NHRA: Charlotte poses a tangled web for several playoff competitors

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You might say this weekend’s third round of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs will be a Charlotte’s web for several competitors when they take to the track at zMAX Dragway in suburban Charlotte.

With it being the halfway point of the six-race playoffs, how many drivers perform at Charlotte in the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals will go a long way toward determining if they still have a chance at their respective championships in the other three races still to come this season in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

The tightest points battle right now heading into this weekend is in Top Fuel, where Doug Kalitta has a slim two-point lead over defending champion Steve Torrence. Kalitta is still seeking his first career Top Fuel championship after more than 20 years of trying. Could this be the year?

As for the rest of the Top Fuel field, Mike Salinas is in third (41 points back), followed by 2017 Top Fuel champ Brittany Force (-48), Leah Pritchett (-62), three-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brown and Richie Crampton are tied for sixth (each is 73 points back), rookie Austin Prock is eighth (-79), followed by Billy Torrence (-80) and Clay Millican (-103).

Almost as tight of a battle is in Funny Car, as two-time champ Robert Hight holds a 13-point edge over his boss and father-in-law, 16-time champ John Force. Hight is coming off a semifinal finish two weeks ago at St. Louis that proved almost as pivotal as a win.

“The thing to focus on is that we got the points lead back,” Hight said. “We’ve only trailed in points once this year and that was coming into (St. Louis). We’re back in the lead now. It’s a tough Funny Car class, one of the most competitive there’s ever been.

“Luckily there are four races left. We qualified well (at St. Louis), ran well except for the semifinal (lost traction and the round), so I’m not worried. We’ll head to Charlotte and pick up those little points in qualifying and go rounds on Sunday, just keep picking away at this championship chase.”

In Pro Stock, two-time champ Erica Enders is knocking on points leader Jason Line’s door, as the three-time champion Line leads Enders by only 11 points. Bo Butner, who won the Pro Stock title in 2017, is third (-22), followed by Matt Hartford (-57). Things then open up a bit wider from fifth through 10th place: Alex Laughlin (-83 points), five-time champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. (-94), four-time champ Greg Anderson (-107), Deric Kramer (-122), Chris McGaha (-141) and Val Smeland (-192).

Lastly, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, five-time champion Andrew Hines – whose last championship was in 2015 – is mounting a strong battle to take home title No. 6. Hines has a 34-point lead surprising Karen Stoffer, followed by three-time champ Eddie Krawiec (-51), who is in the hunt for his fourth career PSM crown and the first since 2012.

Defending PSM champ Matt Smith is fifth (-61), followed by 2017 champ Jerry Savoie (-66), Hector Arana Jr. (-97), three-time champion Angelle Sampey (-130), Angie Smith (-150), Ryan Oehler (-191) and Hector Arana (-202).

While anything can happen – and oftentimes does in NHRA drag racing – a good rule of thumb is drivers/riders who are more than 100 points out heading into this weekend’s race are the most vulnerable to get tangled in Charlotte’s web. And if that happens, with three races still to go afterward, their chances of mounting a late-playoff comeback get increasingly remote.

As the old saying goes, there’s no better time than the present for those who have started the playoffs in trouble. And compounding the difficulty for those who are already a significant distance out of first place is the fact that Charlotte is the first of back-to-back events, with the series moving on to start the second half of the playoffs next week at Ennis, Texas.

Not only is the Texas Motorplex one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, it’s also been the site where many championships have had to go through to be won – while also serving as the place that all but eliminates those whose playoff runs in any particular season have not been up to par to match some of their more successful opponents. in other words, separating the wheat from the chaff.

Who will wind up being the chaff after this week and next? Stay tuned.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Jett Lawrence wins Hangtown Pro Motocross, remains perfect in 450s

Lawrence Hangtown Motocross
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Jett Lawrence remains perfect in the Pro Motocross series after recording another perfect round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California. In his second start on a 450, Lawrence won his second National with his fourth consecutive moto win. It is getting increasingly difficult to find the right superlatives to describe the exploits on the reigning 250 West Supercross champion.

“The track was so brutal out there,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Jason Thomas. “The bike handles amazing even when it’s not too friendly. You had to be really patient; you couldn’t take too much. I didn’t eat enough before that second moto. I kind of lost energy halfway through, but luckily I could use technique and balance and just keep that flow going.”

Lawrence leaves Hangtown with an 18-point advantage over Ferrandis in the 450 Motocross standings, but perhaps more importantly, he climbed to 19th in the SuperMotocross standings and should he stay there, he has an automatic invitation to the Main events in the SMX Championship.

