Erica Enders, Matt Smith win delayed NHRA event; Steve Torrence top qualifier in Texas

NHRA Midwest Nationals delayed
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
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ENNIS, Texas — Erica Enders regained the Pro Stock points lead Saturday, beating Jason Line in the final round of the rain-delayed Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.

The defending season champion raced to her third victory of the season and 28th overall, finishing in 6.572 seconds at 208.49 mph in her Camaro in the finale.

It marked the completion of an event whose final rounds in two classes were postponed two weeks ago in Madison, Illinois, because of cold temperatures and wind direction.

“That was really huge,” Enders said. “When it’s all on the line and our backs are against the wall, my guys perform every time, and I can’t speak highly enough of them. We got it done today, but tomorrow is a new day.

“This is a big step in the right direction and by no means is it anywhere close to over, but I’m excited to be in the (points) lead.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Matt Smith had a 6.775 at 200.50 to beat teammate Scotty Pollacheck in the final round of the Midwest Nationals. Smith has two victories this season and 26 overall.

In qualifying for the FallNationals, Steve Torrence took the No. 1 spot in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan in Funny Car, Deric Kramer in Pro Stock, and Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Torrence, the points leader, had a 3.662 at 327.51. Hagan, also atop the standings, ran a 3.860 at 328.54 in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.