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Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Monday Notebook

04 Sep 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Indy

 Features | Preview | Photos | Results

ELIMINATIONS ROUNDS RECAPS

kinsley2.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:27 a.m.): Kebin Kinsley pulled off a big time upset by knocking off No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican with a holeshot thanks to a lucky .013-second reaction time. That’s the second-quickest reaction time of the season during eliminations, and was one of two holeshot wins in the first round of eliminations during the Big Go. The other was hung on Brittany Force by Shawn Langdon. Steve Torrence and Antron Brown will meet up for the seventh time this season: It’s the rubber match between the on-track rivals; Brown got the best of their last meeting. 

Second round matchups (lane choice listed first): Shawn Langdon vs. Kebin Kinsley; Tony Schumacher vs. Doug Kalitta; Leah Pritchett vs. Pat Dakin; Antron Brown vs. Steve Torrence.

cruz2.JPGFUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (11:56 a.m.): Cruz Pedregon jumped back into the top 10 by knocking off Courtney Force in the first round, while Alexis DeJoria’s hopes of making the Countdown were dashed by falling to Ron Capps. Jim Campbell upset Matt Hagan, and Del Worsham took down John Force so both will still race for a shot at a spot in the Countdown. Jonnie Lindberg also fell out of the Countdown battle by losing to Tim Wilkerson by .002 second on a holeshot. Pedregon leads Campbell by 28 points and Worsham by 48 points following a first round filled with upsets

Second round matchups (lane choice listed first): Ron Capps vs. Jim Campbell; Jack Beckman vs. Del Worsham; Robert Hight vs. Tim Wilkerson; J.R. Todd vs. Cruz Pedregon

aj.jpgPRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:01 p.m.): With the top ten already decided, the Pro Stock drivers at Indy can be focused solely on winning that sport’s most prestigious race. The survivors of a very competitive opening round included two drivers who qualified in the bottom half of the field, reigning Mello Yello champ Jason Line, who defeated Matt Hartford from the No. 9 spot and Allen Johnson, who drove his Marathon Petroleum Dodge to a narrow win over Johnny Gray. All three KB drivers moved on to the quarterfinals including Greg Anderson, who made the best run of the round with a 6.630 in his win over Kenny Delco. Points leader Bo Butner also turned in a solid run with a 6.651 to stop Vincent Nobile.

Round two pairings (lane choice first): Tanner Gray vs. Allen Johnson; Chris McGaha vs. Drew Skillman; Greg Anderson vs. Jason Line; Bo Butner vs. Alex Laughlin

tonglet.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 1 (12:24 p.m.):  Former Indy champ Eddie Krawiec lowered the boom in the opening round of Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations with a 6.842, 196.56, in his win over Jimmy Underdahl. Matt Smith was close behind following his 6.858, 196.24 blast on his Polaris Victory Magnum. Including Krawiec and Smith, all eight of the top qualifiers advanced. That field included points leader LE Tonglet, Chip Ellis, Andrew Hines, reigning champ Jerry Savoie, Hector Arana Jr., and Scotty Pollacheck. The opening round also helped to decide the top ten after Angelle Sampey, Cory Reed, and Steve Johnson each lost. That allowed Joey Gladstone, Karen Stoffer, and Angie Smith to clinch their spots in the playoffs, which start in two weeks in Charlotte.

Round two pairings (lane choice first): Andrew Hines vs. Jerry Savoie; Eddie Krawiec vs. LE Tonglet; Matt Smith vs. Chip Ellis; Scotty Pollacheck vs. Hector Arana Jr.

steve_0.JPGTOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1:20 p.m.): Steve Torrence got the best of Antron Brown in their seventh matchup of the season, taking a 4-3 lead in their friendly rivalry and the points lead in the process. He’ll face off against Leah Pritchett in a not-so-friendly rivalry to try to wrap up the No. 1 seed heading into the Countdown to the Championship. Kebin Kinsley reached the semi’s for the first time in his career by knocking off Shawn Langdon, and he’ll get a chance to take down Tony Schumacher who reached the semi’s for about the millionth time at Lucas Oil Raceway. 

