Sunday's view from Vegas
Sunday, April 03, 2011

News and views from the NHRA Nationals Last update: 3:50 p.m.
Click for latest post
  While the famed Strip that is Las Vegas Boulevard wakes on a sleepy Sunday, the action at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway fewer than 30 minutes north of the gambling mecca is alive with its own glitter and spinning wheels as final eliminations day is under way for the NHRA Nationals. Pre-race activities will begin at 10:15 a.m., followed by the first round of Top Fuel at 11 a.m. Due to TV commitments, it's going to be a fast day of racing; the event conclusion is scheduled for 4 p.m.

 Race fans spent the time before the start of eliminations cruising NHRA's famed Nitro Alley, which offers plenty of interactive entertainment. (Above) The Summit Power Experience made its debut and features simulated rides in the Summit Pro Stock cars and other racing machines. For more about the Summit Power Experience, click here.  

As is the case each Sunday morning of race weekends, hospitality guests of Don Schumacher Racing heard from the team's many racers, including NAPA Funny Car driver Ron Capps.

  (Above) Crew chiefs Marc Denner, left, and Chris Cunningham put finishing touches to the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang Funny Car of Bob Tasca III. They'll take on Tony Pedregon in round one. (Left) Jim Dunn/Rislone Racing Funny Car pilot Paul Lee signed autographs prior to round one in NHRA's famed open-pit environment. Lee will face Jack Beckman in the opening round.

Sunday began with one of the new Track Walk features that are part of NHRA's 60th Anniversary celebration. Legendary car owner Roland Leong (right) was the host this time and walked The Strip with NHRA fans and numerous drivers, sharing his racing memories and thoughts about the weekend.  

  (Above) It wouldn't be Las Vegas without showgirls, who helped emcee Bob Frey welcome Funny Car low qualifier John Force to the stage during the pre-race ceremony. (Left) Former Top Fuel and Funny Car racer Mike Dunn, who handles color commentary for the ESPN2 NHRA broadcasts, helped set the stage for the first round.

(Above) A capacity crowd has filled The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for final eliminations for the NHRA Nationals at the desert drag oasis. (Below) Doug Kalitta was part of the first pair who received the start-up order from NHRA legend Roland Leong: "Let's put some fire in the pipes … fire 'em up!" he exhorted the crews. Kalitta defeated Bob Vandergriff Jr. in their match.

Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel winner at this event in 2004 and 2009, set new low e.t. and top-speed marks for the event in the first round with a blistering 3.879 at 318.17 mph en route to defeating Troy Buff. Schumacher and crew chief Mike Green also are the most recent Top Fuel winners at The Strip, having won last fall's NHRA Las Vegas Nationals with their U.S. Army dragster. They'll take on teammate Antron Brown in round two.

Jeff Arend pulled off a big upset in round one of Funny Car when he defeated championship front-runner Matt Hagan. Hagan ran into tire shake and had to pedal, and Arend and the DHL team delivered a win with a 4.23. Arend's Kalitta Top Fuel teammates, Doug Kalitta and Dave Grubnic, also won their first-round matches, making Kalitta Motorsports 3 for 3 in round one.

Robert Hight collected round-win No. 197 in a tight first-round Funny Car battle with Jim Head. Hight's Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang ran low e.t. of the round, 4.157, to edge Head's close 4.179 effort.

Second-generation Pro Stock racer Vincent Nobile made one of the best runs of the first round, a sterling 6.694 with the Mountain View Tire Dodge, against Warren Johnson that at the time was the new low e.t. of the event. Mike Edwards bettered it later in the frame with a 6.672.

Greg Stanfield, runner-up the last three years at this event, scored one of four holeshot wins that highlighted round one of Pro Stock, beating Greg Anderson in the event sponsor's car on a narrow 6.712 to 6.711 count.

Antron Brown, driving the special-edition Aaron's/Matco dragster, set new low e.t. and top speed in Top Fuel with a 3.845 at 320.58 en route to beating teammate Tony Schumacher in round two. Brown's win, combined with Larry Dixon's loss, move Brown into third place in points. He'll face Doug Kalitta in the semifinals with lane choice.

