NHRA: Kalitta, Hight, Butner open season with Winternationals wins

From left: Bo Butner, Robert Hight, Doug Kalitta. Photos and videos courtesy NHRA
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In Monday’s rain-rescheduled finals of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals, Doug Kalitta did something no other driver has been able to do of late: beat 2018 Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence.

Torrence won the last six races of 2018, more than half of the 11 wins he earned in the 24-race season. But Monday, Kalitta topped the Texas native, marking two years in a row that Kalitta has begun the season with a Winternationals win.

Also winning the Winternationals for the second straight year was 2017 champion Bo Butner in Pro Stock.

And two-time NHRA Funny Car champ Robert Hight earned his fourth career Winternationals title.

Here’s how things played out Monday:

TOP FUEL: Kalitta (4.014 seconds at 269.29 mph) defeated No. 1 qualifier Torrence (4.008 seconds, 240.25 mph) as both dragsters pedaled their way through broken traction to reach the finish line. It was the 45th win of Kalitta’s Top Fuel career.

“This place has always been very special for me,” Kalitta said in a media release. “To have success here is more than you could imagine for me. We were fortunate to get by (Torrence’s team) but we’re going to keep at it.

“We are really hungry and we’ve got Rob (Flynn, crew chief) and Troy (Fasching, crew chief) doing just an awesome job. I’m just really proud of them.”

Kalitta not only defeated Steve Torrence in the final round, he also defeated Torrence’s father, Billy, in the quarterfinals. He also defeated Scott Palmer in the first round and Terry McMillen in the semifinals.

FUNNY CAR: Hight (3.881 seconds at 329.75 mph) defeated Jack Beckman (3.880 seconds, 329.42 mph) in the final round.

“You look at the Funny Car class and I think its tougher this year than last,” said Hight, who finished second in last year’s standings after winning the crown in 2017. “To come out here and be the No. 1 qualifier and win the race, that’s quite an accomplishment for this team. We’re going to have to be on our game all year long.”

The president of John Force Racing, Hight’s road to his 46th career Funny Car win began by defeating Terry Haddock in the opening round, Bob Tasca III in the quarterfinals and teammate and boss John Force in the semifinals before facing Beckman in the final round.

Beckman reached the final round by defeating, in order, Phil Burkhart Jr., Cruz Pedregon and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.

PRO STOCK: In a rematch and same outcome as the 2018 Winternationals final round, Butner (6.522 seconds, 211.59 mph) earned his eighth career win by defeating teammate Jason Line (7.160 seconds, 148.58 mph).

“We were really struggling during qualifying,” Butner stated. “I definitely feel like we had the best car all four rounds today. I feel like we have a great car and team this year and I’m looking forward to keep going. We’re going to try and win them and the KB Racing team is as strong as ever.”

It was an interesting turn of events for Butner, who late last season announced that he would be stepping away from Pro Stock and returning to his Sportsman racing roots in 2019. Then, just a few weeks later, Butner changed his mind and said he would return to Pro Stock, which has seen its schedule trimmed from 24 national events to just 18 races in 2019.

Butner defeated, in order, Alan Prusiensky, Chris McGaha and two-time world champion Erica Enders en route to his final round win over Line.

The NHRA’s next national event is the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park Feb. 22-24.

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FINAL ROUND:

TOP FUEL: Doug Kalitta, 4.014 seconds, 269.29 mph def. Steve Torrence, 4.008 seconds, 240.25 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.881, 329.75 def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.880, 329.42.

PRO STOCK: Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.59 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 7.160, 148.58.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta; 2. Steve Torrence; 3. Mike Salinas; 4. Terry McMillen; 5. Billy Torrence; 6. Austin Prock; 7. Leah Pritchett; 8. Antron Brown; 9. Richie Crampton; 10. Clay Millican; 11. Steve Faria; 12. Brittany Force; 13. Cameron Ferre; 14. Scott Palmer.

