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

NHRA
1 Comment

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.

*********************************************

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.

*********************************************

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.

*********************************************

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.

*********************************************

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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
Getty Images
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”