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AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals Friday Notebook

Clay Millican ran a stout number to go low at Gateway Motorsports Park. He was joined by Courtney Force (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.
21 Sep 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
St. Louis

Preview | Features | Results | Photos

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

eddie.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (4:13 p.m.): Eddie Krawiec extended his lead in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings by three points over Hector Arana Jr., after leading the first qualifying session in St. Louis. Krawiec rode his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson to a 6.820, 195.56 to easily cover the rest of the field. Krawiec’s teammate, Andrew Hines, was second-quickest with a 6.922 and Angie Smith also picked up a qualifying bonus point after riding her Denso Buell to a 6.928. Championship contenders Hector Arana Jr. and Matt Smith each encountered issues and did not make a representative run while Hector Arana Sr. and Jimmy Underdahl did not receive a valid elapsed time due to a timing system malfunction that was corrected midway through the session. The top eight bikes in the field are in the six-second zone.

vincent.JPGPRO STOCK Q1 (4:38 p.m.): As expected the top half of the Pro Stock field is already tightly bunched with the first eight drivers each separated by just .028-second but in the all-important battle for qualifying bonus points, Elite Motorsports teammates Vincent Nobile, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Erica Enders swept the top three spots. Reading champ Nobile wheeled the Mountain View Camaro to a 6.550 for the provisional pole while Coughlin was just .001-second behind in the JEGS.com Chevy. Enders rounded out the top three with a 6.565 best. Points leader Tanner Gray just missed the top three with a 6.569, but has the current top speed of the event at 211.16 mph.

hight2.JPGFUNNY CAR Q1 (5:15 p.m.): Robert Hight got right back in the swing of things by unloading a 3.957-second pass to score three bonus points with the quickest pass of the session. Ron Capps (3.966) and J.R. Todd (3.977) also picked up bonus points along the way to the top of the sheet after the first session of racing. Tim Wilkerson made a terrific pass following his recent final-round appearance and is currently qualified in the No. 4 position. Jonnie Lindberg wrapped up the 3-second zone with a 3.996-second hit. John Force was on his way to a nice hit but his parachutes fell out at about 300 feet, resulting in a 5.369-second hit. 

clay2.JPGTOP FUEL Q1 (5:50 p.m.): Clay Millican grabbed three bonus points with an incredible run (3.757) to move 48 points behind Steve Torrence. He ran a 3.782, third-best in the session, just .004 second slower than Tony Schumacher, who is second-best in Top Fuel after the first qualifying stanza. The top seven cars all made runs in the 3.70s, including Mike Salinas (3.787) and Pat Dakin (3.796) and there’s still another qualifying session to go in even better conditions. Shawn Reed holds the bump spot with a 5.207. He’s keeping Lex Joon out of the field at present. The Dutchman ran a 5.941. 

hines.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (7:59 p.m.): After a lengthy delay, Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying resumed under the lights at Gateway Motorsports Park and when it was over, the three-bike Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team had the top three spots in the field. Reigning champ Eddie Krawiec remained in the lead with his earlier 6.820 which was backed up with a competitive 6.854. Andrew Hines made the best run during the nighttime session with a 6.835 to take the provisional No. 2 spot, and earn three bonus points, while part-time rider Chip Ellis is currently seeded third after a 6.845 run. Matt Smith picked up a bonus point in the second session following a 6.852 run on his EBR-bodied entry. All 16-bikes in the field have qualified at 6.98 or quicker.

jeg2.JPGPRO STOCK Q2 (8:18 p.m.): Conditions for Pro Stock cars improved to the point where Q1 low qualifier Vincent Nobile and his Mountain View Camaro had been bumped to ninth by the time he got to run at the end of the second session. Nobile rallied to moved back into the No. 2 spot with a 6.159, just behind Jeg Coughlin Jr., who led the pack with a 6.516, 210.54. Erica Enders finished a clean sweep of the top three spots by Elite Motorsports cars with a 6.521 in her Melling-backed Camaro. Every driver in the top half of the field has run 6.537 or quicker. 

