NHRA back after 4 1/2 months: Line, B. Torrence, Hagan, Oehler win in Indy

NHRA
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Billy Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Ryan Oehler (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were victorious in Sunday’s finals as the NHRA returned to racing for the first time in 4 ½ months.

Drag racing has been shut down since late February due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This weekend’s E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis not only brought racers back to the drag strip, it also attracted paying fans in the stands.

Of note, John Force Racing’s four drivers – team founder and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, defending Funny Car champ Robert Hight and Top Fuel drivers Brittany Force and Austin Prock – did not compete in the event.

With the entry deadline set for Monday, John Force has not issued any statement on whether the team will take part in this coming weekend’s next event, the Lucas Oil Summernationals, once again in Indianapolis. NBC Sports has asked for a statement from Force, but he has declined comment.

Here’s the highlights from Sunday’s finals:

In Top Fuel: Billy Torrence (3.802 seconds, 322.34 mph) – father of two-time reigning champ Steve Torrence – earned his sixth career win, defeating Doug Kalitta (3.852 seconds, 307.86 mph).

Torrence reached the final round by knocking off Terry Totten, T.J. Zizzo, and son Steve to reach the final round match vs. Kalitta.

“These boys worked so hard to give me a competitive car,” Billy Torrence said. “If you can’t have fun doing this, you can’t have fun doing anything.

“For the people that come out here to put these events on and for all the people trying to keep all of us safe and all, just thank you.”

Even though he fell short, Kalitta still became the only driver in Top Fuel, Funny Car or Pro Stock to reach the final round in each of the season’s first three races.

Also of note in Top Fuel:

* Making his first race since the end of the 2018 season, eight-time champ Tony Schumacher lost to Leah Pruett in the first round. Still, it was a good weekend for Schumacher, who proposed to his longtime girlfriend Summer Penland on Saturday. Schumacher returns to the track next weekend to race again.

* Cory McClenathan’s dragster broke in his first-round elimination match vs. T.J. Zizzo. McClenathan will return next weekend in what potentially will be the final race of his storied career.

In Funny Car: Hagan (4.328 seconds, 215.00 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. (5.854 seconds, 117.84 mph) to earn the two-time world champ his 34th career NHRA win.

Hagan defeated son and father Daniel and Tim Wilkerson, as well as another DSR teammate and new points leader Jack Beckman, to meet Johnson in the final round.

“We’re so glad to be doing this here with NHRA and fans in the stands,” Hagan said. “I can’t just say enough about NHRA and this team. These guys are my family and what an amazing job by my crew chief Dickie Venables. He’s dangerous when you give him a couple laps.”

In Pro Stock: The final round was a battle of drivers slated to retire at season’s end as Jason Line (6.647 seconds, 207.21 mph) defeated five-time champ Jeg Coughlin (6.658 seconds, 206.76 mph).

It was Line’s 51st career win. He defeated Alan Prusiensky, Alex Laughlin and KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson before meeting Coughlin in the final round.

“I wish I could see my dad’s face because he’s big into streaks and it was very important to him that I win one race every race that I’ve done this, and we got it done today,” Line said.

Even with the loss, Coughlin took over the Pro Stock points lead.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Oehler (6.974 seconds, 194.16 mph) earned his first career win to defeat former champ Matt Smith (10.126 seconds, 83.38 mph). Of note, Oehler had a near-perfect .010 reaction time at the starting line.

After qualifying fifth, Oehler defeated Marc Ingwersen, Scotty Pollacheck and Hector Arana Jr. to advance to the final round for the first time in his career.

“We’ve been hunting for this for a long time,” Oehler said. “This has been my dad’s dream and we just keep working every day. Just to have it all come together for my dad, my mom, my wife, my team, I love it all.”

The NHRA returns to Indy this coming weekend for another two-day show before the series takes two weeks off and returns in August to begin 13 consecutive race weekends in a row.

