NHRA Texas winners: Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Tanner Gray, LE Tonglet

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The six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs is turning into an instant replay of sorts.

In the finals of Sunday’s AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas native Steve Torrence continued his torrid run, capturing his third straight Countdown win – and eighth overall in the first 21 races of the 24-race season – at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, south of Dallas.

It was the first time Torrence – who is chasing his first-ever Top Fuel championship – has ever won a Top Fuel race at his home track.

But Torrence was just part of the instant replay. Robert Hight, fresh off surgery to repair a broken collarbone suffered in the previous race two weeks ago, won his second straight race of the Countdown and extended his lead in the Funny Car point standings.

Hight is going for his second consecutive Funny Car championship and the third of his career. In addition, no driver has won back-to-back Funny Car titles since his boss, John Force, did so in 2001 and 2002.

And Pro Stock points leader Tanner Gray earned his second straight Countdown win, while L.E. Tonglet won in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Sunday’s NHRA winners at Texas Motorplex: From left: LE Tonglet, Tanner Gray, Steve Torrence and Robert Hight.

In Top Fuel: Torrence made a pass of 3.786 seconds at 325.92 mph, defeating Terry McMillen (3.826 seconds at 321.04 mph) in the final round to capture the 24th victory of his Top Fuel career.

Torrence now owns a 103-point lead over Clay McMillan, who qualified No. 1 for this weekend’s race, in the Top Fuel standings with three races remaining.

“We were just here to go rounds,” Torrence said after claiming the “Wally” winner’s trophy. “I don’t have a Top Fuel championship. I have a Top Alcohol championship and the year that I won that I won at Dallas.

“We’ve been trying to get it done here since 2010. This is a check off my bucket list to be able to come to Dallas and win. I couldn’t be prouder to pull off a victory in front of everyone that was here this weekend.”

Torrence rolled past Bill Litton, Blake Alexander and eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher in the first three rounds of eliminations en route to his final round match with McMillen.

McMillen, meanwhile, reached the final round match with Torrence by defeating, in order, Mike Salinas, defending world champ Brittany Force and Millican before facing McMillen.

In Funny Car: Hight is still sore from the broken collarbone he suffered when the engine in his car exploded and he hit the retaining wall hard two weeks ago in the final round of the NHRA event at Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis. But he didn’t let the pain stop him from winning at Texas for the second straight year and the fourth time of his career at the Motorplex.

Hight rolled to a 3.955 second, 325.69 mph victory over J.R. Todd (3.984 seconds at 319.52 mph). It’s Hight’s 45th career Funny Car win.

Hight, who underwent surgery 3 days after the Gateway crash and was only medically cleared to race this past Thursday, now holds a 50-point lead in the standings over Todd.

“This AAA team was just flawless,” Hight said. “We just got better all weekend as we went. I promise you that we will celebrate tonight because we’re going to make up for the last one.

“That was one of the biggest rounds I’ve ever raced right there. J.R. Todd is No. 2 in points, he was 30 behind me going into the final and had I lost I’d be 10 ahead; which isn’t much. Luckily we get to do it again next week.”

Hight will go for his third straight win in the Countdown this coming weekend in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina.

Hight rolled through Jim Campbell, Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III en route to his 71st career final round appearance, vs. Todd.

Todd, meanwhile, beat John Hale, Jack Beckman and No. 1 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. on his way to his second final round of the Countdown.

In Pro Stock: Gray (6.622 seconds at 207.62 mph), knocked off No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.636 seconds at 207.82 mph) in the final round to earn the event win.

Gray rolled past Deric Kramer, Greg Anderson and Matt Hartford to earn his seventh win of the season and 12th of his career.

“We’ve been struggling with qualifying it seems like,” Gray said. “Really, for whatever reason, we’ve been able to pull it out on Sunday.

“Some of it being luck, while others it’s just making good runs and beating the other guy in the lane. It’s awesome to have the group of guys that I have around me.”

Gray is bidding to become the youngest-ever champion in NHRA history this season.

Coughlin Jr., a five-time world champion, defeated Val Smeland, Drew Skillman and Vincent Nobile to climb to the No. 3 spot in the points.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Tonglet rolled to his fourth win of 2018 and the 20th of his career.

Tonglet (6.892 seconds at 194.80 mph) defeated his boss, team owner Jerry Savoie (6.907 seconds at 193.88 mph) in Sunday’s final round.

By doing so, Tonglet – who rolled past Andrew Hines, Angelle Sampey and defending world champ and No. 1 qualifier this weekend, Eddie Krawiec – moved pass Matt Smith to take the lead in the PSM standings.

“It was fun in the pit while we were trying to get the bikes cooled off (after semi-finals),” Tonglet said of himself and Savoie. “Once we came up to the start line though I didn’t even look at him and he didn’t look at me. It was just all business.

“We’re leading the points now though and we’re not going to look back.”

The next event – the 22nd of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series – is this coming weekend (Oct. 12-14), the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina.

Here’s all the final statistics of Sunday’s eliminations:

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Terry McMillen; 3. Clay Millican; 4. Tony Schumacher; 5. Blake Alexander; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Leah Pritchett; 8. Brittany Force; 9. Richie Crampton; 10. Mike Salinas; 11. Doug Kalitta; 12. Scott Palmer; 13. Shawn Reed; 14. Kebin Kinsley; 15. Billy Torrence; 16. Bill Litton.

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

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

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

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.786 seconds, 325.92 mph def. Terry McMillen, 3.826 seconds, 321.04 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.955, 325.69 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.984, 319.52.