Second round matchups (lane choice listed first): Tony Schumacher vs. Kebin Kinsley; Steve Torrence vs. Leah Pritchett

jr.JPGFUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (1:34 p.m.): J.R. Todd made a little history earlier this season by becoming the 16th driver to win in both a Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster when he took home the Wally in Sonoma. Todd never won at Lucas Oil Raceway when he drove a dragster, but he’ll have a chance to reach the final in a Funny Car after taking down Cruz Pedregon in the second round. He’ll race Tim Wilkerson, who he’s 3-0 against this season, in the semi’s. Pedregon clinched a spot in the Countdown when Jim Campbell fell to Ron Capps.  

Second round matchups (lane choice listed first): Jack Beckman vs. Ron Capps; J.R. Todd vs. Tim Wilkerson

laughlin.jpgPRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:39 p.m.): Drew Skillman defeated Chris McGaha in the quarterfinals by .007-second but that was a landslide compared to the epic battle between Tanner Gray and Allen Johnson. Gray got the win to move into the semifinals, 6.6669 to 6.679, but given Johnson’s one-hundredth of a second reaction time advantage, the car were separated by .0002-second at the finish. In addition to Skillman and Gray, Greg Anderson and Alex Laughlin also advanced. Of the four remaining drivers, only Anderson is a former Indy winner.

Semifinals pairings (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. Alex Laughlin; Tanner Gray vs. Drew Skillman

savoie2.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (1:49 p.m.): As a testament to the parity in the class, the semifinals of Pro Stock Motorcycle will feature a Harley-Davidson, a Suzuki, a Buell, and a Victory Magnum. World champion Jerry Savoie opened the round with a 6.901 to 6.929 win over defending Indy winner Andrew Hines. Buell rider Hector Arana Jr., stopped Scotty Pollacheck with a 6.882 and Matt Smith rode his Victory to a 6.916 win against Chip Ellis. Eddie Karwiec closed out the quarterfinals with the best pass of the round, a 6.881 in his win against LE Tonglet.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Eddie Krawiec vs. Matt Smith; Hector Arana Jr. vs Jerry Savoie

kinsley3.jpgTOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:42 p.m.): Kebin Kinsley will race in a final round for the first time in his Top Fuel career. He got there by beating Tony Schumacher, who reached his first-ever Top Fuel final at the U.S. Nationals in 1996. He’ll race fellow Texan Steve Torrence in the final round, who took down Leah Pritchett to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Countdown to the Championship. It’s the No. 3 seed vs. the No. 16 seed in the final at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals; Torrence will have lane choice, but only barely.

capps2.pngFUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:46 p.m.): For the first time in his career, Ron Capps will race in the final at the U.S. Nationals. So will J.R. Todd. Neither driver has ever raced in the final round at the most prestigious drag race on the calendar in any class and one of them will take home the Wally for the first time after Capps knocked out teammate Jack Beckman. Todd reached the final in eventful fashion. He ran into trouble early, but Tim Wilkerson kicked the blocks while crossing the centerline. That disqualified the veteran and sent Todd into the final round.

PRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:55 p.m.): Drew Skillman, who lives just a few miles from Lucas Oil Raceway, will race for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Pro Stock title after scoring a holeshot win over rookie Tanner Gray. Skillman got off the starting line first by two-hundredths and held on for a 6.689 to 6.692 holeshot win. Skillman will take on Greg Anderson who will be in his ninth Indy final after a 6.664 to 6.691 win against Alex Laughlin’s Gas Monkey Camaro. Anderson has won Indy six times since 2001.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFINALS (2:59 p.m.): The Pro Stock Motorcycle final will feature the Lucas Oil Buell of Hector Arana Jr. and the Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Street Rod of Eddie Krawiec. Arana Jr. used a nearly-perfect .002-reaction time and a 6.920 to defeat Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Suzuki while Krawiec rode to a 6.922 to beat Matt Smith, who broke just off the starting line. Arana Jr. and Krawiec are both former Indy winners. Arana Jr. won as a rookie in 2011 and Krawiec won in 2014.

