Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Sunday Notebook

03 Sep 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Indy

 Features | Preview | Photos | Results  | Factory Stock Showdown

QUALIFYING ROUND/TRAXXAS SHOOTOUT RECAPS

chip.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q4 (11:40 a.m.): Very few riders improved during Sunday’s opening qualifying session but Chip Ellis was a big exception. The former Indy resident, who now lives in North Carolina, wheeled Junior Pippin’s Buell to a 6.848 to move from eighth to fourth in the quick field. Provisional low qualifier Eddie Krawiec was the quickest of the round with a 6.831, 196.39 but he had company with Hector Arana Jr close behind at 6.840, 196.16. Jerry Savoie also found the 6.8-second zone. Angelle Sampey remained on the bump spot with her earlier 7.019.

anderson2.jpgPRO STOCK Q4 (12:04 p.m.): There was a little bit of everything in the fourth qualifying session for Pro Stock cars including a savage burnout from Deric Kramer’s American Ethanol Dodge, a quick 6.587 from provisional low qualifier Greg Anderson, and a surprising aborted run from points leader Bo Butner. Kramer isn’t currently qualified, but did win the “Battle of the Burnouts” contest and earned a lot of new fans when he fogged in the starting line at Lucas Oil Raceway. Anderson, the quickest of the round, was followed by Tanner Gray with a 6.597 and Jason Line with a 6.599.

force.jpgFUNNY CAR TRAXXAS SHOOTOUT ROUND 1 (1:05 p.m.): John Force pulled off a big surprise as the two-time Shootout winner defeated event low qualifier Matt Hagan on a holeshot, 3.949 to 3.918. Ron Capps had low e.t. of the opening frame with a 3.871 in besting defending event champ Courtney Force. He’ll take on the field’s other two-time Shootout champ, teammate Jack Beckman, who beat Tommy Johnson Jr. with a 3.872. John Force will race teammate Robert Hight, who bested J.R. Todd with a 3.88.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Ron Capps vs. Jack Beckman; Hight vs. John Force

cappssun.jpgFUNNY CAR Q4 (1:28 p.m.): The Funny Car Traxxas Nitro Shootout gave fans the best runs of the sessions. Ron Capps ran a 3.871, which stands as his best run of the event so far, and earned the defending champion four qualifying bonus points. The bump spot, held by Justin Schriefer, improved to 4.085 thanks to the Funny Car driver’s career-best run. He was put on the bump by Tommy Johnson Jr., who got into the field with a 4-second run. That wasn’t good enough to get to the next round of the Shootout, but Johnson will be pleased to get down the track for the first time this weekend.

dakin.jpgTOP FUEL Q4 (2:23 p.m.): Teams went out hunting the edge of what the track could handle in the penultimate qualifying session, and many found it. The handful that got down the track helped set the quickest field in Top Fuel history. Steve Torrence and Pat Dakin ran identical elapsed times (3.752), but Torrence’s superior speed earned him the four bonus points, while Leah Pritchett (3.771) and Kebin Kinsely (3.821) rounded out the top four. That didn’t help Kinsely escape the bump spot. He’s still holding it down with a 3.808, ahead of Ike Maier and Kyle Wurtzel. 

hightsun.jpgFUNNY CAR TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT SEMIFINALS (3:25 p.m.): Robert Hight, runner-up in the last three Traxxas Nitro Shootout final rounds, will get another crack at his first $100,000 payday after beating his boss, team owner John Force, 3.89 to 3.95. Hight will have lane choice against two-time Shootout champ Jack Beckman, who emerged the winner in a pedalfest with DSR teammate Ron Capps that ended when the supercharger on Capps’ NAPA Dodge exploded at mid-track and Beckman tight-roped his way to victory (animated gif below).

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angelle.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q5 (4:13 p.m.): Three-time world champ Angelle Sampey entered the session on the bump spot, but improved to a 6.944 to secure her spot in the all six-second field. Low qualifier Eddie Krawiec made a solid tune up run with a 6.859 on his Harley Street Rod. Krawiec nudged Hector Arana Jr., who posted a 6.866. Arana Jr. started the event on a new EBR-bodied bike but decided to return to his old Lucas Oil Buell after two runs. Chip Ellis also continued his recent string of impressive runs with a 6.891 to earn two qualifying bonus points and No. 2 qualifier Andrew Hines got the final bonus point with a 6.893.