“On this track, you just have to manage,” Lawrence continued. “If you try to take too much and not respect the track, it will bite you very quickly. It was humbling on the first few laps. I got kicked on the cutout at the start of the third section, the tabletop going to the left. I had to get my focus because the boys were coming.”

Still in his first few races since returning from a concussion suffered at Houston in the Supercross series, Dylan Ferrandis finished second with results of third in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2. While Ferrandis was happy with the result, he remains hopeful that he will contend for victory shortly.

“The first moto was very hard for my physically, Ferrandis said. “I got arm pump and when you get arm pump your body gets tired. But I’m very happy because we made a big change for the second moto. We tried stuff every session today and in the last moto the bike was much better, but unfortunately I wasn’t sure what I could do with this bike because the track was very hard and difficult to pass.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Hangtown

With the rash of injuries at the end of the Supercross season, the podium was filled with heartwarming stories. Cooper Webb returned to action last week in Pala and failed to make the podium. He is steadily improving with a third-place finish in Hangtown. after finishing with a 4-2.

“It’s incredible what seven days can do,” Webb said. “Last week I felt like I was going to get lapped in the second moto. This week, I could see the leader. It was nice. I fought hard, learned how to suffer again there and that felt nice.

Moto 2 wasn’t pretty for Lawrence. On several occasions in the opening laps, he nearly high sided as he rode the front wheel through the ruts. The reward was worth the risk. By the halfway point, Lawrence had 4.5-second lead over Webb, who was embroiled in a tight three-rider battle for second with his teammate Aaron Plessinger pressuring him and Ferrandis ready to take advantage if those made contact.

It took 20 minutes for Plessinger to get around Webb and once he did, he trailed Lawrence by four seconds. But then, with three minutes remaining, Plessinger crashed and had difficulty restarting the bike, handing second back to Webb who has seven seconds behind Lawrence. Plessinger fell to fourth with results of third and sixth.

Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top five with a 5-4.


Last week Hunter Lawrence won the overall with a 3-1. He repeated that feat in Hangtown in an exact replica of his Fox Raceway results last week. In Moto 1, Lawrence got off to a slow start and lost 10 seconds in the opening laps. Forced to overcome a sixth-place position in the race at the end of Lap 1, he once again caught the riders ahead of him when the field hit heavy traffic. For the second week, scored another 3-1 for the Hangtown National win.

“The start was crucial’ I knew I had to go,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “They laid a lot of water down, so I didn’t want to be behind any longer than [I was]. First hot one of the year, was a bit of a wakeup call, so I’m happy to get out of here safe and healthy.”

Lawrence’s third-place finish in Moto 1 featured a fierce battle for final spot on the podium when he caught Spain’s Guillem Farres and France’s Tom Vialle. With Lawrence hailing from Australia, the international nature of the sport was highlighted.

Lawrence left Hangtown with a 10-point advantage over Haiden Deegan in the Pro Motocross championship battle.

Click here for 250 overall results

Justin Cooper finished second in both motos to finish second overall. Hangtown represented a huge improvement from Fox Raceway where he finished fifth overall with a 5-4 finish in the two motos. Cooper pressured Haiden Deegan in the second half of Moto 1 and he earned the holeshot in the second moto and stayed within three seconds of Lawrence in that race.

“He was following me a little bit, checking out my lines, seeing where he was better,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing to give up the lead like that but it was way better than last weekend. I will definitely take two seconds. I want to be on the top of the step. I feel like I get close to the top step but I never get it done. That’s building up the frustration – the fire. I really want to get one of these wins, so it’s time to start digging.”

Haiden Deegan earned the first holeshot of his career in Moto 1 and rode away from the field, building a four-second lead in the opening laps. Cooper trimmed the lead at the halfway point and for a while it leveled off at two seconds. Then Cooper made another charge with three to go and closed to within a second. Deegan was biding his time, however.

“I was saving a little. I knew at the end Justin was going to try and put a charge on. I let him get up close and then sent it super hard at the end to break him a little at the end.”

Deegan’s first moto win comes in only his fourth National and he remains perfect in regard to podiums this year.

“This was a dream since I was a little kid, to win,” Deegan said. “And in my fourth race, it’s gnarly. I was just sending it. I was getting a little tired at the end becasue I left my mouth open the whole time. It’s unreal; I’m so hyped. I wanted to win bad and I proved it to you guys.”

Chaos erupted in turn 1 in Moto 2 Jeremy Martin went and another rider ran over his arm. Michael Mosiman crashed further down the track on that same lap. Both riders were helped off course by the Alpinestars Medical team.

2023 Motocross Race Recaps

Fox Raceway: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Chase Sexton is out for Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with Club MX for 2024
Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Pala
Results and points after Pala
Jett Lawrence wins Pala in his first MX start
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury