Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Sunday Notebook

20 Aug 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Brainerd Hero

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ELIMINATION ROUND RECAPS

millican2.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:25 a.m.): Clay Millican rocked the stands with a stunning 3.655 in the second pairing of the opening stanza, making the second quickest pass in the sport’s history to defeat Chris Karamesines. Antron Brown (3.695) and birthday boy Doug Kalitta (3.697) also found the 3.60s to advance; Brown will face Brittany Force in a rematch of last year’s final round here, which she won.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Leah Pritchett vs. Scott Palmer; Clay Millican vs. Tony Schumacher; Antron Brown vs. Brittany Force; Doug Kalitta vs. Steve Torrence

cruz.JPGFUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (12:07 p.m.): The biggest upset of the first round only featured one car going down the track. Cruz Pedregon advanced to the second round when Matt Hagan’s Dodge shut off after performing its burn out. It’s Hagan’s third first-round loss of the season and second in three races. For Pedregon, it books him a spot in the second round against a racer who’s chasing him down for a Countdown spot: Alexis DeJoria. It’ll be a battle of John Force Racing vs. Don Schumacher Racing as Robert Hight takes on Ron Capps, Courtney Force battles Tommy Johnson Jr., and John Force matches up with Jack Beckman.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Robert Hight vs. Ron Capps; Courtney Force vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.; Alexis DeJoria vs. Cruz Pedregon; John Force vs. Jack Beckman

greganderson.JPGPRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:30 p.m.): Greg Anderson put together the best pass of the entire weekend (6.588) to get himself lane choice against Allen Johnson in a rematch of the first round of the last event, the NHRA Northwest Nationals. Johnson got the better of that matchup, so Anderson has revenge on his mind in his hometown race. Teammate Jason Line will face off against Drew Skillman after narrowly beating John Gaydosh Jr. in the first round, while Tanner Gray will take on rival Erica Enders, who beat teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. on a holeshot in the opening stanza. Enders ripped off a .003 reaction time to beat Coughlin Jr.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Tanner Gray vs. Erica Enders; Drew Skillman vs. Jason Line; Bo Butner vs. Shane Gray; Greg Anderson vs. Allen Johnson.

smith3.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 1 (12:40 p.m.):  It was a good round for the Smith family. Matt Smith rocketed to a 6.859, low e.t. of the meet, to ride around Freddie Camarena’s holeshot and clinch his sport in the Countdown, and his wife, Angie Smith, 10th in points, has to also be feeling a little better after beating ninth-place Karen Stoffer and seeing No. 11 Steve Johnson foul after an apparent two-step malfunction. Points leader L.E. Tonglet also threw his hat into the performance ring with a stout 6.864, also quicker than the 6.879 pace set in qualifying by Hector Arana Jr.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Hector Arana Jr. vs. Andrew Hines; L.E. Tonglet vs. Cory Reed; Jerry Savoie vs. Angie Smith; Matt Smith vs. Eddie Krawiec

antron2.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1:30 p.m.): Clay Millican was at it again, running a 3.658, the third-quickest pass in class history, to reach the semifinals. Driver reflexes rather than horsepower helped decide two other pairs as Antron Brown used a holeshot and a 3.681 to defeat Brittany Force’s quicker-but-later 3.675 by just .004-second and Steve Torrence followed suit by beating Doug Kalitta’s 3.709 with a 3.723. The good news for Kalitta is that with Scott Palmer’s loss to Leah Pritchett, Kalitta, as the highest points earlier without an event win this season, locked up the final open spot in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Antron Brown vs. Leah Pritchett; Antron Brown vs. Steve Torrence

dejoria2.JPGFUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (1:42 p.m.): Alexis DeJoria got the best of her critical Countdown matchup against Cruz Pedregon and will get into the semifinals against John Force. John Force Racing got the best of its matchup against Don Schumacher Racing in the second round of action, as Robert Hight took down Ron Capps, and John Force beat Jack Beckman. Tommy Johnson Jr. defeated Courtney Force when the Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro shut off after about 200 feet; that’ll give Hight a chance to avenge his teammate in the semi’s while chasing his second-straight victory. 