Round-one pairings (lane choice first): Eddie Krawiec vs. Jim Underdahl; Andrew Hines vs. Angelle Sampey; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Cory Reed; Jerry Savoie vs. Angie Smith; Matt Smith vs. Joey Gladstone; Chip Ellis vs. Mike Berry; Scotty Pollacheck vs. Steve Johnson; LE Tonglet vs. Karen Stoffer

butner2.jpgPRO STOCK Q5 (4:39 p.m.): There were no improvements during the final round of Pro Stock qualifying but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining. Shane Tucker, John Gaydosh, Larry Morgan, and Alan Prusiensky all tried, but couldn’t crack the tough 6.661 bump spot. Greg Anderson cemented his place on top of the field for the 90th time in his career with a 6.989, the best run of the session. Teammate Bo Butner was also solid with a 6.599. The final session also provided a thrilling conclusion to the “Battle of the Burnouts” contest with a winner-take-all battle between Shane Gray and Deric Kramer. Following two lengthy burnouts, the fans anointed Kramer the winner, and as a result of his two wins, Kramer also captured the $5,000 overall prize from Denso Spark Plugs.

Round one pairings (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. Kenny Delco; Tanner Gray vs. Deric Kramer; Drew Skillman vs. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; Bo Butner vs. Vincent Nobile; Chris McGaha vs. Shane Gray; Johnny Gray vs. Allen Johnson; Matt Hartford vs. Jason Line

lindberg.jpgFUNNY CAR Q5 (5:24 p.m.): Jonnie Lindberg ran low elapsed time of the round with the only pass in the 3.80s. Car owner and tuner Jim Head has figured something out with his Funny Car, and that helped Lindberg qualify in the No. 7 spot; he’ll race Tim Wilkerson in the first round as he chases a spot in the Countdown for the Championship. Jeff Diehl and Bob Bode failed to knock Jim Campbell out of the No. 16 spot and did not qualify for the field Indy field. Alexis DeJoria booked herself a tough first-round matchup: She’ll take on defending champion Ron Capps. 

First round matchups (lane choice listed first): Matt Hagan vs. Jim Campbell; Robert Hight vs. Justin Schriefer; Courtney Force vs. Cruz Pedregon; John Force vs. Del Worsham; Jack Beckman vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.; J.R. Todd vs. Brian Stewart; Jonnie Lindberg vs. Tim Wilkerson; Ron Capps vs. Alexis DeJoria

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FUNNY CAR TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT FINAL (5:30 p.m.): Jack Beckman, far lane, won his third Traxxas Shootout title in six tries and relegated Robert Hight to runner-up for the fourth straight year. Hight looked like he had the lead until Hight’s Auto Club Chevy faltered, and Beckman’s Infinite Hero Dodge roared away to the win and the $100,000 payday, 3.952 to 4.360. [Full recap]

C_Millican.JPGTOP FUEL Q5 (6:07 p.m.): Clay Millican wrapped up back-to-back No. 1 qualifiers at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. He didn’t improve on his 3.663 from the fourth qualifying session, but he did grab four bonus points by running the low pass of the session (3.734). Millican did that right next to Tony Schumacher, who suffered a devastating explosion. Kebin Kinsley will race Millican in the first round after holding off Ike Maier and Kyle Wurtzel, who didn’t make the call in the final round of qualifying, while Ashley Sanford qualified for the field in her first Top Fuel race. 

First round matchups (lane-choice listed first): Clay Millican vs. Kebin Kinsley; Leah Pritchett vs. Wayne Newby; Steve Torrence vs. Ashley Sanford; Tony Schumacher vs. Terry McMillen; Doug Kalitta vs. Richie Crampton; Antron Brown vs. Scott Palmer; Bob Vandergriff vs. Pat Dakin; Brittany Force vs. Shawn Langdon.

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Ten-time Indy Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher and his U.S. Army team will have some major work to do if they're going to claim No. 11 on Monday after this massive engine explosion on their final qualifying pass (animated gif).

