, 6.907, 195.59; Tonglet, 6.796, 198.09 def. Krawiec, 6.769, 198.93; FINAL — Tonglet, 6.771, 198.52 def. Hines, 6.802, 197.48.


UPDATED POINT STNADINGS AFTER SONOMA (* = clinched spot in Countdown to the Championship playoffs):

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 1,168*; 2. Tony Schumacher, 1,031*; 3. Clay Millican, 1,025*; 4. Leah Pritchett, 989*; 5. Doug Kalitta, 951*; 6. Antron Brown, 809; 7. Terry McMillen, 728; 8. Brittany Force, 697; 9. Scott Palmer, 617; 10. Richie Crampton, 608.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 1,197*; 2. Ron Capps, 1,032*; 3. Robert Hight, 1,024*; 4. Matt Hagan, 1,001*; 5. Jack Beckman, 967; 6. J.R. Todd, 863; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 819; 8. John Force, 807; 9. Shawn Langdon, 680; 10. Bob Tasca III, 656.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 1,126*; 2. Tanner Gray, 1,031; 3. Erica Enders, 1,023; 4. Vincent Nobile, 979; 5. Jeg Coughlin, 956; 6. Chris McGaha, 907; 7. Drew Skillman, 895; 8. Jason Line, 857; 9. Deric Kramer, 828; 10. Bo Butner, 822.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Hines, 687*; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 651*; 3. LE Tonglet, 609*; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 562*; 5. Jerry Savoie, 534*; 6. Matt Smith, 473; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 449; 8. Angie Smith, 336; 9. Hector Arana, 321; 10. Angelle Sampey, 320.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Will Power says IndyCar field toughest in world: ‘F1’s a joke as far as competition’


DETROIT – With the 2023 Formula One season turning into a Red Bull runaway, Will Power believes the NTT IndyCar Series deserves respect as the world’s most difficult single-seater racing series.

“It’s so tough, an amazing field, the toughest field in the world, and people need to know it, especially compared to Formula One,” the defending IndyCar champion told NBC Sports during a media luncheon a few days ahead of Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. “Formula One’s a joke as far as competition, but not as far as drivers. They have amazing drivers. And I feel sorry for them that they don’t get to experience the satisfaction we do with our racing because that is the top level of open-wheel motorsport.

“I think Formula One would be so much better if they had a formula like IndyCar. I love the technology and the manufacturer side of it. I think that’s awesome. But from a spectator watching, man, how cool would it be if everyone had a Red Bull (car)?”

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It probably would look a lot different than the 2023 season, which has been dominated by two-time defending F1 champion Max Verstappen. The Dutchman won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix from the pole position by 24 seconds over Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fifth victory in seven races for Verstappen, whose 40 career wins are one shy of tying late three-time champion Aryton Senna.

Along with tying Senna’s mark for titles this season, Verstappen seems poised to break his own record for single-season victories (15) that he set last year.

“You simply know Max is going to win every race if something doesn’t go wrong,” Power said. “Imagine being a guy coming out as a rookie, and you probably would win a race. It would be really cool to see. But you know that would never happen with the politics over there.”

Verstappen’s F1 dominance has been a stark contrast to IndyCar, where Josef Newgarden just became the first repeat winner through six races this season with his Indy 500 victory. Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport each have visited victory lane in 2023 with Arrow McLaren certain to join them at some point.

Meanwhile, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez (two wins) have won every F1 race this season with the two Red Bull cars leading more than 95% of the laps.

The primary differences are in the rulesets for each series. While F1 teams have virtually autonomy to build their cars from scratch, IndyCar has what is known as a spec series in which the cars have a large degree of standardization. Teams all use the DW-12 chassis, whose development has been maximized over the past 13-plus seasons.

Alex Palou, who will start from the pole position of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, harbors F1 aspirations as a McLaren test driver, but the Spaniard prefers IndyCar because driver talent can be a bigger determinant in results.

“Racing-wise, that’s the best you can get,” Palou said a few days before winning the pole for the 107th Indy 500 last month. “That’s pure racing, having chances to win each weekend.”

Of course, F1 is the world’s most popular series, and the 2021 IndyCar champion said its appeal doesn’t stem from being competitive.

“I don’t think the beauty of F1 is the race itself,” Palou said. “I’d say the beauty is more the development that they have and everything around the races, and that they go different places. But when we talk about pure spectacle, you cannot get better than (IndyCar).

“You can feel it as a driver here when you first come and jump in a car. When I was in Dale Coyne, we got a podium my rookie year. It wasn’t the best team, but we were able to achieve one of the best cars at Road America (where he finished third in 2020). It’s not that I was driving a slow car. I was driving a really fast car. I think we can see that across all the teams and the drivers.”

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who will start second at Detroit, is in his third season of IndyCar after winning three championships in Supercars. The New Zealander said recently that IndyCar has been “the most enjoyment I’ve ever had in my career. I had a lot of fun in Supercars, but there were still things like different uprights, engines, all that stuff. This is spec. Really the only things you can change is dampers and engine differences between Honda and Chevy.

“I have a blast,” McLaughlin said. “Trying to extract pace and winning in this series is better than I’ve ever felt ever. I’m surprised by how satisfied it feels to win an IndyCar race. It’s better than how it ever has felt in my career. I’ve always liked winning, but it’s so satisfying to win here. That’s why it’s so cool. There are no bad drivers. You have to have a perfect day.”

Qualifying might be the best example of how tight the series. The spread for the Fast Six final round of qualifying on Detroit’s new nine-turn, 1.645-mile downtown layout was nearly eight 10ths of a second – which qualifies as an eternity these days.

Last month, the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course produced a spread of 0.2971 seconds from first to sixth – the fourth-closest Fast Six in IndyCar history since the format was adopted in 2008. Three of the seven closest Fast Six fields have happened this season (with that Grand Prix of Long Beach ranking sixth and the Alabama Grand Prix in seventh).

While the technical ingenuity and innovation might be limited when compared to F1, there’s no arguing that more IndyCar drivers and teams have a chance to win.

“The parity’s great, and no one has an advantage, basically,” Power said. “The two engine manufacturers (Honda and Chevrolet) are always flipping back and forth as they develop, but we’re talking like tenths of a second over a lap. There’s not a bad driver in the field, and there’s 20 people all capable of being in the Fast Six every week. Maybe more. It’s incredibly competitive. There isn’t a more competitive series in the world. I’m sure of that.

“If you want the ultimate drivers series, this is it I’m from a big team that would benefit massively from opening the rules up, but I don’t think (IndyCar officials) should. I think this should always be about the team and driver getting the most out of a piece of equipment that everyone has a chance to do so. That’s the ultimate driver series. Who wants to win a championship when you’re just given the best car? It’s just ridiculous.”

Power believes the talented Verstappen still would be the F1 champion if the equipment were spec, but he also thinks there would be more challengers.

“There’s got to be a bunch of those guys that must just be frustrated,” Power said. “Think about Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris, (Fernando) Alonso. Those are some great drivers that don’t get a chance to even win. They’re just extracting the most out of the piece of equipment they have.

“All I can say is if everyone had a Red Bull car, there’s no way that Max would win every race. There’s so many guys who would be winning races. It’d just be similar to (IndyCar) and different every week, which it should be that way for the top level of the sport.”