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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.

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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.

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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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Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”