Watson.jpgFACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN E1 (3:55 p.m.): The opening round of the School of Automotive Machinists and Technology Factory Stock Showdown provided lots of excitement while teams were faced with the challenge of getting a 1,400-horsepower car down the track on a nine-inch rear tire. Low qualifier David Barton advanced, but just barely. Barton spun the tires in his COPO Camaro but managed to advance when opponent Carl Tasca also spun the tires and could not get his Cobra Jet Mustang to recover. Chuck Watson, who is tied with Barton in the SAM Tech Factory Stock points battle, also advanced with a win over Roy Hill. Stephen Bell, Daniel Condon, Waldomar Rodriguez, Scott Libersher, Kevin Skinner, and Pete Gasko Jr., who won the Charlotte event earlier this season. Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett was not able to move on after she spun the tires in her Dodge Challenger and two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders also failed to move on after her 8.363 lost to Skinner’s 8.276.  

skinner.jpgFACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN E2 (7:11 p.m.): The field for the School of Automotive Machinists and Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdown has been reduced to four drivers. Stephen Bell, Kevin Skinner, Scott Libersher, and David Barton will return on Monday to race for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals title. Bell was the quickest driver in the quarterfinals when he drove his COPO Camaro to an 8.225, 167.12 in his win over Chuck Watson, who came into the event with a share of the points lead along with David Barton. Barton took the lead outright when he drove his Gary Wolkwitz-owned COPO to an 8.262, 164.03 in his win against Daniel Condon. Skinner is the lone Ford driver remaining after wheeling his Cobra Jet Mustang to an 8.278 in his win against Puerto Rico’s Waldemar Rodriguez and Scott Libersher scored an 8.268 to 8.900 win against Pete Gasko Jr.

Recap: Millican, Hagan, Anderson, Krawiec hang onto Indy poles.

FEATURES

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Clay Millican has been racing in Top Fuel for a long time, but never as successfully as this season. His first win, which came earlier this season in Bristol, tops the list of Millican’s career accomplishments, but the pilot of the Great Clips/Parts Plus machine wants more. So does crew chief Dave Grubnic, who has an incredible handle on the dragster. 

“I’m just so proud of David Grubnic, Matt Savage, and all the guys that work on that car,” said Millican after he took the Lucas Oil Raceway track record back from Leah Pritchett on Saturday night. 

If Millican holds onto the No. 1 spot through Sunday, it’ll be his third pole of the season, and his first since Houston. The team is more consistent now than it was earlier in the season, which has led to more round wins; that’s how Millican grabbed that win in Bristol. Since then, the car has gotten even better. 

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Millican owns three of the 10 quickest passes in Top Fuel history thanks to a pair of great passes during eliminations in Brainerd and his record-setting 3.663 run on Saturday night. Grubnic has found something in the dragster over the past month that has the Drummonds, Tenn. native absolutely flying down the track. 

“My confidence is definitely at an all-time high,” said Millican. “I haven’t had a confidence level like this since my IHRA days when I was winning a lot. I know when I get into this race car that it can run with anybody. Our car is as quick as anybody in the world right now.” 

The numbers back that up. If the car stays consistent on Sundays, Millican has a car that can beat anybody. 

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torrencetraxxas.jpgWinning the Traxxas Nitro Shootout was just the first of three goals that Steve Torrence had for his 2017 Indy weekend. He knocked off the first in convincing fashion Saturday, winning the $100,000 payday by beating the guy who’d won it twice before, Tony Schumacher.

Steps two and three involve winning Monday’s big show and, in the process, retaking the points lead he relinquished two races ago to good friend Antron Brown.

Torrence has been to the mountaintop, winning the U.S. Nationals in 2005 in his Alcohol Dragster, but admits that a Top Fuel win would be even better. Torrence has been close enough three of the last four years to taste the Mello Yello. He was runner-up to Shawn Langdon in 2013, to Richie Crampton in 2014 and, a year ago, lost in the final to Schumacher by a few thousandths of a second. 