Semifinals pairings (lane choice listed first): Robert Hight vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.; Alexis DeJoria vs. John Force.

tanner3.JPGPRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:54 p.m.): Two drivers got monkeys off their backs in the second round of Pro Stock eliminations. First, Jason Line broke a streak of six-straight losses to Drew Skillman. That booked him a trip in the semifinals, where he’ll race Tanner Gray. That’s because the rookie of the year candidate beat Erica Enders for the first time in three tries. Both drivers tattooed the tree with .011 reaction times, but Gray had the better car. Meanwhile, Bo Butner took down Shane Gray to face off against teammate Greg Anderson. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice listed first): Tanner Gray vs. Jason Line; Greg Anderson vs. Bo Butner

savoie3.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (2 p.m.): Reigning world champ Jerry Savoie reset low e.t. with a 6.845 to take down Angie Smith while teammate L.E. Tonglet also sizzled to a 6.850 in besting Cory Reed. Andrew Hines took down low qualifier Hector Arana Jr. in a 6.91 to 6.91 battle while Matt Smith took out Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec, with a strong 6.88.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): L.E. Tonglet vs. Andrew Hines; Jerry Savoie vs. Matt Smith

pritchett4.jpgTOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:40 p.m.): The battle between the two quickest cars in the sport national -- record holder Leah Pritchett, who ran 3.640 in qualifying, and Clay Millican, who ran 3.655 in round one, and both have gone 3.658 to tie for third – went to Pritchett with a 3.666 blast, the seventh quickest in class history. Antron Brown reached his fifth straight and 10th overall final of the season by defeating his good pal and rival Steve Torrence but will cede lane choice to the Papa John’s machine in an all-Don Schumacher Racing finale.

alexis.jpgFUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:50 p.m.): For the first time since 2016, Alexis DeJoria will get into a final round. She defeated John Force by .002-second to advance to the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals final, her first since she picked up the Wally at the Spring Vegas race in 2016. DeJoria will battle Tommy Johnson Jr. who took down Robert Hight after a wild Funny Car semifinal, where Hight got off the throttle after he thought he turned on the red light after double-stepping. That mistake cost him a shot at winning his second-straight contest. DeJoria will have lane choice while chasing her first title of the season against the winner of the 2017 Spring Vegas race. 

butner_0.JPGPRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:55 p.m.): Bo Butner will get a chance to get back in the winner’s circle for the first time since winning in Norwalk. To do so, he’ll have to beat Tanner Gray. The rookie of the year candidate defeated Butner to capture his first ever Wally back at the Spring Las Vegas race (the fourth race in the NHRA Drag Racing calendar). Gray took down defending champion Jason Line, while Butner defeated a red-lighting Anderson to reach the final. If the rookie can pick up a win, it’ll extend a Gray Motorsports winning streak that runs back four races. Butner is looking to end that. 

tonglet3.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFINALS (3 p.m.): With a final foursome composed exclusively of the current and three former world champs, no quarter was expected and none given. Points leader and 2010 champ L.E. Tonglet ran 6.896 to beat three-time titlist Andrew Hines while his teammate, reigning champ Jerry Savoie, got an easy one with a matching 6.869 after two-time Matt Smith’s bike faltered early. Savoie will earn lane choice based on his slight better speed, 194.66 to 194.63.

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LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES: Homestate favorite Ben Line, brother of Pro Stock racer Jason Line, captured the Stock title, scoring his first career victory at his home track. Line was runner-up at this event in 2010. Johan Lindberg, brother of two-time champ Jonnie, took the honors in Top Alcohol Funny Car while Justin Ashley was the winner in Top Alcohol Dragster. It was the second season win for both drivers.

Other winners at the event were Eric Bell (Super Stock), Trevor Larson (Super Comp), Jim Davis (Super Gas), Bob Fischer (Top Dragster), and Brian Heath (Top Sportsman). Glenn Hall won the exhibition Pro Stock Sled competition.

Final-round results of Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Sportsman competition in Brainerd:

Alcohol Dragster
Justin Ashley def. Gord Gingles

Alcohol Funny Car
Johan Lindberg def. Kris Hool

Super Stock
Eric Bell def. Darrell Dietz

Stock
Ben Line def. Bill Feist

Super Comp
Trevor Larson def. Jeremy Demers

Super Gas
Jim Davis def. Ken Griffiths 

Top Dragster
Bob Fischer def. Michael Kritzky

Top Sportsman
Brian Heath def. Joe Mohana 

Pro Stock Sled
Glenn Hall def. Scott Hagen 

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PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (3:50 p.m.): Reigning season champ Jerry Savoie, far lane, scored his second win of the season and the eighth of his career when he defeated his teammate, L.E. Tonglet, in the final round, 6.84 to 6.91.

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PRO STOCK FINAL (3:55 p.m.): Tanner Gray, far lane, earned his fourth Wally of the season, improving his win percentage in final rounds to 80 while knocking off Bo Butner for the third time in a final. He did it with a 6.61-second pass and a .012 reaction time. He also moved into second place in the points with the victory with one race to go before points reset after the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Butner was behind Gray all the way down the track and dropped to 3-5 in final rounds this season. Despite the loss, Butner clinched the points lead and will start with it in the Countdown to the Championship. 

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FUNNY CAR FINAL (4:00 p.m.): Alexis DeJoria, far lane, didn’t just get her fifth career victory by beating Tommy Johnson Jr.; and she didn’t just get her first win since the 2016 Spring Las Vegas event. DeJoria vaulted herself into 10th place in the process with only the U.S. Nationals to go. That’s a huge win for the driver of the Tequila Patron car. She also won the 250th event for women in NHRA history. 

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TOP FUEL FINAL (4:05 p.m.): Two days after a seismic 3.640 national-record run in qualifying, Leah Pritchett, far lane, completed a wire-to-wire victory, her fifth in Top Fuel and eighth overall, with a 3.682-second clocking to defeat Antron Brown, who slowed to a cylinder-dropping 4.00.

FEATURES

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Clay Millican and crew chief Dave Grubnic took advantage of the great conditions in round one to belt out a 3.655, the second quickest pass in Top Fuel history, behind only Leah Pritchett’s national-record 3.640. Millican’s run was especially impressive in that the Great Clips/Parts Plus dragster covered the first 330 feet of the course in just 2.066 seconds, better than the 3.077 that Pritchett ran Friday.

“ ‘Grubby’ told me that we needed to start getting ready for the Countdown, and that he had some things he wanted to try,” said Millican. “We made a good first run in Sonoma and spent the rest of qualifying testing this combination, but it didn’t work out so good. ‘Grubby’ told me he wanted to try it again here, because the track is so good, but only if we made two good runs Friday. We did so he put it in for Q3 and we were the quickest of the session by a bunch.

“We’re getting ready for the Countdown and I guess I can see we’re pretty close to ready. That was shocking.”

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antron.JPGDespite getting back into the points lead with a win in Seattle, Antron Brown isn’t satisfied with his performance this season. That’s how you get to be a three-time Top Fuel champion; well, that and grabbing a quarter of the available wins this season.

“We’ve been to a lot of finals, but we only have four race wins out of nine finals this year,” said Brown. “We aren’t even 50-50 right now. We have to do a lot better than that.”

If Brown continues at this rate, it would be the first time Antron has been under .500 in final rounds since 2010, his third season in Top Fuel. He’s still well over the .500 mark in final rounds in his career (49-35). He’s also three wins away from matching Joe Amato’s 52 Top Fuel victories, and four away from hitting Kenny Bernstein’s 69 total pro wins thanks to the 16 Brown earned in Pro Stock Motorcycle. 

"I'm speechless about that,” said Brown. “Joe is from Pennsylvania and he's always been one of my big heroes in the day of watching this sport. He used to win like it was going out of style. In our profession, we never know when our next win is going to come. You can win a race now and then not win again for another two years.  We're going to ride this wave and keep pushing as hard as we can.”

Brown will chase his fifth win of the season at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. He starts with Shawn Langdon in the first round.

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Tony Schumacher's first round victory over Troy Coughlin Jr. in the opening stanza was the 800th of career. He's only the third driver, behind John Force and Warren Johnson, to reach that mark.

The eight-time world champ’s stats are impressive; he reached 800 wins in just 473 starts, which included 83 event victories and 64 runner-ups. His round record reached an impressive 800-381. Schumacher has also reached the semifinals 74 times. He has amassed 83 No. 1 starts and has DNQ’d just eight times.

"I had forgotten all about it, to tell you the truth," said Schumacher after the win. "That's not just one guy's achievement. There have been a while lot of people behind it over the years."

Schumacher likes to call himself “the machine” because he doesn’t let trivial little things like milestone facts distract him. He doesn’t even want to know much other than what time to be in the car.