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J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES: Brazil’s Sidnei Frigo, near lane, became the first South American driver to win an NHRA national event title when he stopped Troy Coughlin in the final of the J&A Service Pro Mod class. In a battle of turbocharged Corvettes, Frigo drove to an off-pace 6.318 for the victory after Coughlin’s car broke just off the starting line. Frigo previously raced in the Top Fuel class before moving to Pro Mod several years ago. For Coughlin, the news wasn’t all bad. By making it to the final, he was able to close the gap between himself and incoming points leader Mike Castellana, who lost in the first round. 


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PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (3:50 p.m.): For the Vance & Hines team, the decision to fit their old chassis with the new Harley-Davidson Street Rod body paid big dividends after Eddie Krawiec, far lane, won his second Pro Stock Motorcycle title at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Krawiec gave up a slight lead at the start to Hector Arana Jr., but managed to re-take the lead for a narrow win, 6.858, 196.90 to 6.886, 195.48. The difference between the two bikes at the finish line was .013-second. Krawiec has now won three races this season and 39 in his career. He also locked up the No. 2 seed in the Countdown to the Championship behind LE Tonglet.

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PRO STOCK FINAL (3.52 p.m.): Lifelong Indy resident Drew Skillman, far lane, claimed the biggest win of his career when he stopped Greg Anderson for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Pro Stock title. Skillman, the winner in three of the previous five events, made it four wins on the season when he outlasted the four-time series champ on a holeshot, 6.676, 206.61 to 6.660, 208.01. Counting Skillman’s .022 to .050 reaction time advantage, the margin of victory at the finish line was just .012-second. Skillman, who races along with his father, Bill, and grandfather, Ray, now has seven Pro Stock wins in his career. 

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FUNNY CAR FINAL ROUND (3:59 p.m.): J.R. Todd, near lane, took home the first U.S. Nationals victory in his career by taking down Ron Capps. Todd was racing in his first U.S. Nationals as a Funny Car driver and it couldn’t have a sweeter finish as he picked up his second Wally of the season and the third victory for Kalitta Motorsports.

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TOP FUEL FINAL ROUND (4:03 p.m.): Steve Torrence, near lane, earned his first U.S. Nationals win in a professional class as Kebin Kinsley smoked the tires at the hit. The Texan won at the Big Go in a Top Alcohol Dragster earlier in his career, but his win over Kinsley gave him his seventh victory of the season entering the Countdown to the Championship. It’s also Torrence’s second win in four races. 

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LUCAS OIL SPORTSMAN FINALS:  Kevin Helms (Super Stock) and Brad Plourd (Comp) joined the short list of three-time Indy winners on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway.  Helms, a favorite to win both the Stock and Super Stock titles this season, drove his Drag Pak Challenger to a final round win over Marion Stephenson while Plourd stopped Mike Farrell in the Comp final. Plourd was driving Harry Schwartz's AA/AM roadster to the title. Plourd's prior Indy wins came in Super Comp and Stock.
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER: Josh Hart def. Megan Meyer
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR: John Lombardo Jr. def. Doug Gordon
COMPETITION: Brad Plourd def. Mike Farrell
SUPER STOCK: Kevin Helms def. Marion Stephenson
STOCK: Larry Gilley def. Darrel Steiger
SUPER COMP: Ray Connolly def. Edmond Richardson
SUPER GAS: Kevin Adams def. Samantha Coughlin
FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN: David Barton def. Steven Bell

 

FEATURES

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Tony Schumacher has won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals 10 times but if he’s able to win No. 11 today, it’ll be on the backs of a major thrash last night after the U.S. Army dragster experienced a catastrophic engine explosion that began with a broken camshaft on its final qualifying pass .