“You win Indy the first time in Alcohol Dragster and maybe it doesn’t mean as much to you as going to the final three more times in Top Fuel and not getting it done,” he admitted. “It would be a huge accomplishment for me. You can win all the other races, even win a championship, but if you don’t win Indy it doesn’t complete your career. I guarantee you it will be a bigger celebration than I had in 2005. It’s would be a rough night and a long next day.”

Taking back the points lead he lost with a first-round loss in Seattle – a race that Brown won – is also high on the list.

“Getting the top seed is important; you get that points lead going into the Countdown, and these points are hard to get. We’re all scratching and clawing for every point all year long. We dropped the ball in Seattle – we underestimated Terry [McMillen] and that was out mistake. It won’t happen again. We’ll be fighting again Monday for every point to get that lead back.

“The [Don Schumacher Racing] cars are tough; they’ve got the U.S. Army behind them, Matco Tools, Papa John’s – we’re just a single-car team with a bunch of old hillbilly pipeliners from Kilgore, Texas.

“But this has been an unbelievable season for and my guys have given me an unbelievable car all season long; it’s the best racecar I’ve ever driven. My confidence is at an all-time high; knowing that I have a car that is going to leave hard, it going to react when you hit the gas allows you walk around with a little swagger. It’s not cockiness, it’s just knowing that you have the biggest gun in the place right now.”

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mcmillen.jpgTerry McMillen has knocked on the door so many times; this year, someone answered. After seven straight years of just missing the Top 10 points berth that qualifies for the Countdown to the Championship – including three 11th-place finishes – McMillen, crew chief Rob Wendland, and the Amalie Motor Oil Extermi-Gator team are solidly qualified for this year’s post-season “playoffs.”

It’s a tough go for a single-car team with substantially smaller budget than its counterparts, but a combination of McMillen’s competitive fire and Wendland having the hot tune-up has gotten them past those deficits.

“We don’t have the depth of parts the other teams do, and testing is not something we’re able to do right now,” said Wendland, who is in his third season with McMillen. “We do our testing in qualifying, and sometimes you learn what not to do. No one really runs the same combination we have. It’s tougher but we learn more. I don’t really have a tuning alliance with someone – like Scott Plamer has with [Steve] Torrence, but I have lots of friends. The list is getting thinner the quicker we go, but I can always count on Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald, crew chiefs for Mark Oswald] to talk to and bounce ideas off of.”

It was Corradi and Oswald that Wendland faced off against in the final round in Seattle, and although his car ran quicker, McMillen was slower off the line than Brown and lost the final round.

tmac.jpg“Terry was harder on himself than I could ever be,” Wendland joked. “I just wanted to remind him that he screwed up the first win, not me. That’s just the way it happens.”

Although Troy Coughlin’s resignation from Team Kalitta was what ultimately sealed the deal, the Seattle runner-up assured them the Countdown spot and gave the team confidence.

“Being in the Countdown means the world to us, after so many years of being close,” said McMillen. “We knew coming into the race that we were in a good position but it feels good to be locked in there. We feel like our performance level is coming back, but we’re still learning a bit on the new clutch we put in for the Sonoma race. It’s already been a good weekend for us, getting in the Traxxas Shootout and even winning a round yesterday and being solidly in the show with a 3.76. Our goal is just to be able to hold onto the No. 8 spot where in and then go after it in the Countdown.”

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It’s hard to find someone having more fun at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals than Ashley Sanford. The Top Fuel rookie is making her first appearance in a nitro-burning machine, and she couldn’t be doing it on a bigger stage. So far, Sanford has made a pair of laps in the 3.70s, which very likely has her solidly qualified. 

She also had a very adventurous run in the second qualifying session. About 300 feet down the track, her rear left tire went all but flat. After safely bringing the car to a stop, the rookie driver popped out of the car, grabbed her helmet in characteristically animated fashion and jerked her head back to see what was going on.

sanford3.jpg“I felt it tug, and that’s when I let off it,” said Sanford. “Usually after smoke or shake, you just wait for the car to settle. But then I was like, ‘I’m totally tilted to the side and leaning. What is going on?’”

After that little roller coaster ride, Sanford went out and ran a 3.775, her current career best. Okay, okay, yes, it’s her career best after four passes. The Californian is doing a whole lot for the first time this weekend as she attempts to make the switch from Alcohol Dragster to the Top Fuel ranks. 

