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NHRA: Steve Torrence’s fourth win of season highlights wild day in Chicago

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JOLIET, Illinois — In a wild day of exploding cars, wall-banging incidents and unusual runs, Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) emerged victorious in Sunday’s finals of the NHRA Route 66 Nationals.

Sunday’s finals marked the ninth race of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, and also marks the halfway point of the 18 regular season races before the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Here’s how things played out:

In Top Fuel, defending series champ Torrence earned the 31st win of his career, holding off Mike Salinas.

“Hopefully we can just keep the momentum going,” Torrence said of his fourth consecutive win in the first nine races of the season. “We’re doing the best we can and having fun doing it.”

Torrence’s four-race winning streak started over a month ago at Charlotte, followed by triumphs at Atlanta, Richmond and now on the outskirts of the Windy City.

But even more impressive is, going back to the 2017 season, Torrence has won 22 of the 26 final rounds he’s been in, an outstanding 85 percent winning percentage.

“That’s pretty surreal, I didn’t know that,” Torrence said. “Seven years ago, if you said I’ve have 31 wins now, I’d say you were full of crap. I just wanted to have one win. It’s been an awesome ride if it were to end today.

“Any time you can win two or three in a row and keep doing it, and then get four in a row, you’re really doing something.”

In Funny Car, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force was hoping to finally earn the 150th win of his career, but fell in the semifinals to Johnson.

Then in the final round, Johnson defeated Robert Hight — president of John Force Racing — in one of the most unusual paths to victory seen in a long time.

Johnson’s car exploded about halfway down the 1,000-foot drag strip, but he was able to coast all the way to the finish line to defeat Hight, who lost traction early in the run and was unable to catch Johnson, who earned the 17th win of his Funny Car career.

“You keep trying to get these wins, you keep coming up short, but you have to keep coming up to the starting line,” Johnson said of his first win since 2017. “I felt good coming here. I’ve had a lot of success here, like four final rounds in the last six races.”

But coming into Sunday’s final round, Johnson had failed to win in his seven previous final round appearances.

“I came up in the final round and didn’t feel nervous at all,” Johnson said. “I was waiting and waiting for Hight and thank goodness I didn’t see him. That was the longest coasting of my career. I kept looking to the right and the finish line, to the right and to the finish line. It’s amazing how many things go through your mind. It seemed like five minutes instead of a split-second.

“(Having gone 0-for-7), you just have to keep at it. You can’t get bummed out or dejected.”

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders, who is one of the best when it comes to getting a jump at the starting line, had an uncharacteristic red-light foul, jumping the go light by a mere split-second, giving a free pass to the win to Deric Kramer. It was Kramer’s third career Pro Stock win.

It was Kramer’s first win since Brainerd, Minnesota, last summer, and his third career win in Pro Stock.

“Not make mistakes, that’s been our biggest detriment since Brainerd last year,” Kramer said. “We laid down a great pass (vs. Enders).”

It helped that Kramer saw the win light in his lane go on at the end of the track as soon as the green go light went on.

“It’s a relief, to be honest,” Kramer said. “There’s pressure on in the starting line and if you don’t perform, you go home. When you see the win light, you can enjoy the ride.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, while a record six females qualified for the 16-bike eliminations, they couldn’t hold off defending series champ Matt Smith, who defeated Karen Stoffer in the final round of eliminations.

“We were on kill today,” said Smith, who even defeated his wife Angie in the semifinal round to reach the final round matchup with Stoffer. “It was a good day. We needed to get a win in the column and we pulled out our championship motor (from last season).”

The day saw a number of other significant mishaps. Fortunately, all drivers were uninjured:

  • Leah Pritchett’s Top Fuel dragster exploded, with resulting debris cutting the right rear tire off the vehicle, during a first-round loss to Chicago-area driver T.J. Zizzo.
  • A few minutes later, in the first round of Funny Car eliminations, Tim Wilkerson, of downstate Springfield, Ill., hit the right wall hard, losing to Cruz Pedregon.
  • In the scariest incident of the day, in the quarterfinals of Pro Stock Motorcycle, Jianna Salinas hit two of the center line timing blocks, and then her bike shot hard toward the right-side wall. Salinas fell off the bike just before it impacted the wall. After laying on the pavement for a few seconds, Salinas was able to get up under her own power and was taken to the medical center to be examined. Hector Arana Jr. claimed the win. Torrence went over to speak with Jianna Salinas — daughter of Mike Salinas — after she was cleared from the medical center and put a smile on her face when he told her, “You need to drive one of these things (a Top Fuel dragster). You can’t fall off it.”
  • In the semifinals of Top Fuel, Antron Brown suffered a big motor explosion shortly after leaving the starting line, allowing Torrence to take the win.

