Leah Pritchett is the early Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier. Photo courtesy NHRA

NHRA Pomona: Pritchett, Johnson Jr., Coughlin Jr., Smith early No. 1 qualifiers

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NHRA media release

POMONA, Calif. – Leah Pritchett lit the candles on her Top Fuel dragster Friday evening and piloted to the top of the category for both qualifying sessions at the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway.

Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also preliminary qualifiers in their respective categories at the final event of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Southern California native Pritchett raced to the top of the Top Fuel class with her 3.649-second pass at 329.34 mph in her Mopar Dodge dragster during the second session. She is seeking to secure her fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 11th of her career.

“When you have this horsepower weather and this time of day you can just feel the energy,” Pritchett stated. “The reason why there’s a smile on our faces is that we were able to execute what we wanted to do. Tomorrow we’re not going to have these same conditions so that’s why we’re excited we were able to capitalize on it tonight.”

Clay Millican is qualified second with his pass of 3.702 at 327.19 in his Great Clips / Parts Plus dragster and three-time world champion Antron Brown is third with his run of 3.704 at 329.50. 2018 Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence is qualified fourth as he seeks to make history by sweeping the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship events.

Two-time defending event champion Johnson Jr.’s second qualifying run of 3.881 at 328.54 in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T locked-in the top spot. He is seeking to secure his fourth consecutive No. 1 qualifying position this season.

“It’s incredible they have had such a handle on the car,” said Johnson. “I wish we could get that handle on Sunday but we are pretty close. I’m disappointed we didn’t get it done quick enough in the Countdown but at the same time I’m excited because it is such a good car now. If we can carry that on to next year I would love it.”

Teammate Jack Beckman is in the second spot with his pass of 3.901 at 323.35 while reigning Funny Car world champion Robert Hight sits in the third position. Current points leader J.R. Todd is in the No. 11 spot.

Coughlin Jr., who is currently No. 2 in the Pro Stock points standings, raced his JEGS.com/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.527 pass at 211.39 in the second round of qualifying.

“We made two really nice runs today,” Coughlin Jr. stated. “After Q1 we were on the poll and seeing some of our competitors bettering that mark ahead of us during the last three pair of Pro Stock were lower in the boom. I was concerned with the right lane because a lot of cars were getting loose out there and thought it was going to be tough to improve. When I let the clutch out the car just went singing down the track and it felt great.”

Teammate Erica Enders is currently in the second spot after racing a 6.530 at 211.39 in her Melling Performance/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro. Championship points leader Tanner Gray is currently qualified fourth.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith rode to a track record speed at 200.65 at 6.774 to lead the field on his Elite Motorsports DENSO Auto Parts EBR. Smith was the quickest in both qualifying sessions. Smith is the current category points leader and seeking to extend his lead.

“All in all, it was a good day for us,” Smith said. “We made two passes and were No. 1 for both runs. I got eight bonus points. We just have to go and win the race now and win the championship; no matter what anybody else tell us.”

Hector Arana Jr. qualified second with his pass of 6.824 at 198.96 on his Lucas Oil TV EBR and LE Tonglet is third with his run of 6.828 at 196.39.

Qualifying at the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals continues Saturday at 12:00 p.m. 

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FRIDAY’S RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.649 seconds, 329.34 mph; 2. Clay Millican, 3.702, 327.19; 3. Antron Brown, 3.704, 329.50; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.704, 327.35; 5. Blake Alexander, 3.711, 330.88; 6. Billy Torrence, 3.711, 328.86; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.740, 319.29; 8. Richie Crampton, 3.756, 319.52; 9. Scott Palmer, 3.767, 328.38; 10. Brittany Force, 3.772, 324.28; 11. Tony Schumacher, 3.792, 326.24; 12. Terry McMillen, 3.794, 325.61; 13. Shawn Reed, 3.858, 312.35; 14. Mike Salinas, 4.211, 208.20; 15. Cameron Ferre, 4.946, 144.75; 16. Audrey Worm, 7.731, 92.70.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.881, 328.54; 2. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.901, 323.35; 3. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.936, 325.69; 4. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.936, 305.29; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.948, 320.66; 6. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 3.950, 320.97; 7. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.965, 316.15; 8. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.029, 307.30; 9. Ray Martin, Camry, 4.183, 259.31; 10. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.217, 230.06; 11. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.220, 310.13; 12. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.253, 260.56; 13. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.256, 214.62; 14. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.276, 255.15; 15. Bob Bode, Mustang, 4.346, 205.76; 16. John Force, Camaro, 4.386, 206.54. Not Qualified: 17. Cruz Pedregon, 4.396, 204.14; 18. Jeff Diehl, 4.632, 190.35; 19. Jonnie Lindberg, 5.639, 122.74.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.527, 211.39; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.530, 211.39; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.531, 211.56; 4. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.537, 209.59; 5. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.550, 211.39; 6. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.550, 210.18; 7. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.557, 212.09; 8. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.558, 211.03; 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.560, 211.89; 10. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.562, 211.43; 11. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.570, 210.50; 12. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.590, 209.20; 13. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.612, 208.55; 14. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.615, 209.88; 15. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.697, 207.27; 16. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.738, 196.36. Not Qualified: 17. Steve Graham, 7.091, 157.19; 18. Tom Huggins, 7.481, 142.03; 19. Vincent Nobile, 12.494, 71.25.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.774, 200.65; 2. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.824, 198.96; 3. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.828, 196.39; 4. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.848, 194.74; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.864, 197.77; 6. Joey Gladstone, Buell, 6.880, 196.30; 7. Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, 6.880, 194.80; 8. Hector Arana, EBR, 6.885, 197.57; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.885, 194.49; 10. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.886, 194.60; 11. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.893, 196.64; 12. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.895, 193.40; 13. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.898, 191.29; 14. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.952, 191.40; 15. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.953, 194.86; 16. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.978, 193.99. Not Qualified: 17. Kelly Clontz, 7.013, 191.57; 18. Anthony Vanetti, 7.074, 188.94; 19. Angie Smith, 7.081, 163.63; 20. Maurice Allen, 7.114, 186.64; 21. Melissa Surber, broke.