“If a track has nuances, [the crew] don’t tell me about them. I don’t want to know,” he said. “Unless there’s a groove I have to drive around, I don’t want to know about any of that stuff. The crew does its job and I do mine. I always say the mind can hold seven things in it. That’s why phone numbers have seven digits. There’s a reason for that. The more you tell a driver to watch for and do, the more he’s going to make mistakes.”

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palmer.JPGWith two races to go before the Countdown to the Championship begins, every race can be classified as Countdown Critical; but some races are more crucial than others. Just ask Terry McMillen and Scott Palmer. The drivers, who are eighth and ninth in the Top Fuel Dragster standings, will face off in the first round today.

McMillen has a 154-point lead on 11th place driver Shawn Langdon, while Palmer sits 70 points above the Kalitta Motorsports pilot. So, those 20 points (and the potential to get more) are very valuable for both drivers. 

Palmer gets lane choice and is 2-0 all time in the meeting of the two independent drivers, for what that’s worth. McMillen ran passes of 3.825 and 3.814 on Saturday, while Palmer ran 3.184 and 8.605. (For more on Palmer, see the next note.)

In Funny Car, most every driver battling for a Countdown spot is up against a heavyweight. Cruz Pedregon, who holds the 10th place spot, is up against Matt Hagan. Jim Campbell has John Force, Del Worsham faces Courtney Force, and Jonnie Lindberg takes on Tommy Johnson Jr. 

Alexis DeJoria doesn’t have an easy matchup by any means, but faces Tim Wilkerson in the first round; that’s a critical round for the driver of the Tequila Patron car. She currently sits in 14th place, 49 points behind Pedregon.

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ashley.jpgAs the No. 8 qualifier, Scott Palmer expected to be in the first pair when he faced Terry McMillen because, as No. 8 qualifier, he gets the last pick (or no pick) on which heat he will be in, and the Nos. 8 and 9 qualifiers are usually the guinea pigs for all those who follow. Imagine his surprise then we he ended up the last pair in the first round, adding pressure as he battled fellow Countdown qualifier McMillen.

This was not lost on crew chief (and girlfriend) Ashley Fye. “Scott loves to the National Anthem pair and we thought that’s where we’d be, but it’s all good. We get to see what the other cars are doing and which lane is the best lane.

“Talk about a pressure cooker. This top 10 deal is … holy cow. We’re fighting McMillen, we’re fighting little Coughlin [Troy Jr.], we fighting Langdon, and now we have to run McMillen. Running that [career-best] 3768 in qualifying really put us in a good position and made us more comfortable. The car is running what we want it to, which means we actually got to test something [in Q4] instead of just fighting to get it. We’ve got a lot of confidence and a lot of good people behind us.”
 

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Robert Hight moved to third in the Funny Car standings after the win in Seattle, only eight points behind second place. Every spot is critical with the Countdown to the Championship approaching, when points will reset based on the driver’s place in the standings. 

The driver of the AAA Funny Car is approaching a milestone, too. His victory over Tommy Johnson Jr. in the Seattle final was his 399th career round victory. Only five other Funny Car drivers have reached that 400-win plateau, led by John Force Racing owner/teammate John Force’s 1,278.


“That’s big,” Hight said. “You’ve got to get round wins before you get race wins, and that’s how you get race wins. John has 1,278 round wins, so 400 doesn’t seem like very much. I don’t know how 400 stacks up to other guys who have raced the similar amount of time, but I’m happy that the round wins are coming more frequently than they were for us. That’s encouraging, and that’s exciting.”

The other drivers with 400 Funny Car round wins include Ron Capps (651), Cruz Pedregon (543), Tony Pedregon (517), and Del Worsham (507). Force takes the cake for round-wins per race (1.77), with Capps (1.35) right behind him. As for where Hight stands with 399 round wins? Very close to Capps: He has 1.347 round wins per race. Very good company indeed. 

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cruz.jpgCruz Pedregon, who’s fighting for his playoff life and barely qualified for the field with a 4.11 run that he called “embarrassing … any bum can do that,” didn’t make it down the track in round one either, striking the tires a few hundred feet out, but the former world champ fortunately was on a solo run after No. 2 qualifier Matt Hagan’s Pennzoil Dodge lost fire backing up from the burnout, which was later traced to a faulty safety device.

“The way the luck’s been for us, it’s good to get one back,” said Pedregon, who sits 10th in points. “The guys worked hard last night to change the combination back to the way it was in Topeka when we ran some .80s.  It left good before it spun so we’ve got something to work with. These guys are throwing big bombs out here so we need to be right there.”
 

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hagan.jpgMatt Hagan was the first Funny Car driver to run in the 3.90s and the first to run in the 3.80s, and he and crew chief Dickie Venables took a swing at being at keeping that streak intact in Friday’s second qualifying session, where conditions were prime for the first in the 3.7-second pass. They almost made it, running 3.807 because the clutch wore just a bit too much; that was disappointment enough but what made it worse was that qualifying mate Robert Hight got the job done with a 3.793 right next to him.

So Hagan has now turned his attention to getting back to the winner’s circle, and his Pennzoil-backed Dodge certainly seems capable.

"We've had four good runs so far and almost set a national record, but didn't, so it doesn't really matter," said Hagan, who is second in the standings but only eight ahead of Hight. "At the end of the day, the national records, after we've set so many, it's just an 'atta boy,' people remember championships and race wins and that's what we need to focus on and get this car dialed in for the next couple of races."

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worsham.jpgCruz Pedregon’s last ditch 4.11 got him into the Funny Car field Saturday night, keeping alive the wild battle for the last few spots in the Countdown field, where Pedregon holds the 10th spots and is being chased by Jim Campbell, Jonnie Lindberg, Del Worsham, and Alexis DeJoria.

Worsham will be looking for some 2016 magic this Sunday. He holds the rare distinction of having both won and lost in the Funny Car finals at Brainerd last season. He lost to Ron Capps in the rain-delayed final from Seattle on Saturday and then defeated Matt Hagan in the regularly scheduled Brainerd final on Sunday.

“Looking at least year, half of it was good and half of it was bad. To lose one and then win one, I felt a little redemption. It was a little sad because we had run so well in Seattle that I was just sure our Camry was going to win and then to have it finish up at Brainerd and lose that final, was a little disheartening.  But we pulled it together and we were able to get the win at the Brainerd race and it made up for it.”

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Shane Gray, look what you started. The Gray Motorsports driver, who is making an infrequent appearance this weekend and is not really in the points battle, began doing long, smoky burnouts on his first qualifying pass to break in tires for the team in anticipation of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, where he and father Johnny will compete alongside his son, Tanner. As they say, the crowd went wild.

Gray, who even did a Funny Car-style dry hop for fun before his Q4 pass, did his thing again in round one, but was joined in the smoke-bank-making fun by Vincent Nobile, John Gaydosh, and even Deric Kramer.

“I saw them all happening in front of me and decided that I can’t be left out,” said Kramer. "It looked like a lot of fun so I couldn’t be let out.”


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It’s no secret that Jeg Coughlin Jr. has struggled in recent weeks; he’ll be the first to tell you as much. The Elite Performance team field stripped the car ahead of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals and felt they found the problem: the suspension. As is often the case, when one bug is squashed, another replaces it. 

"The team was able to find some things to take that boat anchor off the back of this car and it's already showing. We were top speed one round here and second fastest in another,” said Coughlin Jr. “But somehow now we're struggling with all three team cars to get them accelerating when we let the clutch out. It's a little shocking because we felt like we'd figured that stuff out on the Western Swing. It's just not reciprocating here."

A pair of those Elite cars will find out if they’ve squashed this bug against one another in the first round. Coughlin Jr. faces teammate Erica Enders in the first round as the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds; certainly not how the pair drew things up at the beginning of the weekend. 

"Erica and I run each other Round 1 so one of us will advance," Coughlin Jr. said. "Obviously, we want it to be us but I'm more hopeful we can put a package together that will set the trend for the day. It'll be fun to see if we can't put one of these Elite cars deeper in the show and possibly toward the winner's circle."

Coughlin Jr. has an 11-5 head-to-head advantage against Enders all-time, but the veteran driver has lost in the first round in three of the last four races. Something’s gotta give. 

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enders.JPGYou don’t need to be a veteran of Pro Stock to know Erica Enders is the best leaver in the sport. She came into Brainerd with an average Sunday reaction time of .0233, just ahead of rookie Tanner Gray’s .0244. So, when Enders murdered the tree in the first round against Jeg Coughlin Jr., it didn’t come as a huge surprise. 

Her .003 light gave her a holeshot victory over her teammate, who was no slouch as the tree himself. Coughlin Jr. posted a .009 light, which wasn’t good enough. Enders has made a career out of winning with her left foot, but has had to make extra use of her leaving prowess this season. 