courtney.JPGFUNNY CAR Q2 (9:15 p.m.): Courtney Force made a titanic pass (3.881) in her Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro to take over the No. 1 spot from teammate Robert Hight. She picked up three bonus points and leads current No. 2 qualifier Ron Capps by .028 second heading into the third qualifying session. Force was able to fight the red Camaro back into the groove as it shot down track, helping keep all eight cylinders lit. Bob Tasca III also earned a bonus point, keeping Countdown competitor Tommy Johnson Jr. out of the No. 3 spot by just .003 second. 

steve.JPGTOP FUEL Q2 (9:50 p.m.): Clay Millican surged to the top of the field with the first 3.60 pass since July. His 3.692-second run is the first since the Great Clips / Part Plus driver ran a 3.697 on July 29 and is one of just three 3.60s since NHRA instituted a new track prep policy following the NHRA SpringNationals. Millican made two of those passes. That pass earned the racer three points and moved him another point closer to Steve Torrence (3.717), who ran the second-quickest number in the second session. Billy Torrence earned a single bonus point by running a 3.735. The entire top half of the field is in the 3.70s after a great day of qualifying. 

TOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER CLAY MILLICAN: That's now nine consecutive runs where the thing has been unbelievably quick. What the team is doing now is incredible. What's cool about being at the back of the pack is that we can tune based on what the rest of the field is doing and that's all bonus-point related. So, the previous run (crew chief) David Grubnic said we could do more than what we did and so we were able to do that on this run to get those three points. Being No. 1 is great, but it's really all about getting those three points. Last week, we got 11 points during qualifying and we'd love to do even better this time around and get 12. 

FUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER COURTNEY FORCE: I definitely thought other teams would come around us. The conditions were great. Obviously, we didn’t have a great run in the first qualifying session so we were at the front of the pack in the second session. Because of that, we showed what the track was capable of. I wasn’t sure if that number was going to hold. Even my crew chief Brian Corradi said he thought we had a little more in it. 

Still, that was great to show what kind of hot rod we have this weekend and it’s huge for us after that early loss in Reading last weekend. It’s big for us to start our weekend that way and hopefully we can keep that up all weekend for this Advance Auto Parts team. 

PRO STOCK LOW QUALIIFER JEG COUGHLIN JR. “The track got cooler and the air got better, and these Pro Stock cars thrive on that. We were able to get aggressive with it. [Crew chief] Rickie Jones was able to get really aggressive with it. He said before we went up it was probably the most aggressive he’d ever been. I had a .962 sixty-foot time which is lights out. The car just felt amazing. It was traveling extremely well and banged out a 6.51 which was good for low. My teammate Vincent Nobile ran 6.519, a couple thou behind us. Either he or Drew Skillman were able to run with us but we held on.

“As a team, as we entered the Countdown our game plan changed a little going into qualifying. Those qualifying points definitely add up and he’s been a tick more aggressive. All of our crew chiefs have been a little more aggressive and we’d done well in Qualifying points. The important part is to shine on Sunday and we’d love nothing more than to go the distance on Sunday. Tomorrow, this cool weather will be here in full-force. We run at noon and we could see conditions a tick better than they were tonight so I’d say qualifying is far from over in Pro Stock.”

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER EDDIE KRAWIEC: “Anytime you can make a good run right off the truck it helps set the set the tone for the weekend. You know you’ll be in the field. No matter what happens we won’t get bumped out of the field. More importantly, this lets us go try things. We know where home is so we can make a couple of changes that we normally might not be able to make.

To be honest, no one thought we’d be on a track this good. We had an accident in Pro Mod that delayed us for an hour or so and that’s something that no one can control. We were a little behind on our track and clutch set-up. We were overly aggressive and too soft if that makes any sense. The good news is that we have an understanding of where we need to be for tomorrow when we figure to have cooler and better conditions. I’m excited about that. I wouldn’t say this allows me to relax because we want to have low E.T. of every round. We’ve got to get those bonus points. We need to get them or keep the people behind us from getting them. I lose a championship by two points so I know how important they that are.”

FRIDAY RECAP: Millican, Force, Coughlin, Krawiec go No. 1 on Friday (LINK).

