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Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Sunday Notebook

The final day of qualifying at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will set the fields for Monday's final eliminations at The Big Go. Stay tuned to our live notebook for the latest news, notes, quotes, and photos.
02 Sep 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Indy

Preview | Features | Results | Photos

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

jr.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q4 (12:22 p.m.): The fourth session of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying began quietly with a string of 6.9-second runs but finished with a flourish after Hector Arana Jr. stole the top spot from Eddie Krawiec with a stunning 6.817, 198.58 run on his Lucas Oil EBR. Arana Jr. was one of six riders who found the 6.8 second zone along with Chip Ellis, who remained consistent with a 6.836 on his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson and Matt Smith, who earned two qualifying bonus points for his 6.844 pass. Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec and Suzuki rider LE Tonglet were also solidly in the 6.8s in what many consider to be the hottest session of the weekend so far. The bump spot did not change and Angelle Sampey, who is fighting to make the top ten, remains outside the quick 16 with one run remaining later today.

kramer.jpgPRO STOCK Q4 (12:58 p.m.): Tanner Gray, already the provisional low qualifier based on Friday’s monster 6.603-second run, banked four most bonus points following his session-best 6.620 on Sunday afternoon. Gray was quickest of the round but his advantage is minuscule. Deric Kramer is just seven-thousandths of a second back with a 6.627 in his American Ethanol Camaro while KB racing teammate Jason Line made a solid run with a 6.633 in his Summit Camaro. Line also had top speed of the session with a 208.91 blast. Chris McGaha backed up yesterday’s successful qualifying effort with a 6.639 that was the fourth-best of the round. The bump spot did not change. After four runs, John Gaydosh is hanging on to the final spot with a 6.718 with Alan Prusiensky, Val Smeland, Shane Tucker, and Charlie Westcott yet to make the show.

tj.jpgFUNNY CAR Q4 (1:35 p.m.): Tommy Johnson Jr. continues to look like he has the car to beat. Why? Even though the Riley Childrens Hospital Dodge is not atop the pack -– JR. Todd still holds the No. 1 spot with his Friday 3.91 –- it has made three-second passes on three of its four passes so far; no other team has more than one. Johnson's 3.977 was the quickest pass of the fourth qualifying session and the only three. Shawn Langdon was next-quickest with a 4.036, followed by Todd (4.059) and Jack Beckman (4.081). Terry Haddock sits on the bump spot with a 5.311, with Justin Schriefer and Jim Campbell on the outside looking in with one session remaining.

steveo.jpgTOP FUEL Q4 (2:16 p.m.): Steve Torrence jumped into the top half of the field with the best run of the penultimate qualifying session. He made a 3.815-second hit, tying him with Blake Alexander on elapsed time but surpassing him based on speed. The Texan was joined at the top of the session by his father, Billy Torrence (3.851), and the aforementioned part-time racer, Alexander (3.861). Leah Pritchett also earned a bonus point with a 3.942 hit that didn’t improve her qualifying position but stood as a solid hit in the heat. Kebin Kinsley remained outside the Top Fuel field, while Richie Crampton holds the bump on the back of his pull from the third qualifying session. 

matts.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q5 (4:15 p.m.): The drama for the final session of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying came early when Angie Smith, who was on the bump spot, broke a transmission on her Denso Buell and could not make a run. Smith had to wait to see if she’d be bumped from the field and she didn’t have to wait long. Her biggest threat came from three-time champ Angelle Sampey, who used a clutch 6.940 to put her Team Liberty Buell into the field. Had Sampey not qualified, she would have been bumped from the top ten. Later on, Smith’s husband Matt Smith made a monster run on his new EBR-bodied V-twin to steal the pole from provisional low qualifier Hector Arana Jr. Smith ran a 6.814, 199.14 to qualify No. 1 for the 29th time in his career and his second-straight event. At the conclusion of qualifying, Scotty Pollacheck secured his spot in the Countdown field.

First round pairings (lane choice first): Matt Smith vs. Jimmy Underdahl; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Karen Stoffer; Eddie Krawiec vs. Jerry Savoie; Chip Ellis vs. Scotty Pollacheck; LE Tonglet vs. Ryan Oehler; Andrew Hines vs. Angelle Sampey; Mark Paquette vs. Joey Gladstone; Hector Arana Sr. vs. Steve Johnson.

anderson.jpgPRO STOCK Q5 (4:38 p.m.): As many had expected, the final round of Pro Stock qualifying at the 64th U.S. Nationals did not produce much in the way of improvements as teams elected to refine their race-day combinations. Greg Anderson did make his best run of the weekend with a 6.619 to lead the session and secure four bonus points but it wasn’t quick enough to de-throne low qualifier Tanner Gray. Anderson’s teammate, Bo Butner, was also quick during the final qualifying run with a 6.627 while Chris McGaha made a solid tune-up run for final eliminations with a 6.628. Gray’s Camaro had been not only the quickest but also the most consistent cars in the field for the first four runs but the second-year racer slowed to a 6.677, most likely the result of the team’s decision to test an unfamiliar set-up.  