Enders’ holeshot win over Coughlin Jr. was her sixth of the season, coming because she ran .002 slower than the Jegs.com Camaro but left .006 seconds sooner. She’ll have her hands full against Gray in the second round, but given her track record (3-0 this season, including a holeshot win), it’s hard to imagine she’s nervous. She’s the best for a reason.

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Reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Jerry Savoie has been in a lot of winner’s circles again this year, but it’s mostly been there to congratulate his new teammate, L.E. Tonglet, who has racked up five wins – plus the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle victory – and has the points lead. Savoie has added to the team total with his victory in Englishtown, but the alligator farmer says he’s not feeling like Tonglet has taken a gator-sized bite out of his season. In fact, he’s thrilled for the kid, whose family he has known since L.E.’s dad, Gary, raced Pro Stock Motorcycles in the 1980s.

“People don’t understand me,” he said. “When I tell people that my goal was to win one race, that wasn’t a story; that was the truth. To win a world championship on top of that, I feel like I’ve got nothing to prove. I’m out here because my heart’s out here and I love my drag racing family. I don’t feel any pressure to catch anyone, let alone L.E. That’s the furthest thing from my mind. If that young man wins the championship, I’m going to be the happiest man in the world.

“He’s solid as a rock,” said Savoie. “His focus is really strong. He’s going to be hard to beat.”

Savoie struggled early in the season with new bodywork they debuted. The body was never wind-tunnel-tested and would cause the bike to shake violently on the top end. He switched back to last year’s body in Sonoma, and early returns, including this weekend's No. 2 qualifying berth, indicate he might be back in the winner’s circle as a winner.

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reed.jpgSitting 12th and 13th in points, Angelle Sampey and Liberty Racing teammate Cory Reed both needed a big weekend in Brainerd to bolster both of their chances to reach the top 10. The weekend got off to a tough start when they hurt their engines in the first qualifying session, and both sat out the second session to get everything straightened out without rushing to do so

Sampey rebounded nicely to qualify in the No. 9 spot and Reeed made in the field in the 13th position, and neither has an easy draw in round one. Sampey must take on former world champ Andrew Hines while Reed tackles Scotty Pollacheck’s red-hot Suzuki.

“We’ve had a tough weekend out here but maybe those motors broke so we could have some fast ones in for the rest of the weekend,” said Reed hopefully. “We’re slowly but surely closing the gap. The round wins are coming for our bikes; it’s just a matter of time.”
 
“We’re still a team and we’re still motivated,” Sampey echoed. “We’re more of a team than any team I’ve been on and that’s why I get so emotional about this. These guys deserve this so much and I can’t wait to win a round, win a race, and win a yellow hat; they deserve it so much.”

Sampey was the No. 1 qualifier at this event last year, the first of three straight No. 1s she recorded.

PHOTOS

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Sunday morning kicked off, as it does at every NHRA event, with the SealMaster Track Walk, allowing fans to take a stroll down the actual race course prior to the opening round. Lucas Oil-sponsored Funny Car racer Del Worsham led the parade.

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Lucas Oil's Morgan Lucas, a former Top Fuel winner at this event, was welcomed during the pre-race ceremony.

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Former Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Eddie Krawiec was introduced as one of the most recent drivers to qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and added his autograph to the Countdown board.

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Legendary Top Fuel racer Chris "the Greek" Karamesines was part of the starting field.

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Robert Hight, celebrating his 48th birthday today, was introduced as the Funny Car low qualifiers after his barrier-breaking 3.79 pass from Friday.

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Pro Stock Sled rider Matt Ernst had an anxious moment in the semifinals of Pro Stock sled when he lost his grip on the handlebars. He was able to recover his balance without falling off. (animated gif)

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Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Jerry Savoie enjoyed a celebratory Mello Yello after claiming his second win of the season.

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Tanner Gray collected the fourth Wally trophy of his rookie season.

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Alexis DeJoria showered her crew with love -- and Mello Yello -- after a clutch victory in Funny Car.

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Leah Pritchett completed a wire-to-wire Top Fuel win.

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Event champions, from left, Leah Pritchett, Alexis DeJoria, Tanner Gray, and Jerry Savoie celebrated their victories in the Brainerd winner's circle.

PREVIEW

Here are the brackets and first-round pairings for today's eliminations. 

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