FEATURES

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Clay Millican didn’t want to end his day in the semifinals at the Dodge NHRA Nationals, but the Top Fuel veteran managed to pick up enough points during qualifying to keep his loss to Steve Torrence from costing him too badly. He enters the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals 23 points behind Torrence, who defeated Millican on a holeshot in the semi’s. 

“It definitely was an incredible race car, holy moly, and for me to be the one that caused us the loss really sucks,” said Millican. “For us to be racing this weekend is great. I was .082 this weekend and .078 the round before that, so it’s not like I was .200 on the tree, but I wasn’t as quick as I needed to be.”

Torrence is one of the best leavers in the sport and earned a .0013-second margin of victory against the Tennessean. He grabbed a .014 edge at the starting line and managed to hold off Millican down track. That doesn’t take anything away from how well Millican’s Great Clips / Parts Plus Top Fuel Dragster is running right now. 

The Capco Contractors dragster driven by Torrence is averaging laps of 3.792 seconds, while Millican is right behind at 3.797. The Capco dragster is more consistent, something the Great Clips dragster (tuned by David Grubnic) hopes to get closer to at Gateway Motorsports Park. 

“Purely based on last week I would say we’re peaking,” said Millican. “To make all those bonus points was huge, because instead of being three rounds behind, we’re only two. That’s a huge difference, and if we can be anywhere near that performance again we’ll be all that much closer to Stevie. That’s a whole lot different than last year (when we set the national e.t. record).”

Millican ran a 3.628 at Gateway a season ago to grab the national record, which he still holds. He’s not chasing that during qualifying, but he is hoping to get back to the top of the qualifying sheets in order to gobble up as many qualifying points as possible. 

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Terry McMillen made a strong pass in Reading, but the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner couldn’t get around Mike Salinas. He returns to action at Gateway Motorsports Park with the same mindset: Make consistent passes and take the Amalie Motor Oil Top Fuel Dragster back into the winner’s circle. 

“We’ve got our race car back,” said McMillen. “And we’re about 70 percent of the way to where we need to be. I think that by the time we get to Vegas, we’ll have a top five car. So, for now, I think we just need to get as many cracks at the race track as possible.”

Crew chief Wendland piped in from the crew chief lounge: “You think we have our race car back? We just won Indy!”

They both have a point. The car is clearly good enough to win races, as is the driver and the rest of the team. But it takes a little luck and being in the right place at the right time. Okay, so… just like everyone else? Sure. It’s just a bit tougher for the Amalie Motor Oil team than it might be for other squads. McMillen averages an e.t. of 3.834 seconds, which is in the bottom half of the field. 

That’s not quite quick enough to set the field on fire, but if he does it consistently enough it’s quick enough to win races. With promising conditions ahead at Gateway Motorsports Park, McMillen just might surge ahead in the standings yet again. 

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Mike Salinas continued his strong string of performances with a 3.787-second pass to start Top Fuel qualifying, one of seven 3.70s in the first session. His pass came in .03-second behind current No. 1 qualifier Millican, but only .009 behind Tony Schumacher. That suggests there’s room for him to secure qualifying bonus points in the next session. 

The San Jose, Calif.-based racer came within .003 second of moving into the semi’s at the Dodge NHRA Nationals, falling to Steve Torrence based on performance. Salinas nearly beat Torrence on a holeshot; he’s still looking for the first win of his career. He enters the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals 152 back of Torrence in seventh place. 

Salinas is bunched up with the bottom four racers, just 15 points ahead of 10th-place racer and defending champion Brittany Force and only five ahead of Terry McMillen. That makes qualifying critical. He’s 44 points behind Doug Kalitta, meaning he’ll need to do some work during qualifying if he wants to make that deficit fewer than two rounds (40 points). 

He didn’t earn any points in the first session (the top three qualifiers earn bonus points) but Salinas put himself in a position to do so. The 3.822-second e.t. average Salinas currently banks is in the top half of the field, but his consistency is an issue. That’s trending in the right direction, though. If he can improve on that this weekend, Salinas will continue to move up the standings at Gateway Motorsports Park. 

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Tim Wilkerson reached the second final round of the 2018 season at the Dodge NHRA Nationals. The veteran Funny Car racer came up short against J.R. Todd but surged up the table in the process. Wilkerson sits in sixth at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, 65 points behind Todd with five races to go. 

