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NHRA Brainerd: Antron Brown, Robert Hight, Erica Enders, Matt Smith early No. 1 qualifiers

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NHRA Media Release

BRAINERD, Minn. – Antron Brown is the preliminary No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway and is shaping into a contender for his fourth Top Fuel world championship.

Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also preliminary No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the 17th of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Brown won the most recent event in Seattle for his first win of the season and his surging Matco Tools dragster took the No. 1 position during the second qualifying session with his run of 3.789-seconds at 325.45 mph.

Brown has yet to record a No. 1 qualifying position this season but has 49 in his career. Brown also secured his position in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship following the first qualifying session.

“We have been working hard for this,” said Brown. “It is no secret, we have been through our bumps and bruises but the thing about it is that is why you go through the struggles so you have days like this and what we had in Seattle.”

Clay Millican was the leader after the first qualifying session and ends up second with a run of 3.790 at 323.04 and points leader Steve Torrence is 12th with his run of 4.445 at 180.91.

Hight is the current leader in the Funny Car category with his run of 3.971 at 326.95 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS. Hight has one No. 1 qualifying position this season, two wins, three runner-up finishes and is currently third in the points standings.

“Good day, six bonus points, and see if we can get more tomorrow,” said Hight. “The goal tomorrow is to be ahead of everybody but keep going down the track. If we get six more points tomorrow that is big.”

Matt Hagan is qualified second with his run of 3.990 at 324.51 and points leader Courtney Force is 15th following her run of 4.097 at 313.15. Jack Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car world champion, earned his berth into the Countdown to the Championship after the opening qualifying session.

Enders, who is currently third in Pro Stock points, aims for her first No. 1 qualifying position of the season after driving to a 6.609 at 207.53 in her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro during the second session of the day. Enders has yet to record a No. 1 qualifying position this season but has one win this season and five runner-up finishes.

“We are really excited to be No. 1 even if it is for just Friday night, we will try to hold onto it Saturday,” Enders said. “Our car is running awesome, I’m definitely driving better so that is encouraging. It was great to go to the No. 1 spot, I have a good hot rod and I’m excited.”

Chris McGaha is second with a pass of 6.613 at 208.33 and points leader Greg Anderson is eighth following his run of 6.626 at 208.52.

Smith, who has one win on the season and one No. 1 qualifying position this year, is the current Pro Stock Motorcycle leader with his run of 6.852 at a track record-setting 198.47 on his Elite Motorsports/Denso EBR. His last No. 1 qualifying position came in Norwalk, Ohio, and he has one No. 1 qualifying position at the facility.

“We debuted a new body and we were low both sessions,” said Smith. “All and all can’t say enough about Richard Freeman from Elite Performance, Mark Stockseth, Lucas Oil, Denso, and everybody that helps me. I couldn’t do this without them.”

Hector Arana Jr. is second at 6.877 at 197.08, Eddie Krawiec is third with his run of 6.886 at 195.45 and points leader Andrew Hines is fourth following his pass of 6.899 at 195.05.

Qualifying continues at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday at Brainerd International Raceway.

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BRAINERD, Minn. — Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, 17th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel — 1. Antron Brown, 3.789 seconds, 325.45 mph; 2. Clay Millican, 3.790, 323.04; 3. Mike Salinas, 3.797, 322.19; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.823, 326.48; 5. Scott Palmer, 3.834, 318.17; 6. Leah Pritchett, 3.841, 324.83; 7. Terry McMillen, 3.846, 319.60; 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.946, 308.92; 9. Doug Kalitta, 3.947, 257.43; 10. Chris Karamesines, 4.003, 305.01; 11. Brittany Force, 4.187, 210.44; 12. Steve Torrence, 4.445, 180.91; 13. Richie Crampton, 5.024, 141.59; 14. Luigi Novelli, 5.234, 140.63; 15. Terry Totten, 12.286, 72.31.