“It just broke and then it all let go,” said Schumacher last night. “That can happen at any time. If you want to be a racecar driver, you have to expect that. There weren’t any signals that we had a problem. The car was on a good run, maybe low 3.70, and something broke. And when it breaks with that much fuel volume and that much horsepower, it’s catastrophic. It’s the reason my dad put so much effort developing that canopy, because without it there would have been parts in the cockpit with me. 

“We can fix the car. The U.S. Army guys are phenomenal. They will change every part on that car and we’ll go right down the track tomorrow morning. I was on a really good run there and we have made a lot of progress this weekend. It’s Indy baby. The carnage is big, because it’s worth it.”

Despite the damage, Schumacher did exhibit a good sense of humor.

"Thank God [teammate Jack] Beckman won the [Traxxas] Shootout today. We're going to spend that 100 grand real quick. Don't go buying a plane, dude. Sorry 'bout that."

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Clay Millican snagged his third No. 1 qualifier of the season thanks to the seventh-quickest pass in NHRA history. His 3.663-second run is impressive on its own, but what stands out is how consistent crew chief David Grubnic has the Great Clips / Parts Plus dragster. Out of the last 18 passes, including both qualifying and eliminations, 16 have been quicker than 4 seconds. 

“The confidence was good, especially after Bristol, but what we did at Brainerd, definitely raised the level for all of us,” said Millican. “Everybody knows that car will run in the 3.60s, but 3.655 in eliminations in Brainerd, and then 3.658 in the second round. We were on our way to another one in the next round and then we had parts breakage.”

Millican hasn’t gotten back to a final round since his win in Bristol, but has reached the semi’s three times in five races. That includes semifinal appearances in back-to-back races since Grubnic found something in the dragster that has made it more consistent on race day. 

“Grubby has shown what he can do when it’s hot out there,” said Millican. 

That Grubnic can now reliably get Millican down the race track in a variety of conditions, both in cool and warm weather, bodes well for his championship hopes. Millican faces Kebin Kinsley in the first round with every opportunity to move up a couple spots in the standings from seventh place. His goal of getting into the top five remains in reach. 

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shoe2.jpgThere are only four drivers in the 16-car Top Fuel field -- Tony Schumacher, Richie Crampton, Shawn Langdon, Antron Brown -- that have previously won Top Fuel at the U.S. Nationals and with the exception of Schumacher, the other in trio scored their lone wins in the last six years. Part of that is due to Schumacher’s dominance in the first 10 years of the decade – either he (eight times) or rival Larry Dixon (twice) won The Big Go. Schumacher, of course, has won it 10 times, and Brown three times (twice in Pro Stock Motorcycle and once, in 2011, in Top Fuel). In addition to his Top Fuel win, Langdon has also won the race in Super Comp, in 2010.

Conversely, half of the Funny Car field -- John Force, Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Alexis DeJoria, Robert Hight, Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson, and Cruz Pedregon – previously have won the U.S. Nationals. 

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kinsley.jpgHistorically, the No. 1 qualifier has had a tough go at the U.S. Nationals – since 1964, the No. 1 qualifier has only won seven times -- and the run of bad fortune continued when Clay Millican was upset by No. 16 qualifier Kebin Kinsley this year.

Kinsley’s lucky .013 light and a 3.813 from the Road Rage dragster held off Millican’s .077 initiated 3.756 by .007-second. It was Kinsley's first round win since the Houston event in 2016.

“That was an accident,” Kinsley admitted of his light. “It’s hard to beat such a gentleman like that, but I’m so glad for my team that we were able to pull this off. Roger Hennen has put together a great team and I’m so proud of my guys. Some of my crew guys couldn’t get up here because they’re dealing with flooding back in Houston, so this round was for them.”

Kinsley's day did not end there as he upset Shawn Langdon in round two and Tony Schumacher in the semi;s to reach his first career Top Fuel final.
 

