With new ET record, 2nd NHRA championship next for Brittany Force

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It may be fall on the calendar, but for NHRA Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, it’s spring time – as in it’s time for her to spring forward to her second Top Fuel championship in the last three seasons.

Force comes into this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois (outside St. Louis) – the second race in the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs – ranked second in the Top Fuel standings. She’s 33 points behind series leader Doug Kalitta and 14 points ahead of third-ranked and defending Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence.

She isn’t just sitting pretty in the standings after the first race of the playoffs two weeks at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania. Although she lost in the semifinals of that race due to an oil leak, the same weekend during qualifying she also set the NHRA elapsed time national record, covering the 1,000-foot drag strip in a blistering time of 3.623 seconds (at an equally blistering speed of 331.61 mph).

That’s why Force – the daughter of legendary 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force and older sister of Courtney Force — enters this weekend with a great deal of motivation and optimism.

Brittany Force (Photo: NHRA).

I’m feeling great, we’re all feeling good,” Brittany Force said. “This is what we’ve been preparing for all season long, these final few races and going for another championship.

Last weekend really moved the bar up. Before the run, my crew chief David Grubnic, said to me, ‘Okay, girl, hang on tight. I’m going to send you for a ride and we’re going to set the record.’ When he said that, I knew it was going to be fast.

When I jumped out at the other end and they told me we had the national record, I was absolutely blown away. It was fast, I felt it, it threw me back in the seat. I’m very proud to hold that record.”

But that record is now just a fleeting memory. There’s more business to take care of, namely, to do better than every other Top Fuel driver through the remainder of the playoffs and to come away with that second championship Force covets so much. She knows fellow playoff drivers Torrence, Kalitta, Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, Mike Salinas, Maple Grove winner Richie Crampton, Austin Prock, Clay Millican and her own teammate, Austin Prock, will give her all she can handle in the five remaining playoff races.

It’s tough, you really can’t look at the top 3 drivers going after the championship, you have to look at all of them,” Force said. “When I won the championship back in 2017, we came into the Countdown from the No. 6 position.

(Teammate Robert Hight) years ago won the Funny Car championship from the No. 10 position. It’s really about finding your stride and hanging on through these last few races and doing very well.”

In the first 19 races of the season, Force has one win and runner-up finishes in two others. But she hasn’t reached a final round since Atlanta on May 5. Even though her car broke at Maple Grove, depriving her of a chance to advance to her first final round since Atlanta, Force knows the key ingredient she needs in the remaining five Countdown races.

Consistency,” she said matter-of-factly. “There’s also the routine with the teams, making sure everybody’s doing their job, no one is picking up anyone else’s spot, and double checking everything.

We come in motivated and ready to kill.

We come in motivated and ready to kill. You come in with that attitude. If you come with the attitude that, ‘Oh, we didn’t qualify that well, we’re probably going to lose on race day,’ then you probably are. It’s coming in focused and truly confident and knowing that this championship is ours if we want it bad enough.”

It’s been a different dynamic for John Force’s third of four daughters this season. She has a completely new team, a new sponsor and she doesn’t have her younger sister and best friend Courtney around. The youngest Force daughter decided before the season began to take a hiatus from racing.

It’s definitely a little a little bit tougher,” Brittany Force said. “Drag racing is a male-oriented sport and always will be. My team, it’s all guys, and sometimes I just need to talk to another girl. So it was really nice to have Courtney out there in a driving position, being able to talk to her about the run or the weekend or dealing with my boss, my dad. It was nice to have her out there for that support system.”

Brittany isn’t the only member of the Force family having a good season. Father and team patriarch John Force has two wins this season and comes into this weekend just 19 points out of first place in the Funny Car standings. The only thing that would make this season even sweeter for Brittany Force is if she and her father both won championships in their respective divisions, which would make NHRA history.

Definitely, years from now, I’m hoping to remember this as my dad and my season,” she said.

Brittany has even affixed a “Brute Force” fist decal on the back of her helmet. “Brute Force” has been her 70-year-old father’s nickname throughout his career, and he has sported that same fist logo on his race car ever since he first took to a drag strip more than 50 years ago.

But first things first. There’s still that second championship in three years to achieve.

Now that you’ve had one, you want more, you’re not done yet,” Brittany Force said. “You know it’s possible and you want to do it again. That’s what we’re going for.

It would be impressive to do it with an entirely new team and crew chiefs going out there and to fight for it. We’re in the hunt for it and that’s an accomplishment in and of itself. But that’s not where we end. We want the championship and we’re going to fight this thing all the way to the end.”

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Australia SuperCar Champion gets IndyCar Test at Team Penske

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Scott McLaughlin’s latest reward for winning the 2019 Virgin Australia SuperCar championship is an INDYCAR test at Team Penske.

“Scott has been incredibly successful for DJR Team Penske over the last three seasons and he has become a true champion of our sport,” said team owner Roger Penske, who will become the owner of INDYCAR, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 in early January. “He certainly embraces new challenges and we think this is a great opportunity to utilize the IndyCar Series rookie testing program so Scott can experience what it is like to get behind the wheel of one of our Indy cars.”

McLaughlin, who has scored back-to-back Virgin Australia Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP), will participate in an INDYCAR Rookie Evaluation test at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. on Monday, January 13.

“I am always open to new challenges and I’m thankful to Team Penske for providing this opportunity to test an Indy car,” said McLaughlin, who established a new Supercars single season record with 18 victories this past season. “We had an amazing year in 2019 and I’m looking forward to defending our Supercars championship next season. I’m also excited to grow as a driver and being with Team Penske creates cool opportunities to try something new. Although I have spent a few hours in a simulator earlier this year, it’s going to be a blast to see what one really feels like at a place like Sebring.”

McLaughlin joined DJR Team Penske in 2017 as one of the brightest stars in Supercars. He has produced 35 victories and 44 pole positions over the last three seasons while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019, the driver’s title each of the last two seasons and the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in October, along with co-driver Alex Premat.

McLaughlin will defend his Supercars title for DJRTP in 2020 in the No. 17 Shell V-Power Ford Mustang.  He will build on his already successful racing career by driving a full-sized open-wheel car for the first time.

Team Penske enjoyed another successful IndyCar Series season in 2019. The team earned its record 18th Indianapolis 500 victory as Simon Pagenaud captured the checkered flag in May, while Josef Newgarden won his second series title in three years and the team’s 16th INDYCAR Championship. Team Penske will once again compete with three full-season entries in 2020, featuring series champion drivers Newgarden, Pagenaud and Will Power.

Team Penske is one of the most successful teams in the history of professional sports. Cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced more than 540 major race wins, over 620 pole positions and 37 Championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports car racing competition. Over the course of its 53-year history, the team has also earned 18 Indianapolis 500 victories, two Daytona 500 Championships, a Formula 1 win, overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring along with a win in Australia’s legendary Bathurst 1000 race. Team Penske currently competes in the IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team also races in the Virgin Australia SuperCars Championship, in a partnership with Dick Johnson Racing, as DJR Team Penske.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500