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NHRA: Jason Line hopes to finally win big at Minnesota home track

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Even though he now lives more than 1,250 miles away near Charlotte, North Carolina, Brainerd International Raceway will always be NHRA Pro Stock driver Jason Line’s home track.

Line grew up in Wright, Minnesota, 70 miles northeast of Brainerd. It was there where he learned how to not only be a competitive drag racer, but also planted the seeds that eventually led to Line earning three NHRA Pro Stock championships.

And every year, he gets a chance to go back home to see family and friends – and once again accept the challenge that BIR’s quarter-mile drag strip presents – in this weekend’s NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals.

NHRA Pro Stock driver Jason Line (Photo: Getty Images).

But this year, Line wants to leave Brainerd in a different way than he ever has before: he wants to finally check off his first career Pro Stock win at his home track. He’s made it to the final round four times, most recently in 2016, and technically won the 2014 race – but due to weather issues, the final round was contested two weeks later at Indianapolis, not Brainerd.

So even though he has a Brainerd “Wally” winner’s trophy, Line never has had the opportunity to win and celebrate a Pro Stock win at his home track.

That’s why this weekend’s race is so important to him. He wants to finally break that dubious distinction. And what would make it all the more sweeter is if Line can also finally break a winless slump he’s been embroiled in all season.

“(Brainerd) has been kind of tough for me, but the older I get the more relaxed I get, so maybe this year it will help me,” Line said in a media release. “I’m looking forward to going, that’s for sure.

“I want to enjoy doing what I do for the amount of time I have left doing it. Going to Brainerd, the biggest thing is seeing my core group of friends and family that I started racing with years ago. It’s a good reminder of a lot of things, and there’s a first time for everything.”

This weekend also has increased significance as the Pro Stock schedule was reduced this season from its previous 24-race length to just 18 races. Brainerd will be the 11th of the 18 races, but more importantly, it’s the second-to-last race to qualify for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Even though he’s been winless thus far in 2019, Line has had good consistency. He enters the Brainerd event ranked fifth in the standings, 171 points behind points leader and KB Racing teammate Bo Butner, and 125 points behind second-ranked and another fellow KB Racing teammate, Greg Anderson.

“We’re not bad right now, but I don’t know that we’re great,” said Line, who has 48 career Pro Stock wins and 100 final round appearances. “I think we can be better and obviously that’s the goal.

“There’s some other stuff we’re working on that I think will refine things and will help us be better long-term. We need to do a little better on raceday. Our class has evolved into super refinement. You’re not going to find big gains, so you’re going to have to rub on what you’ve got and try to improve it.

“In our class, the difference between okay and great is a really small number. There’s definitely not a huge difference between okay and great. I’m just trying to take an analytical approach to it and try to do a better job. We’ll try to keep getting better and we’re constantly trying to come up with new ways to improve.”

Qualifying begins Friday with rounds at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. ET, and two more rounds of qualifying on Saturday at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. ET. Final eliminations are slated to begin at Noon ET on Sunday.

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Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).