She’s piloting Dom Lagana’s Nitro Ninja, the same dragster she licensed in. Her current plan is to drive her alcohol car in Dallas, Las Vegas, and Pomona but is looking for any chance she can to get more seat time in a Top Fuel Dragster. For now, she’s just enjoying every moment she spends at the U.S. Nationals. 

“I’m so lucky I get to be here, and that I’m getting this seat time, and that I get to do it at the biggest race of the year,” said Sanford. “(The other drivers) have been so supportive. I was definitely intimidated coming into it. I looked up to these people my entire life, I got autographs from them, and to be on this side of it… It’s been nothing but support and good advice. It’s made me feel really confident.”

It’s a promising start to Sanford’s career. 

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Reaction times have increasingly become an important part of the Nitro classes. Steve Torrence posted RTs in the .030s and .040s consistently en route to his first ever Top Fuel Nitro Traxxas Shootout victory and is the cream of the crop in the class this season. So, what does the best leaver in Funny Car this season, Matt Hagan, think about the importance of leaving on time?

“It’s probably the only reason I got a job,” said Hagan. “I’m a bigger guy, so everybody’s like, ‘you should go slower,’ but I’m like, ‘well I can leave good’ so maybe that helps me keep my ride. It’s one of those deals where it’s so competitive now, that you look back at those years where Force dominated and just out-classed everybody and outspent everybody is gone. The parity in the sport is just incredible.”

Hagan leads the field with an average reaction time of .0685 (elimination rounds only). He’s trailed by John Force (.0688) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (.0722). That’s significantly better than the class average this season (.0827). That difference on the starting line can turn into round wins, like the holeshot win he hung on Alexis DeJoria in Seattle two events ago.  

“There are a handful of good drivers out here that really have it together, that drive well, leave well, that you know you have to get up for and make things happen,” said Hagan. 

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cruz.jpgWith a spot in the Countdown on the line, Cruz Pedregon is pulling out all the stops. The Funny Car driver is an ardent fan of the Oakland Raiders fan and is pulling out a new helmet, designed by Brad Plantenga, that pays homage to his favorite football team for the third time in his career (pictured above). The first time he wore such a lid was at the U.S. Nationals in 1995. 

That’s right, a race he won. Pedregon could use just that kind of magic here as he chases Alexis DeJoria for a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. His first three runs have been nothing to write home about. His best run is a 4.015, which has him qualified No. 13. Pedregon hasn’t made it down the track in either of his other runs. 

“I think we’re just a run or two away from where we need to be,” said Pedregon. “Sometimes finding out what not to do is just as important as finding out what to do.”

With two qualifying sessions to go, Pedregon and crew chief Aaron Brooks are running out of time to figure things out. Still, the former champion is pleased he’s being given the opportunity to race for a chance to get into the Countdown instead of stumbling into it. 

“The object of the game is to compete for a championship,” said Pedregon. “We want to be in it to win it. Stumbling in at 10th place by default because she missed a few races… that’s not the way we want to do it.”

Make no bones about it: If Pedregon gets into the Countdown, he’ll have to earn it. 

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Tommy Johnson Jr. didn’t win the opening round of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout but he was, as he promised earlier in the morning, “the happiest first-round loser” because his 4.00 fell to teammate Jack Beckman’s 3.87. Even though he didn’t turn on the win light, his .88 qualified his Riley Children’s Hospital Charger solidly for the field, which was not a given after three aborted passes Friday and Saturday left him on the outside looking in on the final day of qualifying at the biggest race of the year.

Before he found a problem with the clutch’s pressure plate late Saturday, crew chief John Collins was on the verge of switching to a backup chassis and the team had, in fact, begun preliminary work on the switchover process.

“We couldn’t figure out what was wrong because we’d tested well with this car and suddenly it just became really aggressive on the launch,” said Johnson, whose only Indy final-round appearance was a runner-up behind John Force in 2002. “It’s one thing to blow them off in the night session but to do the same thing the next day when it’s warmer, we knew something was wrong.