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The Countdown to the Championship Top Fuel field was officially locked down in qualifying, and fans were thrilled to see a couple of independent drivers – Terry McMillen and Scott Palmer – among the elite 10 drivers who will compete for the Mello Yello championship.

“The fans have been unbelievable, cheering for us as we come down the return road and stopping by our pit area,” McMillen said. “Usually we’ll go through two boxes of hero cards, and we’re on our fourth box already.

“I told Scott at the beginning of the year that we both need to be in the top 10, and we did it. You look at the big picture and it’s really cool how they have embraced it. It’s good for us and good for the sport to have someone who’s not part of the conglomerate being in there.”

Even before 10th place Troy Coughlin Jr.’s surprise resignation, McMillen’s spot was almost assured, but McMillen has known plenty of Countdown heartbreak. A few years ago, he needed to win his first-round race to make the Countdown and did that, but oiled the track. The oildown penalty, assessed in minus points, knocked him right back out of the Countdown . Don’t think that wasn’t on his mind this year.

“It was a tough decision to even run the car,” he admitted. “I could make one qualifying attempt and park the car to avoid oiling the track and losing points, but that’s not what I’m here for. I don’t want to oil the track ever, but I had to look at it from a business side. In the end, I couldn’t do it but I admit it was a thought.”

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alexis.jpgAlexis DeJoria and crew chiefs Tommy DeLago and Nick Boninfante may be embroiled in a tight battle with Cruz Pedregon, Jim Campbell, Jonnie Lindberg, and Del Worsham for the final spot in the Funny Car Countdown field, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to any of them.

The fact they’re in this position is remarkable given that she missed three races earlier this season attending to family business. Their big win in Brainerd two weeks ago put them into the top 10.

“I just want to do good and go rounds, and whatever happens, happens,” said DeJoria, who enters eliminations with a 15-point, or less than one round, lead over Pedregon. “I don’t want to lose track of the enjoyment of doing this. I wasn’t even doing that in Brainerd, even though I had to race Cruz. I felt like throwing up a little bit, but I just wanted to do good. Same thing this weekend. We’re just trying to run consistently, not be heroes.”

DeLago and Boninfante have worked hard on both performance and consistency, and this year, with a new combination, have progressed from having a solid 4.0 car to a 3.90 car and now a 3.80 car.

“We’ve been working on it all year – even went with a new combination starting in Englishtown – and since Chicago our car has been the same as the [teammate] DHL car so we can share experiments and data and feed off of each other,” said Boninfante. “We’re working on our 60-foot to 330-foot time; that’s where we need the most work.

“But the points? We’re not even thinking about it. We talked to Alexis about it because she was beating herself up before Brainerd, and we told her to not even worry about it, don’t think about it. Let’s just race and have fun. We have a consistent car and it’s going to be what it’s going to be.”

Update: What's it's going to be, unfortunately for the team, is a seat on the Countdown sidelines. DeJoria lost in round one and Cruz Pedregon did not, allowing him to squeeze past her and claim the 10th spot.

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tommy_0.jpgTommy Johnson Jr.’s last five races will reveal spectators as possessing a glass half empty or glass half full perspective. The driver of the Make-a-Wish car reached the final in each of the last five events, but failed to seal the deal in each of them. Performing better than 15 of 16 cars on Sunday is good (great, even), but it would be understandable if Johnson felt frustration while chasing his first Wally since the Spring Vegas event. 

So far, Johnson has maintained a positive perspective heading into the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. He’s reached one Indy final, back in 2002, where he lost to John Force. His 2-8 record in final rounds against the 16-time world champion doesn’t factor in his 1-4 final-round record this season. Johnson feels his recent performance has prepared him for his first win at the most prestigious event on the drag racing calendar.

"We've done a really good job the last several weeks to put ourselves in a much better position heading into the Countdown to the Championship," said Johnson. 

