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NHRA: Jason Line finally earns home win at Brainerd; Pritchett, Capps also triumph

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Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.

NHRA Pro Stock drag racer Jason Line may not have originated that saying, but he certainly lived up to it Sunday in the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Although he now lives in North Carolina, Line grew up in northeast Minnesota in the town of Wright, about an hour’s drive from Brainerd International Raceway. BIR is where Line cut much of his racing teeth, so to speak, but he never took home a Pro Stock win there (he did win two Stock Eliminator sportsman races there in 1992 and 1997).

That is, until Sunday. Sure, Line was credited as the winner of the 2014 race at BIR, but due to weather, the final round was not completed until two weeks later – and was held in an alternate venue during the subsequent U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park.

So, Line may have entered this weekend with a past Pro Stock win from the Brainerd event, but he never actually did the trick at his home track until Sunday. And oh, what a dominant win it was. Line plowed through the opposition for his first win of 2019 like a man on a mission who was not going to be denied something he’s been chasing for more than 20 years of racing.

He also set an NHRA record by recording a win in 16 consecutive seasons now.

The three-time NHRA Pro Stock champ had an outstanding weekend. Not only was he No. 1 qualifier, he wrapped things up with a win in one of the best Pro Stock battles of the season to date, running 6.597 seconds at 209.10 mph to defeat Erica Enders (6.604 seconds at 207.59 mph) in Sunday’s final round.

MORE: NHRA: Jason Line looks to finally win big at his home track in Minnesota

En route to his win over Enders, Line defeated Wally Stroupe, Alex Laughlin and Deric Kramer to reach the final round. Enders, the No. 2 qualifier, beat Shane Tucker, Chris McGaha and Matt Hartford to meet Line in the final round.

“This is very cool,” Line said. “As we get older, you realize these moments are going to be few and far between and less chance of them happening, so it’s very special. Right now it feels special, but it’s going be feel more special later on, for sure. It was just a great weekend and a fun day. We had a great car and you want to win here in front of your friends and family. To see them and see how happy they are, it’s super special. This place has been a big part of our lives.”

The win was the 49th of Line’s Pro Stock career and his first since last fall at Charlotte. He’s now the seventh different winner in the first 11 races of the 18-race Pro Stock national event schedule.

IN FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps (3.946 seconds at 324.28 mph) defeated his Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.947 seconds at 319.98 mph), in Sunday’s final round. It was Capps’ 64th career win and his 50th racing for DSR. It was also Capps’ sixth career Funny Car win at Brainerd.

In a way, it was somewhat of an avenging victory, as Capps lost in the final round of the last race, at Seattle two weeks ago, when John Force captured the 150th Funny Car win of his career.

Capps defeated, in order, J.R. Todd, Jack Beckman and Shawn Langdon to face Johnson Jr., who defeated Tim Wilkerson, Robert Hight and No. 1 qualifier Matt Hagan.

“I had my hands full today,” Capps said. “This is a race that we circle on the calendar because it’s fun, but you want to race this race and get the finishing touches on your tune-up.

“This is a crucial race and they’ve done such a great job here. Both lanes are equal and you really want to have your act together leaving this race. I’m so happy we’ve had great success here and we had a great running car today.”

IN TOP FUEL: Leah Pritchett (3.732 seconds at 321.04 mph) held off Mike Salinas (4.066 seconds, 235.72 mph) to earn her first win of 2019, snapping a 26-race winless streak that dated back more than a year ago.

It was the Southern California native’s eighth career Top Fuel win and 14th overall win (including prior wins in the Pro Modified and Factory Stock classes). It also was Pritchett’s second career Top Fuel win at Brainerd.

Pritchett defeated Kyle Wurtzel, defending event winner Billy Torrence and Austin Prock to meet Salinas in the final round. Salinas, meanwhile, defeated Luigi Novelli, Clay Millican and Doug Kalitta to meet Pritchett. By virtue of her win, Pritchett became the second DSR driver to win Sunday, joining Capps in the winner’s circle.