Tony Pedregon pulled off a monster holeshot victory against former boss John Force in round two of Funny Car. Pedregon and the STP/Armor All Chevy got a big jump on the defending event champ at the start and held on to win by just a thousandth of a second, 4.31 to Force's quicker-but-later 4.25.

Jason Line's 2011 unbeaten streak in Pro Stock ended at nine rounds. The winner of the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline and the recent Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals fell in the second round to Greg Stanfield, who a round earlier had beaten Line's Summit Racing teammate Greg Anderson. Regardless of the outcome of the event, Line will leave Las Vegas as the points leader.

Cruz Pedregon, who won this race in 2006, finds himself in the Funny Car semifinals, much to the delight of his fans. Pedregon will face points leader Robert Hight and will have lane choice. Pedregon's brother Tony is also in the final four and will take on Johnny Gray, making for the possibility of an all-Pedregon-brother final round. Cruz, who has 32 wins – 28 in Funny Car – is 0-2 against his younger brother in final rounds, having lost the money round against him in Dallas in 2007 and a decade before that in Houston.

The event has been quite a roller-coaster ride for Funny Car's Johnny Gray. His Service Central Dodge wouldn't start for his first qualifying pass, and he damaged his car's body when he hit the timing boxes on his second. He wasn't even qualified until his final attempt Saturday but has eked past Mike Neff and Jeff Arend. "We've struggled all weekend – we're still struggling – but this is Vegas, and everyone can use a little luck here, right?" he said.

In addition to all of the exciting Full Throttle action, the Lucas Oil Sportsman racers are battling for event titles in seven classes, including those in Stock eliminator shown here.

Brandon Bernstein, who lost all three final rounds that he contested in 2010 – in Atlanta, Bristol, and Denver – will be looking for his first win since the fall of 2009 and his first for sponsor Copart after defeating points leader Del Worsham in the Top Fuel semifinals. Bernstein will take on Antron Brown, who defeated Doug Kalitta with a 3.843, low e.t. of the meet, which earned him lane choice over Bernstein.

Robert Hight advanced the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to his 33rd Funny Car final with a semifinal holeshot victory over Cruz Pedregon, 4.155 to 4.152, his 200th round-win. It was the seventh holeshot win of the event in upset-filled Full Throttle eliminations today. Hight faces Johnny Gray in the final with lane choice.

It's still early, but in making his first final round in just his third outing this year, rookie Pro Stock pilot Vincent Nobile has leapt to the front of the race for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which salutes the year's top Pro rookie. He'll face low qualifier Mike Edwards, who has lane choice, in the final.

Tony Bartone, Top Alcohol Funny Car champ at the Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline, won again, driving Rick Jackson's Mustang to victory for his 33rd title.

The Lang brothers doubled up. Jody (pictured) in Super Stock and Toby in Stock. They race with a memorial sticker saluting their late mother, Janet, who for years supported the efforts of her sons.

Sportsman superstar Dan Fletcher collected win No. 71 with his victory in Comp in Rick Braun's Cobalt.

Mike Edwards won his 29th title, sweeping the table in Pro Stock. He had the quickest car of every qualifying round, qualified No. 1, set low e.t., and won the race with a final-round decision over rookie Vincent Nobile, 6.69 to 6.71, to earn the maximum non-national-record total of 130 points to move to fourth.

With his victory in Funny Car, Robert Hight became just the ninth Funny Car driver to win 20 NHRA national events. He collected round-win No. 200 in the semifinals then defeated Johnny Gray in the final round, 4.14 to 4.16. Hight leaves the event as the points leader. It's Hight's second win of the season and the third overall this season for John Force Racing and their fifth straight dating back to the final two events of 2010.

Antron Brown pulled to within eight points of season leader Del Worsham with his victory in Top Fuel. The victory is his 10th in Top Fuel and 26th overall. His Aaron's dragster defeated Brandon Bernstein in the final, 3.88 to 3.94.

The 2011 NHRA Nationals winners, flanked by Vegas showgirls and track mascot Pit Boss, from left, Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), Robert Hight (Funny Car), and Antron Brown (Top Fuel).