PRO STOCK: Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.622, 207.62 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.636, 207.82.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.892, 194.80 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.907, 193.88.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Blake Alexander, 3.758, 325.61 def. Billy Torrence, 4.604, 166.89; Antron Brown, 3.777, 323.43 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.830, 316.82; Brittany Force, 3.762, 330.07 def. Scott Palmer, 3.839, 323.97; Clay Millican, 3.744, 328.54 def. Richie Crampton, 3.784, 314.83; Steve Torrence, 3.764, 327.43 def. Bill Litton, 8.518, 63.50; Tony Schumacher, 3.747, 325.69 def. Shawn Reed, 3.900, 322.34; Terry McMillen, 3.800, 321.19 def. Mike Salinas, 3.807, 324.36; Leah Pritchett, 3.831, 324.20 def. Kebin Kinsley, 4.548, 172.45; QUARTERFINALS — S. Torrence, 3.800, 323.35 def. Alexander, 4.049, 232.91; McMillen, 3.819, 320.81 def. Force, 4.334, 227.69; Schumacher, 3.817, 323.89 def. Brown, 4.151, 241.15; Millican, 3.783, 321.50 def. Pritchett, 4.228, 201.91; SEMIFINALS — S. Torrence, 3.779, 321.73 def. Schumacher, 4.917, 166.64; McMillen, 3.816, 324.20 def. Millican, 3.855, 289.76; FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.786, 325.92 def. McMillen, 3.826, 321.04.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.998, 319.37 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.058, 317.12; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.981, 324.44 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 5.079, 150.15; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.007, 314.09 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 6.399, 103.46; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.982, 321.35 def. John Hale, Chevy Impala, 5.554, 129.49; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.969, 317.27 def. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.985, 318.17; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.942, 320.05 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 6.521, 101.08; John Force, Camaro, 3.986, 325.30 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.024, 314.39; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.015, 310.27 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.495, 217.60; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.937, 322.65 def. Pedregon, 4.036, 303.78; Todd, 3.991, 318.69 def. Beckman, 4.055, 260.36; Hight, 3.954, 321.12 def. Wilkerson, 3.990, 319.60; Tasca III, 4.021, 304.39 def. J. Force, 4.000, 325.77; SEMIFINALS — Hight, 3.962, 316.75 def. Tasca III, 4.323, 251.34; Todd, 3.952, 320.89 def. Johnson Jr., 3.964, 321.58; FINAL — Hight, 3.955, 325.69 def. Todd, 3.984, 319.52.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.618, 207.88 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.637, 208.30; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.626, 207.85 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.627, 207.66; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.633, 207.08 def. Alex Laughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.617, 206.23; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.606, 207.59 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.631, 208.07; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.607, 207.56 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.648, 207.72; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.642, 206.39 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.601, 207.56; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.621, 208.36 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.659, 206.51; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.624, 207.59 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.754, 205.57; QUARTERFINALS — Hartford, 6.631, 206.95 def. Delco, 6.683, 206.64; Gray, 6.636, 207.72 def. Anderson, 6.636, 208.10; Coughlin, 6.616, 208.39 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light; Nobile, 6.630, 207.75 def. Enders, 6.635, 207.53; SEMIFINALS — Gray, 9.699, 94.96 def. Hartford, Foul – Red Light; Coughlin, 6.619, 208.17 def. Nobile, 6.634, 207.15; FINAL — Gray, 6.622, 207.62 def. Coughlin, 6.636, 207.82.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.944, 193.52 def. Joey Gladstone, Buell, 7.025, 191.13; Angie Smith, Buell, 6.937, 191.67 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 7.021, 191.70; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.896, 195.36 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.138, 193.35; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.972, 192.11 def. Hector Arana, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.915, 194.38 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, Broke; Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.194, 189.47 def. Hector Arana Jr, 11.191, 73.65; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.890, 196.10 def. Anthony Vanetti, Buell, 7.147, 178.52; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.045, 189.31 def. Matt Smith, 6.960, 195.14; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson, 6.942, 191.78 def. Clontz, 7.122, 188.67; Savoie, 7.011, 191.16 def. Stoffer, Foul – Red Light; Tonglet, 6.903, 195.39 def. Sampey, 6.968, 193.49; Krawiec, 6.915, 195.31 def. A. Smith, 8.826, 99.73; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.927, 190.75 def. Johnson, 7.006, 189.95; Tonglet, 6.886, 194.86 def. Krawiec, 6.945, 194.97; FINAL — Tonglet, 6.892, 194.80 def. Savoie, 6.907, 193.88.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,468; 2. Clay Millican, 2,365; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,303; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,244; 5. Antron Brown, 2,221; 6. Terry McMillen, 2,189; 7. Doug Kalitta, 2,169; 8. Mike Salinas, 2,150; 9. Brittany Force, 2,140; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,117.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,387; 2. J.R. Todd, 2,337; 3. Tim Wilkerson, 2,254; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,251; 5. Courtney Force, 2,232; 6. Ron Capps, 2,215; 7. Matt Hagan, 2,175; 8. Jack Beckman, 2,172; 9. John Force, 2,168; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,120.

PRO STOCK: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,409; 2. Vincent Nobile, 2,320; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,319; 4. Drew Skillman, 2,275; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,266; 6. Erica Enders, 2,251; 7. Jason Line, 2,175; 8. Bo Butner, 2,154; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,136; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,096.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. LE Tonglet, 2,356; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,309; 3. Matt Smith, 2,308; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 2,253; 5. Jerry Savoie, 2,247; 6. Andrew Hines, 2,233; 7. Steve Johnson, 2,183; 8. Angie Smith, 2,168; 9. Angelle Sampey, 2,143; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,125.

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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.