Here are the statistics from Sunday’s racing:

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Billy Torrence; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Antron Brown; 5. Leah Pruett; 6. T.J. Zizzo; 7. Shawn Langdon; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Doug Foley; 10. Justin Ashley; 11. Lex Joon; 12. Tony Schumacher; 13. Terry McMillen; 14. Luigi Novelli; 15. Cory McClenathan; 16. Terry Totten.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3. Tim Wilkerson; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. Jack Beckman; 6. Jonnie Lindberg; 7. Alexis DeJoria; 8. Blake Alexander; 9. Ron Capps; 10. Cruz Pedregon; 11. Daniel Wilkerson; 12. Mike McIntire; 13. Dale Creasy Jr.; 14. Alex Miladinovich; 15. Bob Bode; 16. Paul Lee.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Greg Anderson; 4. Erica Enders; 5. Aaron Stanfield; 6. Matt Hartford; 7. Alex Laughlin; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Bo Butner; 10. Troy Coughlin Jr.; 11. Kenny Delco; 12. Kyle Koretsky; 13. Deric Kramer; 14. Val Smeland; 15. Alan Prusiensky; 16. Bruno Massel.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Ryan Oehler; 2. Matt Smith; 3. Andrew Hines; 4. Hector Arana Jr; 5. Scotty Pollacheck; 6. Eddie Krawiec; 7. Angelle Sampey; 8. Angie Smith; 9. Steve Johnson; 10. John Hall; 11. Jerry Savoie; 12. Marc Ingwersen; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Ron Tornow; 15. David Barron; 16. Chris Bostick.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Billy Torrence, 3.802 seconds, 322.34 mph def. Doug Kalitta, 3.852 seconds, 307.86 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.328, 215.00 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 5.854,117.84.