The flopper consistently runs quicker than 4 seconds, losing traction only twice in the last 10 elimination-round passes. His Dodge averaged an elapsed time of 3.956 on all runs quicker than 4.5 seconds over the past three races. If those 3.90s can consistently compete with the 3.80s of Robert Hight late in the day is a different matter; but getting down the track remains the priority of the Don Schumacher Racing squad. 

"We've have a consistent Dodge that will be tough at Indy," said Johnson. "We learned last year you have to start as high as you can for the best shot at winning the championship.”

Johnson finished in second to Capps by 52 points a year ago after starting the Countdown in seventh. He enters Indy in fourth with a chance to move up in the standings; getting his first Indy win would only help his chances.

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John Force reached the semifinals in Brainerd, his third of the season and first since the Four-Wide, and enjoyed a successful test session ahead of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. That comes after pulling out a new car in Minnesota and putting a new combination in his Funny Car, which he feels will result in more consistency. 

“We had a good test session,” said Force. “We changed a lot of motor stuff and the clutch, have been over the last couple races. And it’s starting to show – we’re running some good numbers. We ran an .86, and that was shutting it off at about 700 feet.”

Force has made seven-straight elimination passes quicker than 4.5 seconds, averaging 3.934 seconds on those runs. That follows an erratic stretch where the 16-time champion was only making it down the track under power about 50 percent of the time. After saying time-and-again that he’d turn the corner before Indy, it seems Force is ready to make good on his word. 

“Indy’s the mothership,” said Force, who also has 11 No. 1 qualifiers at Indy, also a record. “You just want to be part of it. There’s an old saying in IndyCar, ‘You can win the championship, but you’ve got to win the Indy 500.’ In drag racing, you could win the championship, but if you ain’t won Indy, you ain’t won (nothing).”

Force will try to win Indy for the fifth time in his career. If he can pick up his second win of the season, he’ll tie Ed McCulloch for the most U.S. Nationals wins in a Funny Car. 

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Nine drivers have won Pro Stock events this year but Jeg Coughlin Jr. isn’t one of them. That in itself is surprising, especially since Coughlin’s career includes 58 national event wins in Pro Stock and five Mello Yello series championships. Coughlin struggled during qualifying at Indy with his Elite Performance-powered Camaro, but starting from the No. 14 spot isn’t enough to discourage him.

Coughlin clearly remembers the 2000 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals where he qualified on the bump spot, but went the distance on race day. He remains the only Pro Stock driver to accomplish that feat in the 47-year history of the class.

“During my time behind the wheel we've been fortunate enough to win from every qualifying position available, one through 16, and yes, we did win the Big Go here from the 16th spot in 2000 so it's a similar situation for us this time through,” said Coughlin. “We've got a car capable of winning from further down in the field.”

Coughlin wasn’t able to match the performance of the class leaders, who all ran 6.5s, but his best of 6.625 puts him in the ballpark.
 
“We will keep our heads high and keep working hard,” Coughlin said. “We thought we made a decent stride today in Q4. Then we made a big adjustment for Q5 to try to get the car to ride the lane a little bit better in the first 50 feet but evidently we went the wrong way so we will go back to what we did in Q4 and see if we can't get the best of Drew in the first round.”

While Coughlin is focused primarily on winning rounds in his Pro Stock car, he’s also closely watching his wife, Samantha, who has advanced to the semifinals in Super Gas. Samantha is driving the JEGS.com in-house Corvette roadster. Older brother, Troy, also survived the opening round of eliminations in the J&A Service Pro Mod class and he’s got a chance to close the gap against points leader Mike Castellana, who lost early.

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During Sunday’s final Pro Stock qualifying session, Shane Gray performed a savage burnout that thoroughly entertained the Indy fans. With son, Tanner, waving his arms to incite the fans, and father, Johnny, standing in the background shaking his head, Shane went well past the 330-foot mark with the rear tires boiling.

The “Battle of the Burnouts” competition addition to the weekend event was ultimately started following Gray’s burnouts at the most recent NHRA event in Brainerd. Gray went to Brainerd primarily to break in tires, a process that involves a much longer than average burnout.