Funny Car — 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.971, 326.95; 2. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.990, 324.51; 3. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.996, 316.67; 4. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.014, 313.15; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.017, 317.42; 6. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 4.024, 318.39; 7. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.026, 318.09; 8. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.039, 311.99; 9. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.067, 314.75; 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.070, 316.67; 11. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.081, 314.53; 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.081, 305.84; 13. John Force, Camaro, 4.082, 321.42; 14. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.097, 313.15; 15. Bob Bode, Charger, 4.113, 307.72; 16. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.495, 214.93. Not Qualified: 17. Dale Creasy Jr., 4.529, 175.87; 18. Gary Densham, 5.222, 157.91.

Pro Stock — 1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.609, 207.53; 2. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.613, 208.33; 3. Alex Laughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.613, 207.59; 4. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.614, 208.78; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.622, 207.88; 6. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.623, 208.23; 7. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.624, 208.71; 8. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.626, 208.52; 9. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.632, 208.01; 10. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.640, 207.72; 11. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.648, 207.08; 12. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.659, 207.53; 13. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.683, 207.08; 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.771, 203.80; 15. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.854, 200.59; 16. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 7.002, 197.33.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.852, 198.47; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.877, 197.22; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.886, 195.45; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.899, 195.76; 5. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.909, 193.07; 6. Mark Paquette, Buell, 6.917, 193.32; 7. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.924, 193.27; 8. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.960, 192.58; 9. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.965, 193.90; 10. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.969, 193.16; 11. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.979, 191.00; 12. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.985, 192.03; 13. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.985, 191.76; 14. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.997, 191.21; 15. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.002, 191.19; 16. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.033, 189.87. Not Qualified: 17. Kelly Clontz, 7.072, 190.35; 18. Cory Reed, 7.146, 185.36.

IndyCar: Which drivers need to start or continue comebacks in 2019?

IndyCar
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With the 2018 IndyCar Series season already far back in our rearview mirror, it’s not too soon to start looking ahead to the 2019 campaign, which begins on March 10 at St. Petersburg, Florida.

When you look at how 2018 ended up, several drivers either didn’t have the season they had hoped for and are looking to make big comebacks in 2019, or perhaps began comebacks in 2018 after prior difficult seasons.

Let’s take a look at who is due – or in some cases, overdue – for an even stronger season in 2019:

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: RHR isn’t overdue by any stretch, having started his “comeback” of sorts in 2018. His fourth-place season finish was his best in the series since winning the championship in 2012.

He also earned two wins – Belle Isle II and the season finale at Sonoma – his first visits to victory lane since winning twice in 2015.

Had it not been for three DNFs in the second half of the season, Hunter-Reay likely could have finished in the top 3 at season’s end.

It was good to see him come back into prominence after frustration the last two seasons (12th in 2016 and 9th in 2017).

Hunter-Reay still has several more good years in him and it would not be surprising to see him finish even higher in 2019 – and potentially once again being a championship contender.

SIMON PAGENAUD: After winning the championship in 2016 and finishing second in 2017, Pagenaud definitely had an off-season by his usual standards in 2018, finishing sixth in the IndyCar standings.

The French-born driver failed to win a race for the first time since 2015 and had just two podium finishes (also the most since 2015).

One of the most telling stats from what was a frustrating campaign is Pagenaud and the No. 22 led a total of just 31 laps across the 17-race 2018 season, the fewest laps led in a single season in his entire IndyCar career.

He also had the second-worst average per-race finish of his career (8.6), after having average finishes of 6.1 in his championship season and 5.3 in 2017.

Of course, looking at things from a glass half-full viewpoint, Pagenaud went from a winless and disappointing 11th place finish in 2015 to become champion in 2016. Could history repeat itself in 2019?

By all measures, 2018 was definitely an off season for Pagenaud. Look for him to make a significant comeback in 2019.

Or, to borrow a line Pagenaud said to teammate Josef Newgarden during their early 2018 season “autograph battle,” it’s your move, bro, for 2019.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: The French driver had perhaps the best comeback season of any driver in 2018.

When former CART champ Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan joined forces with Dale Coyne Racing just prior to the start of the 2018 season, Bourdais was the hand-picked driver to carry the DCR with Vasser-Sullivan banner.