PRO STOCK: Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.647, 207.21 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.658, 206.76.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.974, 194.16 def. Matt Smith, EBR, 10.126, 83.38.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Shawn Langdon, 3.789, 315.19 def. Justin Ashley, 3.960, 256.99; Clay Millican, 3.845, 314.17 def. Doug Foley, 3.878, 310.13; T.J. Zizzo, 3.778, 326.40 def. Cory McClenathan, Broke; Antron Brown, 3.997, 242.71 def. Terry McMillen, 6.659, 89.70; Doug Kalitta, 3.847, 311.56 def. Lex Joon, 4.045, 230.02; Steve Torrence, 3.758, 325.92 def. Luigi Novelli, 11.809, 66.62; Billy Torrence, 3.768, 326.32 def. Terry Totten, Foul – Centerline; Leah Pruett, 3.817, 262.03 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.108, 253.14; QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.780, 316.01 def. Millican, 4.145, 222.80; Kalitta, 3.803, 321.58 def. Pruett, 3.813, 319.14; B. Torrence, 3.774, 324.75 def. Zizzo, 3.822, 319.14; S. Torrence, 3.760, 324.75 def. Langdon, 3.828, 316.38; SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.794, 319.07 def. Brown, 5.565, 125.00; B. Torrence, 3.801, 322.42 def. S. Torrence, 4.216, 210.24; FINAL — B. Torrence, 3.802, 322.34 def. Kalitta, 3.852, 307.86.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.391, 275.11 def. Alex Miladinovich, Camry, 5.067, 160.98; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.099, 250.60 def. Mike McIntire, Camry, 4.506, 203.55; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.896, 324.90 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.956, 294.24; Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 3.965, 322.65 def. Bob Bode, Mustang, Broke; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.009, 315.05 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 4.567, 228.27; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.025, 315.27 def. Daniel Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.238, 249.44; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.005, 319.82 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.096, 280.31; Blake Alexander, Mustang, No Time Recorded def. Paul Lee, Charger, Foul – Centerline; QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 4.128, 278.86 def. DeJoria, 4.697, 162.12; Johnson Jr., 3.963, 318.32 def. Alexander, Broke; T. Wilkerson, 3.982, 321.12 def. Lindberg, 3.990, 318.99; Hagan, 3.949, 321.19 def. Beckman, 3.969, 316.90; SEMIFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.959, 319.29 def. Todd, 9.211, 77.50; Hagan, 3.959, 322.34 def. T. Wilkerson, 4.349, 211.43; FINAL — Hagan, 4.328, 215.00 def. Johnson Jr., 5.854, 117.84.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.634, 206.42 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.658, 206.51; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.644, 207.27 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.654, 206.57; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.620, 206.64 def. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.654, 208.17; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.630, 206.07 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.712, 205.10; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.603, 207.43 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.648, 206.10; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.615, 206.70 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.647, 207.50; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.615, 206.83 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 7.062, 159.21; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.622, 206.70 def. Bruno Massel, Camaro, 7.093, 155.60; QUARTERFINALS — Coughlin, 6.651, 206.99 def. C. McGaha, 6.773, 206.83; Enders, 6.621, 207.02 def. Stanfield, 6.647, 207.11; Line, 6.609, 207.59 def. Laughlin, 6.674, 206.20; Anderson, 6.620, 207.75 def. Hartford, 6.648, 206.76; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.651, 207.05 def. Enders, 6.723, 206.45; Line, 6.622, 207.34 def. Anderson, 6.683, 208.14; FINAL — Line, 6.647, 207.21 def. Coughlin, 6.658, 206.76.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Hector Arana Jr, 6.942, 194.66 def. John Hall, Suzuki, 6.978, 191.43; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.925, 192.69 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.920, 191.84; Angie Smith, 6.971, 193.65 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 7.012, 192.36; Ryan Oehler, 6.921, 196.33 def. Marc Ingwersen, 7.077, 189.73; Scotty Pollacheck, 6.948, 196.42 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.149, 188.04; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.890, 194.55 def. Ron Tornow, 7.172, 184.93; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.887, 195.53 def. David Barron, 7.341, 176.26; Matt Smith, 6.855, 197.71 def. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 7.963, 166.21; QUARTERFINALS — Oehler, 6.942, 194.41 def. Pollacheck, Foul – Red Light; Hines, 6.927, 193.65 def. A. Smith, 6.956, 195.48; Arana Jr, 6.928, 194.16 def. Krawiec, 6.873, 195.53; M. Smith, 6.856, 197.36 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Oehler, 6.901, 195.39 def. Arana Jr, 6.984, 192.91; M. Smith, 6.943, 195.42 def. Hines, 6.943, 193.68; FINAL — Oehler, 6.974, 194.16 def. M. Smith, 10.126, 83.38.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 310; 2. Steve Torrence, 199; 3. Billy Torrence, 190; 4. Leah Pruett, 189; 5. Antron Brown, 174; 6. Brittany Force, 153; 7. Shawn Langdon, 144; 8. Clay Millican, 142; 9.Justin Ashley, 140; 10. Austin Prock, 131.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, 278; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., 276; 3. Matt Hagan, 238; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 179; 5. John Force, 173; 6. Ron Capps, 159; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 154; 8. Bob Tasca III, 149; 9. J.R. Todd, 141; 10. Robert Hight, 100.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin, 297; 2. Jason Line, 289; 3. Erica Enders, 282; 4. Kenny Delco, 165; 5. Bo Butner, 162; 6. Chris McGaha, 158; 7. Alex Laughlin, 157; 8. Greg Anderson, 143; 9. Matt Hartford, 139; 10. Aaron Stanfield, 125.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Ryan Oehler, 115; 2. Matt Smith, 101; 3. Andrew Hines, 78; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 73; 5. Eddie Krawiec, 63; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 55; 7. Angie Smith, 54; 8. Angelle Sampey, 52; 9. Steve Johnson, 33; 10. (tie) John Hall, 32. Marc Ingwersen, 32. Jerry Savoie, 32.

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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”