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FINAL RESULTS AND UPDATED STANDINGS:

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Mike Salinas; 3. Doug Kalitta; 4. Antron Brown; 5. Jordan Vandergriff; 6. Pat Dakin; 7. T.J. Zizzo; 8. Richie Crampton; 9. Austin Prock; 10. Clay Millican; 11. Shawn Reed; 12. Dom Lagana; 13. Scott Palmer; 14. Terry McMillen; 15. Leah Pritchett; 16. Brittany Force.

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

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

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith; 2. Karen Stoffer; 3. Hector Arana Jr; 4. Angie Smith; 5. Eddie Krawiec; 6. Angelle Sampey; 7. Andie Rawlings; 8. Jianna Salinas; 9. Scotty Pollacheck; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Hector Arana; 12. Marc Ingwersen; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Andrew Hines; 15. Michael Ray; 16. Steve Johnson.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.763 seconds, 326.32 mph def. Mike Salinas, 4.102 seconds, 213.74 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.175, 229.86 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.438, 202.55.

PRO STOCK: Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.532, 210.70 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, Foul – Red Light.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Matt Smith, EBR, 6.807, 198.88 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.885, 193.71.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Jordan Vandergriff, 3.814, 313.88 def. Clay Millican, Foul – Red Light; Richie Crampton, 3.758, 322.73 def. Austin Prock, 3.770, 327.51; Doug Kalitta, 3.752, 326.63 def. Shawn Reed, 3.786, 324.83; Mike Salinas, 3.736, 325.69 def. Scott Palmer, 3.825, 325.30; Antron Brown, 3.736, 327.11 def. Brittany Force, 5.776, 112.30; Steve Torrence, 3.741, 329.34 def. Terry McMillen, 4.282, 194.74; Pat Dakin, 3.798, 318.47 def. Dom Lagana, 3.801, 324.12; T.J. Zizzo, 3.821, 313.22 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.736, 137.39;  QUARTERFINALS — Kalitta, 3.812, 321.04 def. Dakin, 3.946, 294.88; Torrence, 3.748, 327.59 def. Crampton, 4.627, 164.29; Salinas, 3.799, 317.12 def. Zizzo, 4.013, 256.75; Brown, 3.789, 322.96 def. Vandergriff, 3.805, 318.54;  SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 4.083, 209.17 def. Kalitta, Foul – Red Light; Torrence, 3.804, 322.42 def. Brown, 6.050, 89.27;  FINAL — Torrence, 3.763, 326.32 def. Salinas, 4.102, 213.74.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.930, 329.18 def. Blake Alexander, Ford Mustang, 4.250, 222.77; Jeff Arend, Mustang, 4.366, 259.76 def. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 5.234, 117.81; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.040, 262.33 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.044, 314.39; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.946, 325.85 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.673, 180.72; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.944, 325.53 def. Bob Bode, Mustang, 4.349, 215.51; John Force, Camaro, 3.956, 328.46 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.938, 319.98; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.954, 328.46 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.014, 320.28; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.016, 321.19 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, Foul – Outer Boundary; QUARTERFINALS — Hight, 3.956, 323.35 def. Pedregon, 4.030, 298.21; Beckman, 3.962, 329.75 def. Arend, 4.028, 317.49; Force, 3.961, 325.53 def. Capps, 4.018, 298.47; Johnson Jr., 3.941, 323.81 def. Hagan, 4.071, 274.16;  SEMIFINALS — Hight, 4.105, 239.40 def. Beckman, Foul – Red Light; Johnson Jr., 3.972, 321.81 def. Force, 3.953, 322.42;  FINAL — Johnson Jr., 4.175, 229.86 def. Hight, 4.438, 202.55.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.594, 211.03 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.565, 209.26 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.576, 210.11; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.561, 210.44 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 11.655, 76.22; Richard Freeman, Ford Mustang, 6.571, 209.20 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.612, 209.23; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.548, 210.44 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 13.795, 61.92; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.566, 210.44 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.681, 207.85; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.537, 211.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.680, 206.45; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.558, 209.46 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 7.558, 136.14; QUARTERFINALS — Kramer, 6.559, 209.98 def. Hartford, 6.638, 209.56; Enders, 6.566, 209.75 def. Freeman, 6.560, 210.24; Laughlin, 6.570, 209.23 def. Line, 6.568, 210.41; Anderson, 6.541, 211.06 def. Butner, Foul – Red Light;  SEMIFINALS — Kramer, 6.550, 209.98 def. Laughlin, 6.582, 210.18; Enders, 6.573, 210.41 def. Anderson, 6.552, 212.39; FINAL — Kramer, 6.532, 210.70 def. Enders, Foul – Red Light.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.867, 195.14 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.939, 192.60; Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.008, 184.62 def. Hector Arana, 7.020, 193.60; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.887, 191.70 def. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.928, 192.49; Angie Smith, 6.967, 194.66 def. Marc Ingwersen, Buell, 7.084, 189.95; Hector Arana Jr, 6.865, 195.19 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.182, 185.95; Andie Rawlings, Suzuki, 7.255, 179.52 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.622, 194.21; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.824, 197.74 def. Michael Ray, Buell, 7.914, 122.50; Matt Smith, 6.798, 199.76 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, Broke – No Show; QUARTERFINALS — A. Smith, 6.925, 195.19 def. Rawlings, Broke; Arana Jr, 6.974, 193.57 def. Salinas, Foul – Centerline; Stoffer, 6.883, 193.93 def. Krawiec, 6.868, 195.76; M. Smith, 6.874, 198.03 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Stoffer, 6.877, 194.10 def. Arana Jr, 6.867, 193.71; M. Smith, 6.833, 198.17 def. A. Smith, 6.956, 195.22; FINAL — M. Smith, 6.807, 198.88 def. Stoffer, 6.885, 193.71.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 820; 2. Doug Kalitta, 574; 3. Mike Salinas, 573; 4. Brittany Force, 572; 5. Antron Brown, 544; 6. Clay Millican, 523; 7. Leah Pritchett, 497; 8. Richie Crampton, 410; 9. Terry McMillen, 383; 10. Austin Prock, 375.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 818; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., 650; 3. Ron Capps, 610; 4. John Force, 596; 5. J.R. Todd, 593; 6. Matt Hagan, 559; 7. Jack Beckman, 553; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 495; 9. Shawn Langdon, 435; 10. Bob Tasca III, 401.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner, 598; 2. Alex Laughlin, 431; 3. Erica Enders, 393; 4. Jason Line, 390; 5. Greg Anderson, 389; 6. Matt Hartford, 379; 7. Deric Kramer, 357; 8. Jeg Coughlin, 330; 9. Rodger Brogdon, 286; 10. Chris McGaha, 273.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 606; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 534; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 514; 4. Matt Smith, 444; 5. Karen Stoffer, 349; 6. Ryan Oehler, 296; 7. Angie Smith, 275; 8. Angelle Sampey, 263; 9. Hector Arana, 239; 10. Jerry Savoie, 233.