"Last weekend was a lot of fun, getting to the final round. It was a good way to start the Countdown, and now we're coming home this weekend, racing in St. Louis,” said Wilkerson. “This one is so close for us, and there's a little bit of momentum for us coming into this race. We like that. We're going to have a clutch-pack change there, and that may throw me a little bit of a sidewinder, but I'm hoping not.”

Wilkerson had one of the most consistent Funny Cars on the property, which helped him move up from the No. 10 position. After starting the season with a flopper that didn’t obey the owner/tuner/driver’s commands on a regular basis, the Levi, Ray and Shoup Funny Car appears to be peaking at the right time. 

“Hopefully, we can figure out how to make it go so we can keep ruffling their feathers,” said Wilkerson. “We had a lot of work ahead of us when we left Reading with a motor to service, four sets of cylinder heads, two sets of blowers, and only two days at home. 

“This is testing our resilience, but everyone on this team has the right attitude, and that can make all the difference. Mr. Levi and his pals are all going to be in our hospitality tent this weekend, and that always gives us a little extra boost. We're hoping for a good weekend and another long Sunday.” 

First thing’s first: Wilkerson needs to make a clean pass down the track during the first qualifying session at 4:30 p.m.

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Robert Hight made a rare error during eliminations at the Dodge NHRA Nationals, turning on the red light for the first time in the 2018 season. That cost him a shot at the Funny Car final round after running a quicker pass than Tim Wilkerson. 

“I had been cutting good lights all day and was just too aggressive. Obviously, that was not the way we wanted to end the weekend,” Hight said. “This AAA Camaro was running great, and we would have had that round win and probably won the race. (Crew chiefs) Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham figured this car out from qualifying. Turning it around like that gives me all the more confidence in this AAA team.”

Hight comes into Gateway Motorsports Park with the quickest Funny Car in the class (4.000 e.t. average) and the second-quickest reaction time average (.069). That’s a killer combination and puts him into a great position to fight back against J.R. Todd, who took over the Funny Car lead thanks to his third win of the season in Reading. 

The defending Funny Car champ is chasing his third win of the season and first since the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Doing so at an event his sponsor, uh, sponsors, couldn’t hurt. He’ll have his share of chances. AAA banners upcoming races in Dallas and the season finale in Pomona, where Hight wrapped up his second title a season ago. 

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A win at the Dodge NHRA Nationals provided a dream start to the Countdown to the Championship for J.R. Todd. The driver of the DHL Toyota Camry enters the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals first in Funny Car and can extend his lead with a great first qualifying session. He believes he has a car capable of doing just that, and recent performance suggests he’s right. 

The yellow and black Funny Car performed in the middle of the pack all season based on e.t. average, but a tune-up change ahead of the Western Swing found extra performance that proved vital. Now, Todd’s e.t. average is 4.017 seconds, good enough for fifth in the class. That’s just .017 behind class-leader Robert Hight and it’s coming in a more consistent race car. 

“We definitely didn’t have the best car on Sunday in Reading, but we had a car that was good enough to win,” said Todd. “The guys have been working around the clock. We created a lot of work in Reading. We threw a rod out, bent a bunch of frame rails, so we put a new front half on it and that was a lot of work before coming out here.” 

That unusual amount of carnage in Reading came with the benefit of a race win and more than 100 points in the bank. Todd will take it, of course. He also doesn’t think that extra wear and tear is going to be typical, other than the extra beating that comes with running more rounds, of course. 

“The qualifying runs were freak deals, things that don’t and shouldn’t happen,” said Todd. “There in the final, that was odd also. It’s not like the thing is over-tuned. Freak things happen. I think Todd Smith and Jon Oberhofer have a good handle on things.” 

The weather currently calls for conditions that should favor heavy hitters. When asked if the DHL Toyota Camry can handle it, the second-year Funny Car driver had this to say: 

“I think so,” said Todd. “In Reading, if the thing didn’t hurt itself it would have run 3.90, 3.91 every single time. Then Q4 it hurt itself and still went 3.97 with two holes out. It’s trying to run really well, so I don’t see why it can’t run really well.”

