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Ladies Day in Las Vegas: Brittany Force, Enders among NHRA winners

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Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Brittany Force (Top Fuel) not only celebrated the 150th and 151st wins by females in NHRA pro drag racing history Sunday in the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas, they also significantly tightened the battle for their respective championships with just one race remaining in the season.

Other winners in the penultimate event of the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway were Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Here’s how Sunday’s final rounds in the fifth race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs played out:

In Top Fuel: Force, daughter of 16-time Funny Car champion and the winningest driver in NHRA history, John Force, capped off a spectacular weekend that included recording the fastest pass in Top Fuel annals at 338.17 mph during Friday’s qualifying session (she also holds the quickest record in Top Fuel history, as well).

Force (3.652 seconds at 334.73 mph) defeated points leader and defending Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence (3.719 seconds at 330.63 mph) in Sunday’s final round – the 900th Top Fuel race in NHRA history. Force is now just 16 points behind Torrence heading into the season finale November 17 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

It was Force’s 10th win of her career. She won the Top Fuel championship in 2017 and is seeking her second title in three seasons.

This weekend has been incredible for this team,” Force said. “I’ve always wanted to win here. We set the MPH record here and we’ve accomplished a lot, but what we’re really going after is a championship together. I felt good coming in and we got the job done.

It was pretty cool to (win) 151 and 150 with Erica today. David Grubnic has been awesome to work with and I’m very blessed to have him as my crew chief. I want to go straight to Pomona and I’m going to do everything I can to stay in this thing. I’ll be ready when Pomona gets here. We’ve been there before and we want to do it again with this Advance Auto Parts team.”

In Funny Car: Hagan (3.876 seconds at 331.36 mph) earned his second consecutive win, defeating Jonnie Lindberg (3.945 seconds at 321.12 mph). The win moves Hagan to third in the points, just 56 points behind Funny Car points leader Robert Hight and 10 points behind second-ranked Jack Beckman. It was Hagan’s fourth win of the season and 33rd of his career.

I’m excited and fired up right now,” Hagan said. “When you have that opportunity to come into Pomona still in the championship hunt, that is why we do this. That’s what gets me fired up and motivated.

I’m just so proud of my guys. They’re killing it and they all just rise to occasion. I feed off that and coming into Pomona, I wish it were tomorrow. To come out and turn four win lights on at a Dodge-sponsored race, that’s a fairy tale. It’s hard to win back-to-back races, and it just shows you what we’re capable of. We’re going into Pomona and we’re going to work as hard as we can.”

In Pro Stock: Enders (6.617 seconds at 208.04 mph) closed in on her third Pro Stock championship, earning her second win of the season and 25th of her career, defeating Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.620 seconds at 201.70 mph).

Enders now leads Coughlin by a fairly commanding 92-point edge for the Pro Stock crown. And if past history is any indication, Enders potentially has championship No. 3 all but locked up: her first two championships included wins in the fall race in Las Vegas, as well.

My guys just keep on giving me a really good racecar,” Enders said. “It’s been a great day and to get the 150th (win by a female), I’m just really proud to be part of the group of such smart, strong, talented females out there.

It was definitely taxing (today) and to have an all-Elite final, that was just the icing on the cake. It was huge to win today and we were able to rise to the occasion. We’re going to go out to Pomona to win the race. Anything can happen and I’ve been part of that. Winning in St. Louis and then Las Vegas, it’s not a big enough cushion for me. I’m excited about the opportunity.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Defending champ Matt Smith earned his first win of the playoffs and second overall win of the season (6.855 seconds at 195.90 mph) over Steve Johnson (6.863 seconds at 194.04 mph).

The win elevates Smith to fourth place in the standings, but he still trails points leader Andrew Hines by 117 points heading to Pomona.

It’s not totally and mathematically over yet,” Smith said. “I told everybody we were going to shoot for the moon in the finals, and it stuck. When it stuck, there’s nobody going to catch us when it runs like that. We just pulled it off in the final and did our job.”

Hines leads Jerry Savoie by 115 as he closes in on his sixth world title.

Here are the final statistics from Sunday’s action:

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FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Brittany Force; 2. Steve Torrence; 3. Billy Torrence; 4. Doug Kalitta; 5. Mike Salinas; 6. Austin Prock; 7. Terry McMillen; 8. Leah Pritchett; 9. Shawn Reed; 10. Clay Millican; 11. Antron Brown; 12. Cameron Ferre; 13. Richie Crampton; 14. Scott Palmer; 15. Pat Dakin; 16. Justin Ashley.

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

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

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith; 2. Steve Johnson; 3. Scotty Pollacheck; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Jerry Savoie; 6. Angelle Sampey; 7. Eddie Krawiec; 8. Angie Smith; 9. Hector Arana Jr; 10. Hector Arana; 11. Kelly Clontz; 12. Ron Tornow; 13. Karen Stoffer; 14. Katie Sullivan; 15. Ryan Oehler; 16. Melissa Surber.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Brittany Force, 3.652 seconds, 334.73 mph def. Steve Torrence, 3.719 seconds, 330.63 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.876, 331.36 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 3.945, 321.12.

