Points shake-ups in Dallas as Schumacher, Hagan, Anderson, Tonglet net wins
Sunday, September 26, 2010

by Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

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A thrilling Sunday of racing at the 25th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec tightened the points battles in all four classes as Tony Schumacher, Matt Hagan, Greg Anderson, and LE Tonglet scored victories.

Three of the incoming points leaders – Larry Dixon in Top Fuel, Mike Edwards in Pro Stock, and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle – had their leads trimmed, but the latter two mitigated that somewhat by being in the final. Incoming Funny Car points leader John Force increased his lead, which was a mere four points over Jack Beckman entering the race, by reaching the final, but found a new rival in Hagan, who took over second and trails Force by 25 points.

Dixon, who lost in round two to eventual Top Fuel runner-up Shawn Langdon, saw his lead over Cory McClenathan trimmed from 85 to 69, and Schumacher hauled himself into the points race and is just 94 points back of Dixon.

Tony Schumacher

Schumacher, who earned his first victory at this event in 1999, collected his 66th this weekend and reached the winner's circle for the first time since the Bristol event in June. Schumacher needed to chase down Langdon to do it and emerged the winner, 3.83 to 3.90.

"You know that Langdon was going to cut a  [good] light, so that was a big one," said Schumacher. "He’s a good guy, and he’s going to be a great driver. Me and Hagan have been trying to double up for a long time, and when I saw him win, I said, ‘Cool! We’re halfway there.’

"When Dixon goes out [as he did today], you absolutely have to rise to the occasion and win and put some pressure back on him. I wish we could have done this a race or two earlier, but we didn’t. Dallas is a great place to start. It’s the site of my first career Top Fuel win. We’re only down [94] points with three races to go. I’ve been down a lot further than that. What NHRA and Full Throttle did was to make it this way, make it last all the way to the end.  I’m in a happy place right now. Not where I want to be yet, but a lot better place than I was at 9 a.m. this morning."

Schumacher, who hadn’t even been to a final with the Mike Green-tuned U.S. Army dragster since the Sonoma event, reached the final, his seventh of the season and the 102nd of his career, by marching past Mike Strasburg, Steve Torrence, and teammate McClenathan. The semifinal conquest of hard-luck Cory Mac came via a clutch holeshot, 3.85 to 3.83.

Langdon, a two-time winner in Super Gas this season, ended Dixon's three-event, 13-round winning streak with a surprising victory in the second round in typical Langdon fashion: on a holeshot, 3.83 to 3.80, in a race decided by just .009-second. Before that, he had beaten Bob Vandergriff Jr., and he followed his upset of Dixon with a 3.84 to defeat Brandon Bernstein in the semifinals.

Matt Hagan

Despite being qualified just 14th, Hagan continued his amazing year with a third season win, backing up victories in Houston and Chicago by taking out the favored Force in the final. The race looked like a good one until Force's mount broke traction at half-track, allowing Hagan to sail to the win and sole possession of second place in the standings and join his Don Schumacher Racing teammate in the winner's circle.

"I left the line and never saw [Force in the final]," he said, "but I was listening for him and looking over. I about hit the wall because I jumped up out of the [roof hatch] while it was still moving because it was overwhelmingly exciting. I have so much respect for John Force's team; when we won in Chicago, every one of those guys came over and shook our hands and told us what a great job we did. They're a first-class operation, just like DSR is, and it's always great to race the best.

"Coming in here [qualified] 14th and having to do a pedal job just to get into the show, it's great to get the win. We definitely stepped up and did what we had to do because coming in 14th, you have to wonder how long your day is going to be, but we had confidence in Tommy DeLago tuning the car. He watched video all last night, so I knew he was going to figure it out."

Hagan reached the final, the fifth of his career, with his DieHard Charger with respective 4.10 and 4.11 victories over Jeff Arend and Ashley Force Hood in the first and third rounds sandwiched around a brilliant low e.t. of the meet 4.062 in the second round that sent recent Charlotte winner Cruz Pedregon packing.