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Jeg Coughlin Jr. has won at least one race at every event on the tour except for Norwalk and Epping, but when it comes to success, Gateway Motorsports Park has long been one of his favorites. Coughlin has five wins in St. Louis, including two in Pro Stock. The Gateway city was also the sight of one of Coughlin’s memorable near-double in 2010. He won the Top Dragster final and was heavily favorited to win in Pro Stock before breaking on the starting line against Warren Johnson, who claimed his 96th and final victory in the Pro Stock class. Coughlin prefers to focus on the here and now and to that end, he’s primed for a run at what could be a sixth Mello Yello Pro Stock title with five Countdown events remaining.  

“It's a very exciting time,” said Coughlin. “We are heading to Round two in this year's playoffs and we have a great hot rod on our hands. We were very quick every single round in Reading, qualified second by just a fraction to my teammate Erica Enders, and definitely had a car that could have won the race. Pro Stock is a zero-tolerance world. The preparation during the week, the calls you make during the day, driving down the track -- it all has to be perfect. There's no room for error because any one of the 10 cars in the Countdown are capable of winning, and even a few outside the top 10 have a chance to strike.”
 
Although he was nipped by .007 seconds in the second round of Reading eliminations, Coughlin figures he’ll once again be in the mix for the St. Louis title. He previously won here in 2002 and 2009 in Pro Stock, 1997 and 2003 in Super Stock, and 2010 in Top Dragster.
 
“St. Louis, like many of the tracks on tour, is a place where we've had great success in the past,” Coughlin said. “That always pumps you up because those memories are all positive. It's performance time, plain and simple, and we plan to just continue what we did in Reading and just win more rounds on Sunday.”

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In sports, the axiom “timing is everything” is used ad nauseum, but in the case of Reading champ Vincent Nobile and the Mountain View Pro Stock crew, it could not be more accurate. After a moderately successful regular season that included wins in Las Vegas and Atlanta, Nobile bagged a crucial Countdown win last week when he defeated Drew Skillman in the Reading final. The timing was perfect, not just because it was the start of the playoffs, but because Nobile, had previously lost in the first round in Sonoma, Brainerd, and Indy.

“We had been fighting an issue for most of the season and I think we finally locked it down in Reading,” said Nobile. “It was an electrical issue so hopefully we’ve put that behind us. It only takes one small problem to really affect these cars and sometimes they’re very hard to find so I’m glad we got a handle on it.”

Nobile not only got to share the winner’s circle with his brother-in-law, Hector Arana Jr., but he also made big move in the point standings from fifth to second. Wife five events remaining, he stands just 18-points behind leader Tanner Gray. Nobile fully understands that the 2018 season might represent his best shot to win a Mello Yello Pro Stock title.

“There is still a long way to go but I’m really happy to be in it,” Nobile said. “Yeah, I’d rather be five rounds ahead but that doesn’t happen too often in this class. The important thing is that you’ve got to pay attention, every race, every run. You can’t make any mistakes if you want to stay in this deal. You don’t get a mulligan. We need to see if we can get a couple of little [qualifying] points and then we need to win some rounds on Sunday. That’s all we’re concerned about here. We’ve worked too hard and come too far this year to throw it all away.”

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There are just five stops on the NHRA Mello Yello series tour where Jason Line has not scored a Pro Stock win and Gateway Motorsports Park is one of them. Line has been to three final rounds in St. Louis, including last year’s, and he’s the current track speed record holder with a 213.47 mph run in 2012. Line’s next win will be his 50th as a professional and he can’t think of anyplace better to get it than the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.

“I left Reading with a good car, one that got progressively better throughout the weekend,” said Line. “That's good news for us, and I'm happy that we get to race this weekend and don't have to wait too much longer. Hopefully, we'll get right back into the swing of things. Last year, we had a pretty good weekend in St. Louis. I'd like to repeat that, and there's no time like the present to get a win for Team Summit and KB Racing. There's more on the line with every race in the Countdown, and this means a lot to us.”

