Photo courtesy John Force Racing

NHRA: Is this the weekend John Force claims a milestone 150th career win?

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Brainerd, Minnesota is known for its gigantic statues of legendary logger Paul Bunyan and his trusty sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox.

Come Sunday, however, Brainerd officials may want to consider a new statue to add to their civic heritage: that of legendary NHRA Funny Car driver John Force.

Now, the 16-time Funny Car champ grew up and still lives in Southern California. But Brainerd and Brainerd International Raceway have been the most important locations and racetracks to him in his 42-year career of racing a Funny Car.

Force has won 149 NHRA national events in his career, the most of any NHRA driver in history in any racing class. Brainerd has accounted for the most wins in Force’s annals: 11 wins in 32 appearances, meaning the 69-year-old Force has won more than a third of his starts at the northern Minnesota dragstrip. He also has won an uncanny 78.3 percent of elimination round wins (76 of 97) there in his career.

John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history.

After capturing his 149th career win July 22 at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver, Force has been chasing his 150th career win for the last two races.

Now Force, who drives the PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS, has arguably the best chance to reach that significant milestone this weekend in the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.

Winning No. 150 is obviously a significant goal for Force. But it has another bit of added significance: a win – or even a runner-up finish – would likely clinch his spot as one of 10 Funny Car drivers to qualify for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Even with his win at Denver, Force comes into Brainerd ranked eighth in the Funny Car standings. His team struggled early in the season, but is making up for some of those rough times in the last several races.

“We’re not safe,” Force said of his bid to secure a Top 10 berth for the 34th consecutive season. “We’re better than we were, but there’s still a lot of work to do; still a lot of racing plus there’s extra points at Indy (one-and-a-half times as many as for any other of the first 18 events).”

John Force has scored 824 points in this season’s first 16 national events. But his youngest daughter, Courtney Force, has had the best season to date of any driver in the Funny Car ranks.

Courtney Force leads the class with 1,300 points, followed by 2016 Funny Car champ Ron Capps (1,146 points) and John Force Racing president Robert Hight (1,085 points).

John Force has to hope he has strong performances not only at Brainerd and also the Chevrolet U.S. Nationals in two weeks in Indianapolis. If he struggles at one or both, there are several drivers who are fighting to make the Countdown, including 9th-ranked Shawn Langdon (736 points, 88 points behind Force), 10th-ranked Bob Tasca III (691 points, 133 behind Force), Tim Wilkerson (688 points) and two-time Funny Car champ Cruz Pedregon (641 points).

“We’ve just gotta keep going rounds and getting points,” said Force, whose last NHRA Funny Car championship came in 2013. “When you’ve got Langdon and Tasca and Cruz (Pedregon) and (Tim) Wilkerson all behind you, anything can happen. We have to take care of business.”

Qualifying starts Friday with sessions at 2:15 p.m. CT and 5:00 p.m. CT and continues Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CT and 4:30 p.m. CT. Eliminations start Sunday at 11 a.m. CT.

There are a few caveats about Brainerd for Force. While he’s the winningest Funny Car driver there, his last win there came in 2007. His last final round appearance was 2012 and 2014, when he lost to Capps. He lost in the semifinals last year to now-retired driver Alexis DeJoria.

“We can’t worry about everybody else,” Force said. “We just have to not make mistakes. Everybody’s got to do his job. If that happens, we’ve got a chance. Mistakes have hurt us. No more mistakes.”

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Supercross: Tomac, Roczen square off in Arlington; Webb gives chase

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The Monster Energy Supercross championship battle remains tight after Eli Tomac took the lead from Ken Roczen just last week at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Now the series heads to Arlington, Texas, and the AT&T Stadium for Round 8. (Watch on NBCSN or stream live.)

Tomac’s third win of the 2020 season and Roczen’s third-place finish at Tampa gives Tomac a four-point advantage in what is essentially a wide-open title fight with three races on tap in Arlington.

And while it is still much too early to call this a two-man battle, Cooper Webb is 11 points back with Justin Barcia 20 points out and Adam Cianciarulo 27 points in arrears – and all three cannot afford to lose any ground this week.

Tomac has the momentum. He allowed the field to get a jump after finishing seventh at Anaheim in the season opener, but finished fourth or better in the remaining events.

Roczen also got off to a slow start in Anaheim 1 with a sixth-place finish. He seemed to have a firm grasp on the red plate with four consecutive podium finishes until he slipped to sixth for a second time at San Diego.

Webb is coming into his own with three consecutive podiums in the last three events. If not for a 12th at St. Louis, he would be in immediate contention for the red plate.

This week is the second Triple Crown race of the season and Roczen hopes he has the same success as he did at Glendale. He won all three Mains that weekend and easily walked away with the overall victory. Tomac finished 2-2-3 for second overall. It is going to be imperative that a rider takes the early lead.

Blake Baggett qualified for last week’s Main, but chose to sit it out after experiencing sever muscle spasms. He will ride in Arlington.

Henry Miller will return to riding at Arlington after breaking a scapula in Australia.

Subscribe to the Supercross Pass for complete qualification and race coverage of the 2020 season.

For the third time in his career, Shane McElrath started the season with a victory. He won the season-opener in 2017 and 2018 in the West division at Anaheim, but failed to lock down a 250 title. His seventh career win moved him to 25th on the chart, however, with Travis Pastrana, Trey Canard, and a host of others.

Chase Sexton got his title hunt off to a strong start last week as well. He finished second to earn his 10th podium in 19 starts, but he will be hungry for a win. Despite the fact that he won last year’s 250 West championship, he has only one race victory to his credit.

Last week, Jeremy Martin looked like he had not been off his bike for more than a year. Returning from a 2018 injury, Martin snagged a podium finish in his first race back.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold
Race: 8:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN

Last Week:

Eli Tomac beat Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen in the 450 class.
Shane McElrath beat Chase Sexton and Jeremy Martin in the 250 class.

Last Dallas race (February, 2019):

Cooper Webb beat Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Austin Forkner beat Justin Cooper and Chase Sexton in the 250 class.

Points Leaders

450s:
Eli Tomac (155)
Ken Roczen (151)
Cooper Webb (144)
Justin Barcia (135)
Adam Cianciarulo (128)

250 West:
Dylan Ferrandis (135)
Justin Cooper (128)
Austin Forkner (122)
Brandon Hartranft (110)
Alex Martin (98)

250 East:
Shane McElrath (26)
Chase Sexton (23)
Jeremy Martin (21)
Garrett Marchbanks (19)
Jordon Smith (18)

Wins

450

(3) Eli Tomac (Anaheim 2, Oakland and Tampa)
(2) Ken Roczen (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Barcia (Anaheim 1)
(1) Cooper Webb (San Diego)

250 West

(3) Dylan Ferrandis (Anaheim 2, Oakland, and San Diego)
(2) Austin Forkner (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Cooper (Anaheim 1)

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath (Tampa)

Top-5s

450

(6) Eli Tomac
(6) Cooper Webb
(5) Jason Anderson
(5) Ken Roczen
(5) Justin Barcia
(3) Adam Cianciarulo
(2) Zach Osborne
(2) Blake Baggett
(1) Justin Hill

250 West

(5) Dylan Ferrandis
(5) Austin Forkner
(5) Justin Cooper
(4) Michael Mosiman
(4) Brandon Hartranft
(3) Alex Martin
(1) Christian Craig
(1) Jett Lawrence
(1) Jacob Hayes
(1) Luke Clout

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath
(1) Chase Sexton
(1) Jeremy Martin
(1) Garrett Marchbanks
(1) Jordon Smith

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