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Five things to watch for in Bommarito Auto Group 500 at Gateway

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There have been five different winners in the last five weeks of the NTT IndyCar season and driver that kicked off that streak in Elkhart Lake is in desperate need of a victory to help close the points gap to the leader. After being involved in the Lap 1 accident at Pocono Raceway last week, Alexander Rossi sits 35 points behind Josef Newgarden. Rossi’s two victories this season have come on road courses.

This week’s Bommarito Auto Group 500 the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway is the third race on this track since IndyCar first revisited it in 2017. Newgarden took the checkers in 2017; Will Power grabbed the glory last year. Gateway also hosted races from 2001-2003.

Here are some of the storylines to watch this Sunday:

  1. For most of the drivers in the field, this will mark only their third time to race at Gateway, but two drivers were around in 2003 when IndyCar visited this track previously. Scott Dixon finished 15th in that race. He found the handle when Indy returned in 2017 to finish second and then third last year. Tony Kanaan was second in 2003; unfortunately he went the other direction and has not scored a top-10 at Gateway since.
  2. If one is looking for perfection on this track type, Simon Pagenaud is the only driver to sweep the top 10 on ovals in the past two years. In his last 10 starts on them, he has garnered an average finish of 5.2; his last five attempts have been sixth or better including a win in this year’s Indy 500. Pagenaud finished third at Gateway in 2017 and was fourth last year.
  3. The top two drivers in the points standings should also challenge for a top-five this week. Rossi was perfect alongside Pagenaud on ovals until his accident last week at Pocono with a sweep of the top 10 and seven top-fives in his last nine races. Newgarden also has nine top-10s and a worst of 13th on ovals in the past two years.
  4. Don’t count Dixon out of the points battle yet. While he currently sits 52 points out of first, Dixon is the hottest driver on the circuit with a current streak of five top-fives to his credit including his victory at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago. His oval record is a little spottier with two runner-up finishes and two 17th-place finishes in the last four races.
  5. Last week’s first-lap carnage ended Rossi’s top-10 streak at seven, but one other driver was able to sneak through and extend his. Graham Rahal will vie for his ninth consecutive top-10 this week, but that success is questionable in light of his Gateway record. Rahal finished 12th in 2017 and was barely able to crack the top 10 in 10th last year.

See More: IndyCar championship contenders seeing fortunes rise and drop

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