Line, who is still looking for his first win of the season, entered the St. Louis event as the seventh-ranked driver in the NHRA Mello Yello Series but that doesn’t mean he’s out of the running for a fourth Pro Stock championship. Line trails leader Tanner Gray by 110 points, which is just over five-rounds of racing, less counting possible qualifying bonus points. It’s also worth noting that the Auto Club Finals in Pomona will once again award points-and-a-half so there is ample opportunity to make up ground on the leaders.

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It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that his win at last week’s Dodge NHRA Nationals was the biggest of Hector Arana Jr’s career. By claiming the first win in the Countdown to the Championship, Arana Jr. moved from fourth place in the points to second, just three points behind leader Eddie Krawiec. With five events remaining, Arana knows that he has perhaps his best shot to join his father as a Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champion.

“All the wins (in the regular season) are great, but what matters are wins in the Countdown and that’s what we’re working on,” said Arana Jr., who has 13 career victories in the class. “We’re working on consistency and that’s what we’ve been working on all year. I think we definitely have a bike to beat this year and we are a strong championship contender.”
 
Arana Jr. opened the Denso 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle Club at the opening race of the year in Gainesville, added his first victory since 2015 in Denver and then started the playoffs with wins against Krawiec and low qualifier Matt Smith in Reading. His Lucas Oil EBR was easily one of the quickest and most consistent bikes in the field, but Arana Jr. also did his part with solid race-day riding including a .003 light in the final round against Smith.

“I was amped up and when I went up there [against Smith], I just went for it and cut a light,” said Arana. “It’s very exciting to pick up the win and I just can’t wait to keep trying to get more wins. I definitely have been fortunate enough to have a lot of great accomplishments in my career. I think the only thing that’s lacking now is a championship. We’re definitely working really hard for that and I think my team is capable of that.”

Barring a miracle, Angelle Sampey won’t win her fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship in 2018, but she hasn’t given up on winning another event aboard her Liberty Racing S&S V-twin. Sampey is ranked tenth in the standings, following a round one loss in Reading, although she’s encouraged by a solid run in qualifying that placed her seventh in the 16-bike field.

“We’ve had a lot of stupid problems with our clutch balance, and I think we’ve finally started to get a handle on them,” said Sampey. “We changed to an entirely new clutch set-up and we’re just now figuring out what the bike wants. My crew chiefs, Ken [Johnson] and Darrel [Mullis] has really worked hard to figure all this out. We could go from smoking the tire to bogging in one run and now I believe we’re closer to finding a happy medium. Once you get the clutch right, you can start to tune the bike.”

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Barring a miracle, Angelle Sampey won’t win her fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship in 2018, but she hasn’t given up on winning another event aboard her Liberty Racing S&S V-twin. Sampey is ranked tenth in the standings, following a round one loss in Reading, although she’s encouraged by a solid run in qualifying that placed her seventh in the 16-bike field.

“We’ve had a lot of stupid problems with our clutch balance, and I think we’ve finally started to get a handle on them,” said Sampey. “We changed to an entirely new clutch set-up and we’re just now figuring out what the bike wants. My crew chiefs, Ken [Johnson] and Darrel [Mullis] has really worked hard to figure all this out. We could go from smoking the tire to bogging in one run and now I believe we’re closer to finding a happy medium. Once you get the clutch right, you can start to tune the bike.”

It’s no secret that Sampey, and her teammate, Cory Reed, have been frustrated by the progress of their Liberty team in it’s second full season but there have been a number of positive signs including increased reliability. The addition of engine builder Larry Morgan and his son, Nick, have helped to address many of the parts-related issues that plagued the team in its debut season in 2017.

“Its been a long learning curve for all of us but one of the things we’re most happy about is that our engines are holding together,” said Sampey. “You can’t learn a lot when you’re busy fixing broken pieces every week. Now, we have some stability, and we can see how hard we can push them. That’s the plan going forward. We’re hoping to do a lot more R&D this winter so we can be competitive with the top bikes next year.”

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Last week in Reading, incoming points leader Eddie Krawiec had a chance to distance himself from the rest of the Pro Stock Motorcycle field but instead, he’s in the thick of a multi-way battle following a semifinal loss to eventual winner Hector Arana Jr. Krawiec is still the leader and is a prime candidate to win a fifth Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle title but his lead over Arana is now a scant three points and his just 102-points ahead of sixth-ranked Jerry Savoie.