Although Gray eventually lost the Battle of the Burnouts fan vote to Deric Kramer, his attempts to bring a measure of showmanship to the Pro Stock class won’t soon be forgotten.

“It’s a lot of fun doing big burnouts,” Gray said. “The trash talking amongst the teams is at its all-time high which makes the competition even better. We are out here have a good time, working in some tires, and burning rubber. The fans love it and this is exactly what our class needs.”

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Deric Kramer lost his race against Tanner Gray in the first round of Pro Stock, but his appearance at the 63rd Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Kramer won the “Battle of the Burnouts” competition on Sunday following an epic battle against Shane Gray. Unlike most competitors, who smoked the tires down track, Kramer opted to perform a stationary burnout. He sat in the waterbox smoking the tires until the starting line was almost totally obscured. The tactic worked, and Kramer won the $5,000 top prize.

“We scraped two-pounds of rubber out of the inside of the wheel wells last night,” said Kramer. “We took 1.5 pounds of weight off the left tire and 1.2 pounds off the right. It was pretty extreme. Those tires are pretty well scuffed in right now. We can probably save them for a night session when the track is really good because the next launch should be a good one.”

Kramer said that he had planned to do a longer burnout, but had to lift off the throttle because there was so much smoke in the car that he couldn’t see out of the windshield.

“I sort of lost my reference point after a while,” Kramer said. “I’m actually proud that I kept it off the rev limiter for that long and that I kept the car straight. A lot of times when you do a burnout like that, the car wants to wash out and get sideways. It actually stayed pretty straight.”

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No matter how hard a team tries, it’s difficult to manipulate the qualifying order especially in the Pro Stock class where fields are often separated by just a few hundredths of a second. The randomness of qualifying isn’t lost on the KB team that woke up Monday morning at Indy to find all three of their cars on the same side of the ladder. Greg Anderson was on the pole while points leader Bo Butner was the No. 4 seed. After early struggles, reigning champ Jason Line finished No. 9.

All three drivers made it past the first round of eliminations, which means an Anderson vs. Line battle in the quarterfinals and there is good chance that the winner will have to face Butner’s Buter Auto Camaro in the semi’s.

“That is not the way we were supposed to draw it up,” said Anderson. “That’s disappointing. Now, I’ve just have to give it all I’ve got. It’s tough. One of the Summit Chevs is going to move on. I just hope it’s the red one.

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After qualifying in the No. 1 and No. 2 spot in the quick Pro Stock Motorcycle field, Harley-Davidson riders Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines finally came clean about their recent performance surge. After struggling with their new Street Rod bikes since their debut in Englishtown, the team decided to make a radical change prior to the sport’s biggest event. They spent the week between Brainerd and Indy fitting the old chassis with the new Street Rod body work.

“It was just a matter of us going back to something we knew would work,” said Krawiec,” who qualified on top of the field with a 6.822 run. “Going into Englishtown [with the new bikes] we hoped for better results. After every race, we chopped and rebuilt the bikes and cut pieces and replaced them. Coming in to here, we had to step up and figure it out. We went to Plan B and worked on our old chassis and started converting some stuff to get it as current as we could get it. It proved to be a success. We have some smart guys in our camp. If we can’t get it right, you go back to what you know. That’s what we’ve done coming here and it’s paying off.”

Krawiec won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in 2014 and teammate Andrew Hines won in 2016 and 2012. As a whole, the Vance & Hines team has won Indy seven times in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class with founder Terry Vance claiming wins in 1985-86 and current crew chief Matt Hines chipping in with back-to-back titles in 1998-99.

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angie.jpgComing into the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the battle for the final Countdown spots in Pro Stock Motorcycle was intense with six riders separated by a little more than 100 points. With the points-and-a-half format at Indy, that meant that Steve Johnson, Angelle Sampey, and Cory Reed, who started the week outside the top ten, had a chance to unseat Joey Gladstone, Karen Stoffer, and Angie Smith, who were ranked eighth, ninth, and tenth. All six riders qualified, but none of them made it through the opening round. That locked Gladstone, Stoffer, and Smith into the field.