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

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner; 2. Jason Line; 3. Alex Laughlin; 4. Erica Enders; 5. Matt Hartford; 6. Steve Graham; 7. Val Smeland; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Kenny Delco; 10. Alan Prusiensky; 11. Deric Kramer; 12. Greg Anderson; 13. Fernando Cuadra; 14. Jeg Coughlin; 15. Jeff Isbell; 16. Rodger Brogdon.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.707, 323.97 def. Scott Palmer, 8.545, 93.47; Terry McMillen, 3.710, 329.10 def. Richie Crampton, 3.737, 325.22; Leah Pritchett, 3.707, 325.61 def. Antron Brown, 3.733, 329.26; Billy Torrence, 4.103, 266.42 def. Cameron Ferre, 7.368, 86.02; Steve Torrence, 3.688, 330.96 def. Steve Faria, 4.626, 163.18; Austin Prock, 4.029, 312.21 def. Brittany Force, 5.851, 112.72; Mike Salinas, 3.682, 333.74 def. Clay Millican, 3.840, 327.82. QUARTERFINALS — Kalitta, 3.716, 325.69 def. B. Torrence, 3.670, 331.04; McMillen, 3.696, 329.91 def. Pritchett, 4.622, 147.12; S. Torrence, 3.678, 331.36 was unopposed; Salinas, 3.685, 334.40 def. Prock, 3.699, 334.15. SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.708, 328.70 def. McMillen, 3.706, 329.10; S. Torrence, 3.688, 329.50 def. Salinas, 3.687, 318.47. FINAL – Kalitta 4.014, 269.29 def. S. Torrence, 4.008, 240.25.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.959, 319.75 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 9.384, 84.66; Cruz Pedregon, Dodge Charger, 4.292, 215.86 def. Frank Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 6.688, 109.80; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.930, 328.30 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 13.400, 49.20; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.102, 237.96 def. Phil Burkart, Broke – No Show; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.193, 288.33 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.822, 121.03; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.076, 246.57 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.877, 164.87; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.933, 323.04 def. Gary Densham, Mustang, 12.020, 83.20; John Force, Camaro, 3.890, 333.74 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.140, 243.33. QUARTERFINALS — Hight, 3.856, 331.61 def. Tasca III, 3.932, 322.58; Beckman, 3.875, 331.94 def. C. Pedregon, 3.962, 328.46; Johnson Jr., 3.876, 326.87 def. Langdon, 3.982, 324.05; Force, 3.900, 323.19 def. Capps, 4.092, 248.07; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.898, 327.59 def. Johnson Jr., 5.216, 144.83; Hight, 3.883, 328.22 def. Force, 3.930, 321.42; FINAL — Hight, 3.881, 329.75 def. Beckman, 3.880, 329.42.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.545, 211.33 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 35.522, 43.37; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.545, 210.34 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.550, 211.06; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 7.946, 165.09 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 27.866, 51.48; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.536, 211.93 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 28.385, 29.30; Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.607, 210.41 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.907, 201.58; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.501, 212.39 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.637, 208.42; Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.599, 210.77 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.517, 212.39 def. Jeff Isbell, Ford Mustang, ; QUARTERFINALS — Laughlin, 6.716, 205.54 def. Smeland, 8.256, 123.01; Line, 6.531, 212.03 def. Graham, 6.602, 209.69; Enders, 6.510, 212.09 def. Hartford, 6.533, 210.34; Butner, 6.526, 211.43 def. McGaha, 8.953, 105.81; SEMIFINALS — Line, 6.527, 211.13 def. Laughlin, 6.527, 211.66; Butner, 6.518, 211.53 def. Enders, 6.527, 211.93; FINAL — Butner, 6.522, 211.59 def. Line, 7.160, 148.58.

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UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS AFTER FIRST RACE:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 117; 2. Steve Torrence, 106; 3. Terry McMillen, 72; 4. Mike Salinas, 70; 5. Billy Torrence, 56; 6. (tie) Leah Pritchett, 52; Austin Prock, 52; 8. Antron Brown, 37; 9. (tie) Richie Crampton, 35; Scott Palmer, 35.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 121; 2. Jack Beckman, 100; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 81; 4. John Force, 71; 5. Shawn Langdon, 58; 6. Ron Capps, 57; 7. Bob Tasca III, 55; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 54; 9. Matt Hagan, 37; 10. (tie) Jim Campbell, 32; Gary Densham, 32; Frank Pedregon, 32; J.R. Todd, 32; Tim Wilkerson, 32.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner, 120; 2. Jason Line, 97; 3. Erica Enders, 80; 4. Alex Laughlin, 76; 5. (tie) Matt Hartford, 52; Chris McGaha, 52; 7. (tie) Steve Graham, 51; Val Smeland, 51; 9. Rodger Brogdon, 44; 10. Deric Kramer, 37.

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”