“I got to the semi’s so it wasn’t a horrible weekend, but it certainly could have been better,” said Krawiec. “I wouldn’t call it a mulligan but it was more like a missed opportunity. To be honest we just missed it. We should have run better than we did with both of our bikes but the air was a bit tricky and we never found the combination. We got close but never found the sweet spot. In the round I lost, the bike bogged quite a bit. The track prep changed and we didn’t catch it.

“The weather this weekend [in St. Louis] seems to be a lot closer to what we had last week in Reading so I hope the adjustments that we made last week work this time,” Krawiec said. “That goes for everyone else out here. If they’re smart and they’re paying attention, they should be able to use whatever they learned last week and put it to good use here. After the first couple of qualifying runs we’re going to see who did their homework and who didn’t.”

PHOTOS

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Scotty Pollacheck locks in.

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Vincent Nobile held onto the No. 1 position for a short while. 

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Nothing like a good night session.

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The Amalie Motor Oil team waves to its adoring fans.

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Smiling Swede (Jonnie Lindberg)

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For the second-straight year, the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals featured an exciting exhibition featured some of the St. Louis area’s most popular x275 racers. The all Mustang final round final round featured Dan Saitz against Brian Edwards with Edwards taking the victory.

PREVIEW

Steve Torrence began the Countdown in ideal fashion. He captured his sixth win of the season and left Reading the same way he entered it: At the top of the Top Fuel standings. The pilot of the Capco Contractors Top Fuel Dragster wheeled his machine past Tony Schumacher in the final round and increased his lead over Clay Millican to 50 points. He began the Countdown with a 20-point lead. This weekend in St. Louis, the driver will seek to do even more damage to the Top Fuel field while Millican, Schumacher, et al get right back to business. 

J.R. Todd didn’t start from the bottom, but an ascendant weekend in Reading brought him to the top of the Funny Car points. He leads Robert Hight by 23 points and, after looking like a championship contender in the seat all season, Todd finally has the car to match. He’ll be pursued by a killer field all weekend, though. Hight takes on Todd from his sponsor’s race, while Courtney Force hopes to rebound after a first-round loss in Reading. The top four spots are separated by 29 points, so this weekend is shaping up to be a vital one in the Countdown. 

The first round of the Countdown to the Championship did little to separate the Pro Stock field after Vincent Nobile and Drew Skillman, who began the playoffs in the middle of the pack, advanced to the final round. Entering the second event in St. Louis, nothing has been decided with the top eight drivers separated by just 111-points. Just 30-points separate leader Tanner Gray from third-ranked Greg Anderson and Reading champ Nobile is in second, just 18-points out of first place. In a class where fields are often separated by a tenth of a second or less, it’s should not be a surprise that there are so many championship contenders. So who will emerge from the pack after St. Louis? In a class where just about anyone can win, that’s a tough question to answer but if recent history is any indicator, Summit Racing Teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line should merit consideration. While Anderson and Line have been far from dominant this season, they did meet in the 2017 St. Louis final with Anderson grabbing the win. Line also figures to have a chip on his shoulder after losing on a holeshot last weekend to points leader Tanner Gray.

Much like Pro Stock, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class is also unsettled with the top six riders in the standings all within five rounds of each other. Hector Arana Jr. made a big move with last weekend’s Reading win and he’s now just three points behind leader Eddie Krawiec. Matt Smith, LE Tonglet, and five-time champ Andrew Hines is fifth, 47-points back. A pair of intriguing picks for this weekend’s event would be Suzuki teammates Jerry Savoie and LE Tonglet who have combined to win three of the last four St. Louis titles. Tonglet won last year, while Savoie won in 2014 and 2016 on his White Alligator Suzuki. Conversely, Harley-Davidson teammates Krawiec and Hines have also combined for three St. Louis wins, but none since 2012. Finally, the real favorite this weekend might be Matt Smith, who has had arguably the best bike at the last three events. Smith lost in the Reading final to Arana Jr., but not before he set low E.T. and top speed of the event with a 6.814, 198.88 best.