“We knew we had to be a little conservative in the first round of the Shootout to make sure we could get in the field because, obviously, qualifying for the U.S. Nationals is more important than winning the Traxxas Shootout. This is not the event you want to have these kind of problems at.”

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With qualifying for Pro Stock almost complete, the Gray family has accomplished their primary mission of qualifying all three of their cars for Monday’s final eliminations. From day one, the team has insisted that their plan to enter cars for Johnny, Shane, and Tanner Gray was far more than just a publicity stunt to showcase all three generations of NHRA racers. Rookie of the year Tanner is currently seeded No. 2 while family patriarch, Johnny is seventh with a 6.596 and Shane is 12th with a 6.607. With just one more run remaining, there is very little chance either one of the Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaros will be bumped from the field.

“This has been a lot of fun so far,” said Johnny, who has not raced in the Pro Stock class since the 2010 season. “I feel pretty good for someone who’s been out of the car for so long. On Friday night, the car made a pretty good move and I had to give it a nudge. Everyone tells me that it’s just like riding a bike but I’ve told them that if you’ve been off a bike for a few years you’re still going to be a little wobbly the first time you get back on it.”

So far, Tanner has had no such issues after a tremendous rookie campaign that has already produced four wins. Tanner is also the overwhelming favorite to win the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award.

“I hated to get knocked from the top spot, but otherwise it’s all good,” said Tanner, who was the No. 1 qualifier until Greg Anderson’s 6.561 blast on Saturday night. “So far, running three cars hasn’t been a problem. We were prepared for it. We all sort of have our own tune-ups and we keep to ourselves as far as that’s concerned. I would love to race my grandfather tomorrow or my dad, or maybe even race both of them. That would be cool.”

Johnny is happily retired in Florida, where he spends much of his time fishing or driving sports cars in road racing events, so no one should expect him to join the Mello Yello tour anytime soon. However, he did indicate that he might compete in a few more events in the Pro Stock class, perhaps as early as the next event in Charlotte.

“There’s a pretty good storm headed towards Florida in the next week or two,” Johnny noted. “If the fish aren’t biting and I can’t go road racing, I might just make an appearance in Charlotte. We’ll see.”

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skillman.jpgMost Pro Stock racers are never fully satisfied with their race cars but Drew Skillman might be the exception. In the midst of a successful season that has already produced three wins, the Indy-based racer is in the thick of the battle with a 6.570 in his Gray Motorsports-powered Camaro that is good for the No. 3 spot.

“I’m really happy with my car right now; this think is bad ass,” said Skillman, who also raced in Stock at Indy but lost early in his family’s Cobra Jet Mustang. “And the driver is perfect, as usual. Well, the driver can be hit or miss but lately I haven’t feel too bad about my driving. We’ve just been really consistent and that’s what matters most in this class.”

Skillman drove to a runner-up finish at the second stop in Phoenix but struggled in the middle of the season. After getting a handle on the chassis on his Jerry Haas-built Camaro, his team has come to life, winning three of the last five events. Skillman scored victories in Chicago, Denver, and Seattle, a much-needed confidence boost heading into the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“For us, it was just the car,” said Skillman. “We’ve always had great power. We just needed to learn how to use it. Once we got that part figured out, the rest all came together. Other than having to get up at the crack of dawn to race the Stocker, I’ve got nothing to complain about right now and even that is nothing that can’t be fixed by some coffee.”

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line.jpgIt took a few runs, but Jason Line appears to have found at least a temporary answer to whatever was ailing his blue Summit Chevy during the first three qualifying runs. Line remains qualified in the bottom half of the field, but his 6.599 in Q4 was the third-best run of the round. Earlier, Line had been consistent, if not quick with runs of 6.616, 6.619, and 6.610.

Crew chief Rob Downing provided some perspective on Line’s sudden performance surge

“We’ve been trying a lot of things, and probably trying too hard,” he said. “We finally got back to basics on that run. It makes you feel better, but that’s only one run. Now we need to do it again this next run and then hopefully all day tomorrow. We’ll see, but we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Line entered the 2017 season as the reigning Mello Yello Pro Stock champion and he came roaring out of the gate with a win in Pomona but he’s yet to win a second event and has not appeared in another final round. Despite his struggles, Line has not qualified lower than seventh at any event this season.