“I lost on a red-light but I’m not too upset about that right now,” said Smith, who joins husband, Matt in the six-round playoff. “I’m in the Countdown, I couldn’t be happier. That was my goal all year long and there were times when I didn’t think it would happen. We struggled early in the season, but we’ve won some big rounds lately and that was huge.”

Since her professional debut in 2004, Smith has competed in nearly 150 NHRA events and has a win at the 2014 Epping event. That year, she made the top ten for the first time in her career and logged a ninth-place finish. This season, Smith’s improved results can be traced to a return to her Buell V-twin, a bike that provided a level of comfort that was far better than the Victory Magnum she raced last season.

“This [Buell] is where I’m most comfortable,” said Smith. “It has more of a front fairing and it’s easier to steer. You don’t have to lean as much to keep it on the groove. When you are comfortable on a bike, you can concentrate on things like cutting a light and that’s been the difference.”

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arana2.jpgHector Arana Jr. parked his EBR after two rounds of qualifying at Indy, but he doesn’t feel that the mid-race switch affected his ability to win the race. In fact, once he returned to his tried and tested Lucas Oil Buell, he immediately became a contender. Arana Jr. ran a competitive 6.891 in his round one win over Cory Reed. Arana Jr. also had the fastest speed of the weekend at 197.74 mph. He followed with a quarterfinal victory against Scotty Pollacheck.

“We have a really good bike,” Arana said. “We're all really excited in this pit. I'm riding well, which is important. “I may live in New York now but this is still my hometown race. I grew up in Indiana. This is where I grew up as a kid so this will always be a hometown race for me. That means I want to win even more than normal.”

Arana won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals as a rookie in 2011, and was a runner-up to Andrew Hines last year. Arana’s father, Hector Sr., also won the sport’s biggest event in 2009, the same year he captured the Mello Yello championship. The elder Arana remains sidelined after shoulder surgery in June. He expects to return to the seat of the team’s second bike later this season.

“My dad, Dave Elk and Andrew Schulz; those guys work real hard back at the shop to make the power for us to go fast. I can't forget [crew chief] Jim Yates either. He's doing a helluva job tuning this bike. This is his first year tuning Pro Stock Motorcycles and he's figured it out really well.”

PHOTOS

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Chevrolet Camaros led off the traditional SealMaster Track Walk with NHRA fans getting to stroll down the historic racing surface at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

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Taya Kyle, wife of American Sniper Chris Kyle, is the event's grand marshal.

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Pre-race pageantry is always a big part of Monday at the U.S. Nationals. NHRA’s yearlong salute to first responders included the NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA driving beneath a giant American flag.

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Ken Howell, who in 1951 as a California teenager was the first member of NHRA, was welcomed by pore-race host Alan Reinhart.

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Deric Kramer won the Pro Stock Battle of the Burnouts competition during qualifying and got an extra smoky welcome to the stage during driver introductions.

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Clay Millican was the popular low qualifier in Top Fuel. Unfortunately for the veteran driver his day ended in round one.

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Just days after Mello Yello and NHRA announced a contract extension that will see Mello Yello as the sponsor of NHRA’s premier series through 2023, the company’s Ben Reiling and Al Rondon were welcomed to the stage.

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Ashley Sanford qualified for the Top Fuel field in her class debut at the World’s Biggest Drag Race and got the most out of her exciting first trip onto the stage.

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Bob Cook's supercharged '57 Corvette was one of the huge crowd favorites in the gasser exhibition.

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Brian Spotts' flag-waving It's Crazy Anglia burned a lot of rubber, much to the delight of the fans.

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Event champions, from left, Eddie Krawiec, Drew Skillman, J.R. Todd, and Steve Torrence celebrated their victories at the World's Biggest Drag Race, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

PREVIEW

Here's a look at the ladders and first-round matchups for final eliminations at the 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

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