NHRA Charlotte No. 1 qualifiers: Johnson Jr., B. Force, Skillman, Krawiec

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NHRA Media Release

CONCORD, N.C. – Tommy Johnson Jr. powered to the No. 1 qualifying position in Funny Car on Saturday at the 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by WIX Filters at zMAX Dragway.

Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also secured No. 1 qualifier positions in their respective categories at the fourth of six playoff events during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

Johnson Jr., who is looking for his first win of 2018, claimed his second straight No. 1 qualifier and the 17th of his career after going 3.873 seconds at 329.10 mph in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T during Saturday’s final qualifying session. It sets up a first-round match-up with Dave Richards for Johnson, who entered the weekend fourth in the points standings and still has visions of making a late charge for the championship.

“We’ve got a really, really good race car right now and the guys are doing such a great job,” Johnson Jr. said. “You can just see it in their confidence. I would say the only thing we have to change is semifinals (where he has lost three of the past four races). We have to fix that this weekend. We’ve had a good car for the last 6-7 races and we just keep building on it.”

Ron Capps finished second in qualifying with a 3.875 at 329.42 in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T and he will race Dale Creasy Jr. to open eliminations. Points leader and defending world champion Robert Hight, who has two straight wins, qualified No. 7 in his Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS with a run of 3.911 at 330.31. He will meet Jack Beckman in the first round of eliminations.

Force, the defending Top Fuel world champion, picked up her second No. 1 qualifier of 2018 and 10th of her career in her Advance Auto Parts/Monster Energy dragster with a run of 3.700 at 330.72 in the final qualifying session on Saturday. The run, which gave Force the No. 1 qualifier spot at both races at zMAX Dragway this season, sets up a first-round match up with Audrey Worm as Force looks to pick up her second win of 2018 and end her year on a strong note.

“We’re looking good going into race day,” Force said. “Our team has really been struggling this year in qualifying and we made some changes with the car the last few weekends. This weekend, I’m really hoping we’re going to turn the corner. We are happy and I have to thank all of my guys. They’ve been working around the clock and I would like to get all of us in the winner’s circle.”

Points leader and Friday’s provisional No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence, who has won the first three events of the Countdown to the Championship and has eight wins in 2018, will start eliminations from the No. 2 position thanks to his pass of 3.704 at 331.53 in his Capco Contractors dragster. He will meet Chris Karamesines in the first round of eliminations. Clay Millican ended up third after his pass of 3.718 at 321.73 in his Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster, setting up a first-round race against Kyle Wurtzel.

Pro Stock’s Skillman grabbed his seventh career top qualifier and second in 2018 after his run of 6.509 at 211.30 during the final qualifying session on Saturday in his Ray Skillman Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro. Skillman, who is seeking his first win of 2018, will try to become the 10th different Pro Stock winner this season and matches up with Shane Tucker to open eliminations.

“We’re trying our best to finish as strong as we can this year,” said Skillman, who entered the weekend fourth in points. “We didn’t have the best year all year, but the racecar is really coming together at the end of the season when it needs to. We’re going to try to get three more wins this year and this is a great start. We definitely feel very comfortable here.”

Provisional top qualifier and two-time world champion Erica Enders finished second in qualifying with a run of 6.513 at 211.96 in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro. She will race Wally Stroupe in the first round of eliminations, while points leader Tanner Gray, who has seven wins in 2018, qualified third with a run of 6.516 at 212.33 in his Valvoline/Nova Services Camaro, setting up a first-round matchup with Allen Prusiensky.

Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Krawiec collected his fourth No. 1 qualifier of 2018 and 43rd of his career with his 6.806 at 197.83 from Friday on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Krawiec, who trailed points leader LE Tonglet by 47 points heading into the weekend, will look for his fifth win of the season and faces Jim Underdahl in the first round of eliminations.

“I was fortunate enough to keep the No. 1 spot,” Krawiec said. “One of my teammates, Chip Ellis, almost knocked me off, but we were able to get it done. Rolling into tomorrow, I think it should be some good racing. It’s definitely going to be a game-changer. You have to be on this weekend and whoever comes out of here going the most rounds is probably going to be the most comfortable in this points battle. It’s do or die time, really.”

Teammate Ellis stayed second after improving to a 6.806 at 196.85 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson on Saturday, setting up a first-round matchup with Joey Gladstone, while points leader Tonglet qualified ninth with a 6.856 at 195.90 on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki and will race Angelle Sampey to open eliminations.

Eliminations for the NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by WIX Filters begin at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Brittany Force, 3.700 seconds, 330.72 mph vs. 16. Audrey Worm, 4.057, 266.11; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.704, 331.53 vs. 15. Chris Karamesines, 3.992, 282.66; 3. Clay Millican, 3.718, 321.73 vs. 14. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.901, 291.82; 4. Mike Salinas, 3.720, 329.02 vs. 13. Pat Dakin, 3.859, 312.57; 5. Doug Kalitta, 3.727, 327.59 vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.788, 326.56; 6. Tony Schumacher, 3.732, 329.42 vs. 11. Antron Brown, 3.785, 326.40; 7. Leah Pritchett, 3.755, 322.04 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.774, 318.99; 8. Dom Lagana, 3.762, 324.59 vs. 9. Terry McMillen, 3.769, 325.30. Did Not Qualify: 17. Lex Joon, 4.356, 178.19.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.873, 329.10 vs. 16. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 4.248, 272.94; 2. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.875, 329.42 vs. 15. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 4.181, 301.87; 3. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.876, 323.74 vs. 14. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.035, 309.42; 4. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.894, 327.90 vs. 13. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 3.959, 323.19; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.901, 325.77 vs. 12. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.945, 308.50; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.903, 325.14 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.937, 318.02; 7. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.911, 330.31 vs. 10. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.929, 325.45; 8. John Force, Camaro, 3.914, 330.72 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.920, 323.58. Did Not Qualify: 17. Bob Gilbertson, 4.301, 250.88.

PRO STOCK: 1. Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.509, 211.30 vs. 14. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.733, 204.35; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.513, 211.96 vs. 13. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 6.708, 206.01; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.516, 212.33 vs. 12. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.608, 209.72; 4. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.522, 211.69 vs. 11. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.568, 210.34; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.523, 211.59 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.556, 211.56; 6. Alex Laughlin, Dart, 6.525, 211.03 vs. 9. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.550, 211.03; 7. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.531, 211.93 vs. 8. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.545, 211.66.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.806, 197.83 vs. 16. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.905, 195.11; 2. Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, 6.806, 196.90 vs. 15. Joey Gladstone, Buell, 6.903, 194.30; 3. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.819, 195.99 vs. 14. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.891, 194.27; 4. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.836, 197.71 vs. 13. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.884, 194.30; 5. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.838, 199.29 vs. 12. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.879, 195.03; 6. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.842, 196.70 vs. 11. Hector Arana, EBR, 6.876, 197.33; 7. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.852, 194.32 vs. 10. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.875, 196.53; 8. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.853, 195.00 vs. 9. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.856, 196.33. Did Not Qualify: 17. Ron Tornow, 6.908, 193.43; 18. Kelly Clontz, 6.925, 192.38; 19. John Hall, 6.929, 194.16; 20. Mark Paquette, 6.935, 192.00; 21. Anthony Vanetti, 7.101, 185.92; 22. Maurice Allen, 7.110, 188.04.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”