PRO STOCK: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.617, 208.04 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.620, 201.70.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Matt Smith, EBR, 6.855, 195.90 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.863, 194.04.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.722, 324.67 def. Shawn Reed, 3.734, 322.58; Austin Prock, 3.743, 331.04 def. Richie Crampton, 4.497, 195.96; Terry McMillen, 3.736, 326.24 def. Antron Brown, 3.908, 318.69; Leah Pritchett, 3.869, 310.55 def. Cameron Ferre, 3.980, 303.16; Brittany Force, 3.689, 333.16 def. Pat Dakin, 7.786, 74.09; Billy Torrence, 3.708, 329.91 def. Justin Ashley, 10.477, 79.27; Mike Salinas, 3.720, 327.98 def. Clay Millican, Foul – Red Light; Steve Torrence, 3.690, 328.62 def. Scott Palmer, 6.643, 99.16; QUARTERFINALS — Kalitta, 3.737, 323.81 def. Pritchett, 9.039, 50.45; B. Torrence, 3.728, 320.28 def. McMillen, 3.735, 327.66; Force, 3.709, 330.72 def. Prock, 3.732, 331.69; S. Torrence, 3.712, 326.79 def. Salinas, 3.704, 330.55; SEMIFINALS — S. Torrence, 3.689, 330.55 def. Kalitta, Broke; Force, 3.714, 329.99 def. B. Torrence, 3.710, 332.10; FINAL — Force, 3.652, 334.73 def. S. Torrence, 3.719, 330.63.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Cruz Pedregon, Dodge Charger, 4.015, 289.82 def. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 7.723, 104.15; Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 3.893, 326.00 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.913, 327.90; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.927, 325.92 def. Steven Densham, Mustang, 3.958, 320.20; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.879, 329.67 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.048, 306.81; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.894, 327.27 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.160, 299.93; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.911, 329.83 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.911, 329.67; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.909, 332.34 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.927, 325.45; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.893, 329.75 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.970, 315.64; QUARTERFINALS — Lindberg, 3.899, 328.54 def. Pedregon, 4.039, 290.26; Hagan, 3.869, 330.31 def. Johnson Jr., 3.907, 328.54; Beckman, 3.907, 325.92 def. Hight, 3.891, 329.75; Tasca III, 3.891, 331.61 def. Force, 4.027, 321.73; SEMIFINALS — Lindberg, 3.930, 325.30 def. Beckman, 3.915, 330.07; Hagan, 3.881, 331.77 def. Tasca III, 3.909, 326.48; FINAL — Hagan, 3.876, 331.36 def. Lindberg, 3.945, 321.12.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.625, 206.70 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.698, 205.69; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.636, 206.10 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.653, 207.37; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.629, 207.85 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.622, 205.91 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.656, 206.64; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.611, 205.98 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 12.221, 70.90; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.650, 206.57 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 7.102, 154.07; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.603, 207.62 def. Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.631, 206.73 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.672, 205.69; QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.631, 207.53 def. Laughlin, 7.043, 188.86; Coughlin, 6.624, 206.07 def. Stanfield, 6.650, 207.30; Butner, 6.623, 205.91 def. Delco, 6.832, 171.40; Line, 6.649, 206.89 def. Anderson, 6.628, 206.39; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.631, 206.32 def. Line, 6.641, 207.18; Enders, 6.638, 207.46 def. Butner, 6.645, 206.20; FINAL — Enders, 6.617, 208.04 def. Coughlin, 6.620, 201.70.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Angie Smith, 6.994, 191.92 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.105, 192.99; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.915, 192.22 def. Hector Arana Jr, Foul – Red Light; Scotty Pollacheck, 6.917, 194.46 def. Hector Arana, Foul – Red Light; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.910, 193.79 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, 11.776, 61.13; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.875, 195.05 def. Ryan Oehler, 7.446, 190.54; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.860, 192.55 def. Ron Tornow, Buell, 7.100, 185.69; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.902, 195.19 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.006, 190.16; Matt Smith, 6.897, 196.99 def. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.153, 184.65; QUARTERFINALS — Pollacheck, 6.926, 194.21 def. Krawiec, 6.960, 192.82; M. Smith, 6.903, 195.85 def. A. Smith, 6.970, 192.91; Johnson, 6.888, 189.92 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light; Hines, 6.937, 193.54 def. Savoie, 6.901, 194.58; SEMIFINALS — M. Smith, 6.895, 196.19 def. Hines, Foul – Red Light; Johnson, 6.876, 193.82 def. Pollacheck, 6.953, 194.83; FINAL — M. Smith, 6.855, 195.90 def. Johnson, 6.863, 194.04.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,488; 2. Brittany Force, 2,472; 3. Doug Kalitta, 2,433; 4. Billy Torrence, 2,402; 5. Leah Pritchett, 2,353; 6. Austin Prock, 2,330; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,322; 8. Antron Brown, 2,279; 9. Richie Crampton, 2,261; 10. Clay Millican, 2,241.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,494; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,448; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,438; 4. John Force, 2,422; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,390; 6. Ron Capps, 2,334; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,312; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,306; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,274; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,223.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,517; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,425; 3. Bo Butner, 2,404; 4. Jason Line, 2,401; 5. Matt Hartford, 2,399; 6. Greg Anderson, 2,360; 7. Deric Kramer, 2,359; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,291; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,250; 10. Val Smeland, 2,155.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,540; 2. Jerry Savoie, 2,425; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 2,424; 4. Matt Smith, 2,423; 5. Karen Stoffer, 2,416; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,306; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,302; 8. Angie Smith, 2,233; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,191; 10. Hector Arana, 2,160.

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Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500