“I was proud to be the one to put on the final win light (today) for DSR, and this is the perfect time to be able to get the momentum for our season,” Pritchett said. “Looking at the time sheets, we made four incredible runs and that’s something that the crew chiefs have been able to do consistently, and it’s coming together at the perfect time. Between the racecar that we have, the team and what we’re asking it to do, (the car) is performing beautifully, and I couldn’t be more happy.”

PLAYOFF UPDATE: There is now just one race remaining for drivers to qualify for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Those that have clinched so far include, as well as those still in contention for the remaining playoff position(s) are:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, Antron Brown, Clay Millican​​​​​​, Brittany Force, Doug Kalitta, Mile Salinas and Leah Pritchett have all clinched playoff spots. Five other drivers are in the running for the three remaining spots; Austin Prock, Richie Crampton, Terry McMillen, Scott Palmer and Billy Torrence.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight, Tommy Johnson Jr., John Force, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Bob Tasca III, Matt Hagan, J.R. Todd and Shawn Langdon have all clinched playoff spots. Tim Wilkerson and Cruz Pedregon will battle it out at Indianapolis to determine the lone remaining playoff contender.

PRO STOCK: Bo Butner, Greg Anderson, Alex Laughlin, Matt Hartford, Jason Line, Deric Kramer, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Erica Enders and Chris McGaha have all qualified for the playoffs. Nine drivers will battle it out at Indy for the remaining one spot: Kenny Delco, Fernando Cuadra Sr., Val Smeland, Rodger Brogdon, Alan Prusiensky, Fernando Cuadra Jr., Shane Tucker, Richard Freeman and Steve Graham.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Even though the class did not race at Brainerd, only four riders have qualified so far for the playoffs: Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, Hector Arana Jr. and Matt Smith. Six other spots will be filled at Indy.

NOTES: The next NHRA race is the biggest of the season, the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis from August 28-Sept. 2.

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Here’s the statistics from Sunday’s final rounds:

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Leah Pritchett; 2.  Mike Salinas; 3.  Austin Prock; 4.  Doug Kalitta; 5.  Brittany Force; 6. Steve Torrence; 7.  Clay Millican; 8.  Billy Torrence; 9.  Luigi Novelli; 10.  Chris Karamesines; 11.  Antron Brown; 12.  Terry McMillen; 13.  Richie Crampton; 14.  Kyle Wurtzel; 15.  Scott Palmer; 16.  Cameron Ferre.

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

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

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Leah Pritchett, 3.732 seconds, 321.04 mph  def. Mike Salinas, 4.066 seconds, 235.72 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.946, 324.28  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.947, 319.98.

PRO STOCK: Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.597, 209.10  def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.604, 207.59.