Line, who has a Stock Eliminator national championship to go along with his three Mello Yello Series Pro Stock titles, also returned to his sportsman racing roots this weekend when he rolled out his venerable Buick Grand Sport Stocker. Line fulfilled a longtime goal when he earned the C/SA title over Doug Duell’s ’69 Barracuda.

 

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After a tough outing in Brainerd, Team Liberty riders Cory Reed and Angelle Sampey were short on parts when they arrived in Indy for the “Big Go” and their fortunes have not improved with two more wounded powerplants. As a result, Reed will not run either of today’s sessions and Sampey plans to make just one half-pass on her Victory Magnum entry.

“What we have in the bikes is what we have left,” said Reed, the reigning NHRA Rookie of the Year. “We came here with two spare engines for the team and we’ve used both of them. We’re just trying to get through this weekend.”

Reed is solidly in the field with a 13th best 6.941 while Sampey is clinging to the bump with a 7.019 best. During her career, Sampey has failed to qualify just once, and that was in Las Vegas two years ago when she suffered a severe leg injury in a pit accident. Otherwise, her record is unblemished.

“Hopefully, I don’t get bumped out,” Sampey said. “I don’t want to have that on my record. The weather is going to be a little warmer today than it was yesterday so that works in our favor.”

Most of the engine problems that the Liberty team has encountered have been in the crankshaft area. They’re working to address the problem, but admit that it will take time. To that end, they may sit out a few events in order to regroup. Reed confirmed that they will almost certainly miss the next event at zMax Dragway.

“We knew when we started this deal that we were going to take some lumps,” said Reed. “For the first half of the season, things were pretty good but we’re trying to make more power and trying to get quicker and we’ve run into an issue. Our original goal was to qualify both bikes at every race and so far, we’ve done that. We’ll see it we can get through this weekend with that streak intact.”

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gladstone.jpgJoey Gladstone isn’t about to celebrate yet, but as the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals drags on, it’s becoming more and more apparent that he and team owner Joe Riccardi are about to clinch a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. Gladstone entered Indy as the No. 8 seed, and he’s 80-points clear of 11th ranked Steve Johnson.

“Anything can happen but it’s starting to become more and more of a reality,” said Gladstone. “I’ll feel good on Monday afternoon when it’s official.”

Recently, Gladstone and Riccardi started racing on their own, ending their association with the Stoffer/Underdahl team that had been in place earlier this year. After four qualifying runs at Indy, Gladstone is ranked 12th with a 6.940, 191.81.

“We’ve been breaking in a new tire and that probably cost us a hundredth or two,” said Gladstone. “It usually takes 7-10 passes for a tire to work so we should be good for the rest of the weekend. We’ve worked on this tune-up and we’ve made some changes. We’re just trying to keep up.”

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smith_0.jpgMatt Smith was making a solid run on his Polaris Victory Magnum during Sunday’s qualifying round when the bike spit the chain off near the 1,000-foot mark. Smith got the bike stopped without further incident, but he clearly wasn’t happy, especially after he surveyed the damage to his Victory Magnum bodywork.

“We put a brand-new motor in for that round and it was also a brand new chain so that shouldn’t have happened,” said Smith. “I thought we were making a good run. I felt it go and heard the engine hit the high side. I thought for a moment that the transmission popped out of gear or something. Luckily, I didn’t get hit with it. My bike is torn up a little bit but we’ll get it fixed for later.”

Smith has steadily made progress with his new Polaris-backed V-twin engine program this season. He qualified in the bottom half of the field at the first three events and then suffered the ultimate indignity when he failed to qualify for the NHRA Summernationals in Englishtown. Since then, Smith has been on a tear, qualifying no worse than third at the next five events. He’s also ridden to final rounds in Norwalk, Denver, and Sonoma.

“We know what we’ve got,” said Smith. “We can win races we just haven’t had any luck. It’s that simple. We get close and something goes wrong. I get tired of it but what can you do? You’ve just got to power through it and keep working.”

PHOTOS

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A huge crowd has turned out to catch the drama of the final two qualifying sessions at Lucas Oil raceway at Indianapolis.