Indianapolis 500 weather forecast: Rain chances decreasing for start

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INDIANAPOLIS — As the green flag keeps approaching for the 103rd Indianapolis 500, the chances of clear skies Sunday keep increasing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The chance of rain at the start of the race was down to about 30%, according to the wunderground.com site as of late Saturday night, and the forecast seemed good until late afternoon when the odds of precipitation rose to about 80%.

If the race starts on time at12:45 p.m. ET, that should be a long enough window to run the full 500 miles and certainly an official race (102 of 200 laps).

With Indiana on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone and a 9:02 p.m. sunset on race day, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles said the green flag probably could be held as late as 6 p.m. if a worst-case scenario of bad weather hits.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch

“We ran the NASCAR race (in 2017) almost right up to sunset,” Boles said. “The challenge of getting closer to sunset is just getting people out when it’s still light. The race itself is more than 2 hours and 40 minutes so you have to back-time yourself.

“We’ll sit down with IndyCar over the next 24 hours and at least have that in the back of our mind. If there’s a window to get it done, our intent would be get it in Sunday, so we would want to go as late as we could.”

Boles said National Weather Service representatives are on site this weekend to help with forecasting. Regardless of if there still is a threat of rain, the track will start the race on time as long as the surface is dry.

“I can’t imagine we’d postpone the start because we think it might rain,” Boles said. “If it’s not raining, we’re running the race.

Boles said track officials are monitoring Sunday’s weather daily but won’t discuss any potential contingency plans until Saturday night. Regardless of whether it’s raining Sunday morning, some pre-race ceremonies likely will remain in place.

“It’s hard to speculate on what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s likely Sunday morning will be the first time that we have any definitive statement on what we think is going to happen. Instead of giving you information that we don’t know what it’s going to be like, I’d rather wait until that Sunday when we see the conditions, and we’ll let you know.

“Obviously, if it’s raining, then we’ll have to decide what the next steps are.”

Boles said Indiana weather traditionally is unpredictable, noting that qualifying was completed last Sunday despite predictions of a complete washout.

“Last year the prediction was it was going to rain on race day, we got up next morning, and it was perfect,” Boles said. “It just changes so rapidly around here.”

Should it rain, IndyCar officials will make every reasonable attempt to run the Indy 500 on time,. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also recently used a new sealant on the track surface which makes it quicker to dry the racing surface.

During the previous 102 runnings of the Indy 500, there have been 12 impacted by rain: three complete postponements; two partial postponements and seven shortened races.

So what happens if it does rain? Some options:

Rain-shortened race

The Indy 500 could turn into the Indy 255. If more than 255 miles (102 laps) are completed in Sunday’s race, the race can be deemed official. If the race is called, driver’s finishing positions are based on their position in the race at the time of the caution flag for rain.

The Indy 500 has been shortened by rain only seven times, most recently in 2007. The race was stopped nearly three hours because of rain on Lap 113 and was declared officially over with Dario Franchitti in the lead when rain again hit at the 415-mile mark.

Partial postponement

If fewer than 102 laps are completed Sunday, the race will resume on the next dry day. With most Americans on holiday Monday because of Memorial Day, a partial postponement still might allow for a healthy audience at the track and watching on NBC.

The race has been partially postponed only twice in the 102 previous runnings, in 1967 and 1973.

Complete postponement

Fans shouldn’t worry too much about a complete postponement of the race, as it has only happened three times, most recently in 1997. If rain completely postpones the Indy 500, the race will be rescheduled for the next day with the start time dependent on the forecast.

The 1997 race ran 15 laps on Monday before rain again postponed the remainder of the race until Tuesday. The 1915 and ’86 runnings were postponed until the following Saturday.