Force, whose Motorplex career has been blessed with six wins but also marred by three crashes, including his near-career-ending two-car tangle with Kenny Bernstein in 2007, almost earned total closure from that mishap but fell just shy in his ninth final of the year. Force raced his Castrol GTX Mustang to the final, the 211th of his all-star career, by beating teammate Robert Hight, low qualifier Tim Wilkerson, and the resurgent Del Worsham in the semifinals with a steady series of passes, 4.14, 4.08, and 4.10.

Greg Anderson

Charlotte champ Anderson won his second straight at this event and second straight of the playoffs and closed the gap on Edwards from 27 to 16 by beating the world champ in the final, 6.58 to 6.61, for his third win of the season. Edwards made it tough on him with a .001 light, but Anderson was right there with a .014 and chased him down for the victory, the 64th of his career.

“I had a big weekend last weekend and got myself back in the Countdown,” said Anderson. “Every race you go is sudden death out here. If you have a really bad race, you can knock yourself completely out of it. You just can’t make a mistake, and my team has been flawless for two races now, and I’m so proud of them. They’ve got a heck of a job on their hands trying to keep me positive all the time because if my car’s not the fastest car out here, I’m not happy. Half of their job is to keep my lip from dragging the ground, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They do a great job.

“We’ve got a serious chance at getting the championship back, and I really had doubts a few races back. The guys are giving me a race car every race that I can win with now. We’re still not in the lead after back-to-back wins, and that just goes to show you how tough this class is and how tough Mike Edwards is. We’re going to have to find a way to take that trophy from him; he’s not going to give it up. He’s the champion for a reason. He’s a great racer, he’s got a great team, he’s got a great hot rod, and he just doesn’t make many mistakes. The good news is we’re kind of peaking at the right time. We’re a threat to win every race now, and we’re a threat to win the championship.”

Anderson, in his Summit Pontiac, battled past semi-teammate and brother-in-law Ronnie Humphrey in round one with a 6.59, then took out low qualifier Allen Johnson in the quarterfinals with a strong 6.58 before ending the hopes of rookie Shane Gray in the semifinals, 6.60 to 6.61.

Edwards, winless since the Bristol event, raced to the final from the No. 2 qualifying spot, trailering Richie Stevens Jr. in round one with a 6.58 before taking a surprising holeshot win over Ron Krisher in round two, 6.59 to 6.57. Edwards then reached the final, the 50th of his Pro Stock career, when Indy champ Greg Stanfield fouled; Edwards earned final-round lane choice with a 6.602.

LE Tonglet

The Pro Stock Motorcycle final featured the same match as the last two events: Tonglet battled Hines again. For the third straight time, the outcome was the same: The rookie beat the former world champ. Hines made it easy on him this time with a -.006 red-light. Tonglet trailed Hines by 66 points entering the event but now is only 44 behind.

"For him to go up there and red-light, you know that he had to be thinking about the pressure," said Tonglet. "It’s just unreal. When I saw the red-light and knew I was the winner even before I reached the finish line was really great. I try not to think too much about the pressure, but it’s there. I’m just glad that my brother, GT, is there to keep me calm. I think that we’d be happy with a top-three finish, but my dad reminds me that he needs the money.

"I wasn’t feeling too confident on Saturday night because we had struggled in qualifying. In the second round, the bike moved up, and so did our confidence. I'm beginning to think we could do this. We were just happy to be in the semi’s, and the win just made everything all that much better."

Tonglet, the surprising Indy and Charlotte winner and sudden championship contender, continued his amazing rookie season by reaching the final again aboard the Nitro Fish Suzuki, which is, ironically, powered by a Vance & Hines-built engine. Tonglet wheeled past the Suzukis of Michael Phillips and Karen Stoffer and, in a semifinal with identical e.t.s, Hines' Harley teammate, Eddie Krawiec, 6.969 to 6.969.

Hines reached his sixth straight final and his eighth of the season by riding his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson past Angie Smith and Steve Johnson, both on red-lights, then taking out Smith's husband, low qualifier Matt, in the semifinals on a holeshot, 6.98 to 6.97.

Related stories:
Friday: Dixon, Cruz, A.J., Stoffer opening-day leaders in Dallas
Saturday: Dixon, Wilkerson, Johnson, Smith lead final Dallas fields