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Drag racing legends "Ohio George" Montgomery and Barbara Hamilton were among those signing autographs at the legends tent.

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Keeping hundreds of cars moving smoothly through the facility takes a lot of work, and no one is better or more flamboyant at it than Richard Coniensky, who has worked the U.S. Nationals for the last 16 years.

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Bobby Lagana Jr., assistant crew chief for Steve Torrence's Top Fuel entry, and NHRA's Alan Reinhart taught some fuel-racing basics to fans at the popular Nitro School session, which was held outside of the Chevrolet display.

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The 2017 Funny Car Traxxas Nitro Shootout field assembled for a photo prior to the opening round.

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Shootout participant Ron Capps made sure he was focused for the action.

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U.S. Nationals Pro Stock legend and Indiana hero Bob Glidden is on hand and was interviewed by announcer Brian Lohnes.

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Crew chief Rob Flynn consulted with team owner and former Indy Top Fuel winner Connie Kalitta on the tune-up for the Shawn Langdon-driven Global Technology dragster.

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With nine hours of television time this weekend the NHRA on FOX crew, led by industry veteran Ken Adelson, foreground, has been busy inside the production truck.

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With tire-melting burnouts, Deric Kramer won two of the four Battle of the Burnouts competitions and was named the overall winner of the special qualifying event. [Full story]

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Jack Beckman and the Infinite Hero team claimed the $100,000 Traxxas Nitro Shootout win for the third time.

PREVIEW

Qualifying wraps up on Sunday with more bonus points on the line in conditions more like what we’re set to see during eliminations on Monday. Pro Stock Motorcycle kicks off qualifying at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, and the Funny Car Nitro Traxxas Shootout is set to begin during the first Funny Car qualifying session shortly thereafter.  

C_Millican.JPGClay Millican reset the track record by running the seventh-quickest pass in Top Fuel history in the third qualifying session on Saturday, while Steve Torrence took home the $100,000 pay day in the Top Fuel Nitro Traxxas Shootout. Sunday is all about setting the field and getting a race-day tune up in the dragsters. There’s a little bit of history on the line, too. Pat Dakin currently holds the bump spot with a 3.861-second pass. If he, or either of the racers behind him, run a 3.833, we’ll see the quickest Top Fuel field in history. The previous record is 3.834, set at the 2014 NHRA Finals in Pomona. 

R_Capps.JPGToday’s Funny Car action will have some extra drama today as an elite eight drivers in the field will also take part in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout. Points leader Ron Capps, low qualifier Matt Hagan, two-time Shootout winners John Force and Jack Beckman, defending champ Courtney Force, Tommy Johnson Jr, Robert Hight, and J.R. Todd, and will battle for the $100,00 top prize. Johnson is probably in the most intriguing position as after three qualifying passes, his Riley Childrens Hospital Charger is not qualified. With the first and final rounds of the Shootout also counting as qualifying runs, crew chief John Collins will have to walk the tightrope between winning performance and making sure his car gets down the track.

G_Anderson.JPGThe four racers who are currently outside the 16-car Pro Stock field, Shane Tucker, John Gaydosh, Alan Prusiensky, and Larry Morgan, have their work cut out for them today. With temperatures expected to rise, breaking through the current 6.661-second bump spot will not be easy. At the front of the field., Greg Anderson bumped rookie Tanner Gray from the top spot on Saturday evening with a 6.561, 210.11 run in his Summit Camaro. Anderson will try to hold on to the top spot through today’s final two qualifying rounds. If Anderson can hold on to the pole, it will be his third of the season and the 90th of his career.

E_Krawiec.JPGWith three of five sessions in the books, Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines are solidly in the top spots in Pro Stock Motorcycle with runs of 6.822 and 6.825 on their matching Harley-Davidson Street Rod bikes. The Vance & Hines team appears to have a comfortable advantage over the rest of the field including provisional No. 3 qualifier Matt Smith, who clocked in with a 6.840 and Scotty Pollacheck, who currently has the class’ quickest Suzuki with a 6.862. The current bump spot is held by three-time world champion Angelle Sampey, who sat out the third session while her Liberty Racing team worked to repair a couple of broken engines. There are 22 bikes attempting to make the 16-bike field.