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

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Austin Prock, 4.532, 226.77 def. Scott Palmer, 9.253, 92.79; Clay Millican, 3.696, 327.43 def. Richie Crampton, 4.843, 158.78; Brittany Force, 3.728, 332.75 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.636, 167.88; Mike Salinas, 3.723, 329.34 def. Luigi Novelli, 4.030, 269.67; Leah Pritchett, 3.744, 327.43 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 6.758, 85.34; Steve Torrence, 3.817, 301.81 def. Cameron Ferre, Foul – Red Light; Billy Torrence, 3.685, 328.22 def. Antron Brown, 4.648, 162.18; Doug Kalitta, 3.735, 330.47 def. Terry McMillen, 4.705, 169.21;  QUARTERFINALS — Kalitta, 3.733, 331.28 def. S. Torrence, 3.757, 322.19; Salinas, 3.729, 316.67 def. Millican, 3.964, 252.10; Prock, 3.766, 328.46 def. Force, 3.730, 331.77; Pritchett, 3.764, 326.79 def. B. Torrence, Foul – Red Light;  SEMIFINALS — Pritchett, 3.725, 327.27 def. Prock, 4.002, 299.33; Salinas, 3.800, 272.50 def. Kalitta, 4.066, 271.08;  FINAL — Pritchett, 3.732, 321.04 def. Salinas, 4.066, 235.72.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 3.905, 323.35 def. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 4.385, 235.31; Bob Bode, Ford Mustang, 3.980, 321.27 def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 12.298, 72.89; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.937, 329.18 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 4.119, 295.66; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.876, 329.75 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 5.076, 151.27; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.909, 328.14 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.964, 309.42; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.944, 320.20 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.519, 191.87; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.920, 327.03 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.635, 174.55; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.343, 229.98 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.756, 216.03;  QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.910, 323.50 def. Hight, 6.034, 115.21; Langdon, 3.903, 325.69 def. Bode, 4.544, 186.07; Capps, 3.918, 325.53 def. Beckman, 3.945, 327.82; Hagan, 3.954, 323.81 def. Tasca III, 4.092, 267.16;  SEMIFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.930, 324.59 def. Hagan, 3.932, 326.08; Capps, 3.938, 322.27 def. Langdon, 4.377, 201.43;  FINAL — Capps, 3.946, 324.28 def. Johnson Jr., 3.947, 319.98.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.865, 205.91 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 8.695, 106.29; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 10.443, 87.81 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.594, 207.88 def. Richard Freeman, Ford Mustang, 6.612, 208.14; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.593, 206.51 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.612, 208.36; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.595, 208.36 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.642, 207.46; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.596, 208.46 def. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Camaro, 6.661, 208.75; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.589, 208.78 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 6.714, 205.38; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.584, 206.83 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 9.584, 95.51;  QUARTERFINALS — Hartford, 6.608, 208.01 def. Butner, 6.643, 209.10; Kramer, 6.599, 208.65 def. Coughlin, 6.610, 206.48; Line, 6.583, 209.26 def. Laughlin, 6.610, 207.50; Enders, 6.583, 207.40 def. McGaha, 6.612, 209.30; SEMIFINALS — Enders, 6.602, 207.40 def. Hartford, 6.633, 207.66; Line, 6.590, 208.94 def. Kramer, Foul – Red Light;  FINAL — Line, 6.597, 209.10 def. Enders, 6.604, 207.59.

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

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Steve Torrence, 1,650*; 2.  Brittany Force, 1,015*; 3.  Doug Kalitta, 1,013*; 4.  Clay Millican, 1,009*; 5.  Antron Brown, 998*; 6.  Mike Salinas, 986*; 7.  Leah Pritchett, 903*; 8. Austin Prock, 826; 9.  Richie Crampton, 785; 10.  Terry McMillen, 708.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Robert Hight, 1,397*; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 1,218*; 3.  John Force, 1,199*; 4.  Ron Capps, 1,171*; 5.  Jack Beckman, 1,098*; 6.  Matt Hagan, 1,047*; 7.  Bob Tasca III, 1,038*; 8.  J.R. Todd, 981*; 9.  Shawn Langdon, 914*; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 824.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Bo Butner, 874*; 2.  Greg Anderson, 802*; 3.  Alex Laughlin, 794*; 4.  Jason Line, 774*; 5. Matt Hartford, 753*; 6.  Deric Kramer, 709*; 7.  Erica Enders, 697*; 8.  Jeg Coughlin, 663*; 9. Chris McGaha, 581*; 10.  Kenny Delco, 363.

* Clinched berth in NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.

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Graham Rahal tries to get up to speed in IndyCar iRacing Challenge

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Although he’s just 31 years old, Graham Rahal has been driving an Indy car since the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he still a teenager.

When it comes to the virtual world, however, Rahal is an admitted “newbie.”

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver hopes to get up to speed in time to be competitive in Saturday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama virtual race. It’s part of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge and will be televised live by NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.

The six-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner got his virtual racing rig before last week’s American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International but was still learning the nuances of the iRacing platform. He started 12th and finished 14th out of 25 cars in the contest. The first 12 finishers were on the lead lap. Rahal was one lap down.

“I had never done it before,” Rahal said Friday. “At least it probably had been 10 years since I had driven any sort of sim. It’s addicting…rather addicting. Second of all, it’s bad for your marriage, but it’s a great way to kill a day of quarantine.

“But I think it’s been a big challenge just to get used to the way that you feel a car, the way that you drive a car in the sim, it’s all completely different than real life. To get used to that sensation, to get everything set up right is a huge part of it.”

Inside the cockpit of his No. 15 Honda at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Rahal feels at comfortable in his own element. It has taken him time to find that comfort level in the virtual world.

“For me it has been a challenge to just figure out the right settings, what to do from afar, too,” Rahal said. “Obviously you don’t have anybody here (at his home) that plays iRacing or anything to help you firsthand. It’s been a bit of a challenge; but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Next up is Barber Motorsports Park, which in the real world is a very challenging course but it puts on some of the best road course racing on the real IndyCar schedule. Rahal believes it will also be quite a challenge on iRacing.

“I think Barber is going to be actually more difficult than Watkins Glen,” Rahal said. “The track has a little bit less grip than Watkins Glen did last week. Although everybody was still crashing at Watkins Glen, I think you can get away with more than what you can at Barber. In real life it’s that way, too.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be fun.”

Rahal is married to former drag racing star Courtney Force. Both are playing it safe by staying home by statewide order from Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. But Rahal still has to find the balance between husband and virtual race driver.

By contrast, some of the other IndyCar drivers are spending 10-12 hours a day practicing on iRacing.

“That’s the challenge,” Rahal said, responding to a question posed by NBCSports.com. “I could definitely spend way more time on it. My line to Courtney is, ‘Just give me two laps.’ Then, one hour and 45 minutes later I’m still sitting there. It’s frustrating.

“As Robbie Wickens said, the frustrating part is you go out, you put in a good lap, then it’s, ‘I need to go beat that.’ You spin and you spin, and you spin. Then you get mad. The competitiveness in you, two more laps, two more laps. You try to go and go and go.

“You sit there for hours and hours and hours.”

Rahal admits he can’t stay away from iRacing for long. He is genuinely curious and interested in seeing what the competition is doing.

“I go on pretty frequently to see what’s going on,” Rahal said. “A lot of guys are on all the time. Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais has been on a load, Tony Kanaan, Willie P (Will Power). I think everyone is enjoying it. But it’s a huge challenge.

“There are a couple of guys that are clearly quicker than everybody else, Will being one of those. I’m trying to figure out where and how to find the lap time. I’m telling you, it’s so different than reality in that way.

“But it’s been fun, man. I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s good for the exposure, good because people are paying attention. You can see it on our Instagram. If you look at the clicks or page views in the last seven days, they’ve been doubled since we started to do this stuff. While it’s great for that, it also does help kill a ton of time.”

These are unique times as the world has essential shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more and more humans are testing positive of the potentially deadly virus, the threat becomes more real.

It has also created a tremendous void as people try to find something to do to pass the long times of isolation.

By giving race fans a few hours of entertainment, even if it is virtual instead of real, then Rahal believes it’s worth it.

“I think a lot of people are just dying for something to do, something to watch,” Rahal said. “The competitiveness in all of us wants to see some sort of sport.

“I know there are other buddies like hockey players that are watching it because they just want to watch something. They need something to do. So, I think that’s a big part of it.

“I think it’s great that NBC Sports is covering it this weekend other than just being online. I think it will be tremendous to see how that turns out.

“This is very realistic. When you see the cars on track, you watch a replay, see the photos, it’s eerily real looking. I did a race at St. Louis last weekend. It was extremely entertaining I think for the drivers that were participating. Other than 400 yellow flags, which happened early in the race, it was really, really entertaining to be a part of. People who watched that race would have loved the show that they had been seeing. I think there’s a lot of realism to it.

“I think it’s also people just want something right now. The desire and the demand is there to log in or tune in and see something competitive on TV.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500