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

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


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.

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Will Power, Roger Penske collect Indy 500 trophies

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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DETROIT (AP) Last year, Will Power finally broke through and won the Indianapolis 500, so he can cross that accomplishment off the list.

Now 37, Power is reaching an age when it’s fair to wonder how much longer he’ll keep at it.

“I’m really enjoying my racing. I’ve never been so motivated. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, mentally on the game,” Power said. “I think once you get to this part of your career, you realize that you’re not going to be doing this forever. So you’ve got to enjoy it and you’ve got to go for it when you’ve got it, because, you know, probably only another five years at maximum, and you’re retired.”

Whenever Power’s career does wind down, his 2018 Indy 500 win will remain a moment to remember. He was in Detroit on Wednesday night with team owner Roger Penske for a ceremony in which they received their “Baby Borg” trophies for winning last year’s race. The Baby Borgs are replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy that honors the Indy 500 winner.

Power finished second at Indy in 2015, and his victory last year made him the race’s first Australian winner. It was Penske’s 17th Indy 500 win as an owner, part of a banner year for him. Penske also won a NASCAR Cup title with driver Joey Logano.

“When you think about 2018, we had 32 race wins, 35 poles. I think we led almost 5,400 laps, with all the series,” Penske said.

On Wednesday, Penske collected another significant trophy, and he’ll be celebrated again in a couple weeks. He’s being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Feb. 1.

“It’s amazing that a guy from the north can get into the Hall of Fame in the south,” Penske joked. “No, it’s special. … NASCAR has helped us build our brand over the years, certainly, with the reputation it has, and the notoriety we get, being a NASCAR team owner.”

Penske’s most recent Indy 500 title came courtesy of Power, who long preferred road courses to ovals but certainly looked comfortable at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year.

“The 500 was one record that he didn’t have, and I think you saw the excitement he and his wife, and the whole team, when he was able to win the race,” Penske said. “He’s probably the best qualifier we’ve ever had, as a road racer, and no question his expertise. He didn’t like ovals to start with, but I think today, he loves racing on ovals.”

Power seems content with all aspects of his racing life at the moment. The aftermath of an Indy 500 victory can be a whirlwind, and it would be understandable for a driver to be weary of it eight months later, but for Power, it’s a new experience.

“I’ve been looking forward to this event for a few months now, to actually get the Baby Borg. You have the face on it – I didn’t realize that, you actually get your own face on it,” Power said. “It makes you realize the significance of the event, when you think about all the things that come with winning the 500.”

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