Bourdais did not disappoint. He started the season with a win at St. Petersburg and enjoyed his best overall season finish – seventh – in an Indy car since capturing the fourth of four straight CART/Champ Car World Series championships in 2007.

It was also Bourdais’ best career IndyCar finish, topping his previous best season finishes of 10th in both 2014 and 2015.|

Bourdais, who turns 40 in late February, finished the season strong with two top 5 and two other top 10 finishes in four of the last five races. That’s a good harbinger of even better things to come in 2019.

GRAHAM RAHAL: It was a tough season at times for Rahal, who turns 30 in early January.

Not only did he have his worst season finish – eighth – since 2014 (19th), he failed to win even one race (also for the first time since 2014) and had just one podium finish (2nd at St. Petersburg).

As if to add insult to injury, Rahal had two of his three season DNFs in his final two races (4th lap crash at Portland and a battery issue at Sonoma).

Rahal is overdue for the kind of season he had in 2015, when he won two races, had six podiums and finished a career-best fourth in the overall standings.

While Rahal has the equipment and personnel to do better, something just didn’t click in 2018. Will things turn around in 2019?

MARCO ANDRETTI: The grandson of Mario and son of Michael Andretti continues to be a work in progress – with emphasis on the word “progress” when it came to his 2018 performance.

Although he remains winless since 2011 and hasn’t had a podium finish since 2015, Marco Andretti still showed overall improvement in 2018, including earning his first pole (Belle Isle I) since 2013.

With a fifth-place finish in the season-ending race at Sonoma, Andretti jumped from 12th in the standings to finish the season tied for eighth place with Graham Rahal, Andretti’s best overall showing since finishing fifth in 2013.

Andretti had a strong second half of the 2018 season, with a top 5 in the season finale at Sonoma, as well as three top 11 finishes in five of the last eight races.

Don’t be surprised if he closes in on a top 5 finish in 2019. Andretti Autosport continues to improve overall as a team, particularly with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and now Andretti, as well.

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It was a strange season for the Mayor of Hinchtown.

He failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, had just one win and two podium finishes, yet ended up with a 10th place overall finish in the standings, his best performance since finishing 8th in both 2012 and 2013.

The Canadian driver went on a hot streak early in the second half of the season, winning at Iowa and finishing fourth in his hometown race in Toronto.

But DNFs at Pocono and Portland, as well as three other finishes of 14th (Mid-Ohio) and 15th (Gateway and Sonoma) likely cost him a chance of potentially finishing as high as eighth.

There was also the emotional, gut-wrenching crash involving Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate and longtime best friend, Robert Wickens, at Pocono. While Hinchcliffe tried to put on a happy face and showed support to his fallen mate, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wickens’ injury constantly dwelled on Hinchcliffe’s mind.

With the Indianapolis 500 heartbreak, the firing of engineer Lena Gade (who lasted just five races before her ouster), the injury to Wickens, and the overall second-half season struggles, Hinchcliffe is to be commended for finishing as high as he did in the final standings given the overall circumstances he had to endure.

At the same time, it’s likely a season he wants to wipe away from his memory bank and turn a forgettable season in 2018 into what Hinchcliffe and his team hope is an unforgettable season in 2019.

TONY KANAAN: A new team, new outlook and racing for legendary A.J. Foyt offered a great deal of promise for Tony Kanaan in 2018.

Unfortunately, the Brazilian native suffered through the worst season ever in his IndyCar career, finishing 16th in the overall standings.

Prior to 2018, Kanaan had experienced just one other season outside the top 10 (11th in 2013, the same year he won the Indianapolis 500).

Admittedly, TK, who turns 44 on December 31, is the oldest full-time driver on the circuit. But it doesn’t look like he’s lost much with age.

Rather, three DNFs and a career single-season low of having led just 20 laps over 17 races took its toll on Kanaan.

He will return for 2019, driving a second season for Foyt. But things need to dramatically improve for Kanaan, who hasn’t won a race since 2014.

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