First round pairings (lane choice first): Tanner Gray vs. John Gaydosh; Greg Anderson vs. Steve Graham; Bo Butner vs. Kenny Delco; Erica Enders vs. Fernando Cuadra; Chris McGaha vs. Drew Skillman; Deric Kramer vs. Matt Hartford; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Alex Laughlin; Vincent Nobile vs. Jason Line.

jrt.jpgFUNNY CAR Q5 (5:25 p.m.): J.R. Todd, who had low e,t. of the first qualifying session Friday had low e.t. of the final qualifying session, too, pounding out a 3.982 to make a Monday raceday statement to the field. It's Todd's 10th career No. 1 but his first in Funny Car. He becomes just the 19th driver to record No. 1 qualifying efforts in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. Robert Hight, who had the quickest run of the second qualifying session, had the next-closest pass, a 4.000 while Shawn Langdon and Jack Beckman ran 4.018 side by side with Langdon getting the extra bonus point thanks to a superior speed, 316.45 to 313.88. Jim Campbell drove his way to a wild 5.068 to work Jim Dunn’s car into the field on the bump spot. With the conclusion of qualifying, John Force clinched his berth in the Countdown.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): J.R. Todd vs. Jim Campbell; Bob Tasca III vs. Bob Bode; Matt Hagan vs. Jonnie Lindberg; vs. Ron Capps; Tim Wilkerson vs. Del Worsham; Courtney Force vs. Jack Beckman; Shawn Langdon vs. Cruz Pedregon; Robert Hight vs. John Force

crampton2.jpgTOP FUEL Q5 (5:54 p.m.): Richie Crampton jumped off the bump spot with a 3.84-second pass, locking in a matchup with Clay Millican in the first round of action. Salinas secured the first pole of his career and will race Australian Wayne Newby in the first round with a shot at getting back into the Countdown to the Championship on the line. The San Jose, Calif. racer fell out of the Countdown by oiling the track in his final pass. That moved Crampton back into the top 10 and puts the pressure on Salinas on race day.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Mike Salinas vs. Wayne Newby; Clay Millican vs. Richie Crampton; Antron Brown vs. Terry McMillen; Steve Torrence vs. Brittany Force; Scott Palmer vs. Pat Dakin; Leah Pritchett vs. Doug Kalitta; Tony Schumacher vs. Billy Torrence; T.J. Zizzo vs. Blake Alexander

M_Smith.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER MATT SMITH: “In the first [qualifying] round we ran 6.85 and were No. 2. Then on Q2 we bogged just like in Brainerd when we lost. We’ve been fighting that problem. Today, we finally found the problem. We found it and fixed it so I stuck my good motor back in the bike to see if we could go for it. That worked perfectly. There is maybe even a little more left. I have a fast motorcycle. Now, to see if we can put it in the winner’s circle. 

“Normally, the first run here on Friday is the best one. There has been a lot of water in the air and that hinders us. But today, we had a bit of a tailwind. Junior [Hector Arana Jr.] picked up in Q4. He ran 6.81 and was No. 1. The weather today was hot but we had that wind, and that helps the motorcycles more than anything. So now, I have a lot of confidence. Ever since we debuted this new bike it has been the fastest thing on the property. I need to do my job and have no failures of any kind and put four win lights on. Let’s see if we can win biggest race of the year. We’ve already won the biggest race so far, which was the [Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle]. Now, we want to go out and win the biggest points race.”

T_Gray.JPGPRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER TANNER GRAY: “We definitely have a good car. We knew we’d wrap up the No. 1 spot after Friday because conditions wouldn’t be there after that. We’ve struggled with qualifying all year so it’s cool to come to Indy of all places and unload off the trailer and get it done. Seems like the field is closing in on us but we made a bad run there in Q5. The car just shut off for some reason. Tomorrow is going to be a tough day. It will be hot. If it gets any hotter than it was today it will make it interesting for the crew chiefs and the drivers mentally. It’s going to be a tough day tomorrow and I expect an all-out brawl. Whoever wins will definitely deserve it. 

“My plan is to go up there and hit the Tree and make sure I’m shifting on time. I slowed the clutch linkage and missed it. I feel like I hit it a couple of times and I’ve been .012. I feel good about what I can do. I have options for when I do race someone good tomorrow. I feel confident in myself and what I’ve learned this weekend. I’m just trying not to do anything different than what I’ve been doing. This is a sense of relief. To get my first [low qualifier] at the biggest race of the year means a lot.”

J_Todd.JPGFUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER J.R. TODD: “Today was definitely a productive day in getting our setup for tomorrow. Q4 it was probably going to run 3.99 but it put a hole out at 330 feet and still ran 4.05 so we knew we were capable of running a 3.90-something. I expected a few more [drivers] to be in that area as well but it seemed like a lot of people were struggling downtrack.

“Other than a hiccup in Q2, the car’s been going down the track every run so I think Jon [Oberhofer] and Todd [Smith] have a handle on things and have some good notes to look back onto for tomorrow.”

M_Salinas.jpgTOP FUEL NO. 1 QUALIFIER MIKE SALINAS: Honestly just being here is absolutely amazing for me. It’s kind of surreal to be the No. 1 qualifier, but we have a game plan to do this more often. Those cars that are out there, there are no slow cars. So, this is pretty awesome and now my kids can quit harassing me about not having one of these (laughs).

"I honestly didn’t think this would hold up all weekend long. David Grubnic, the Torrences, and the amazing thing about the Indy race is that it’s a throwdown race. Every run will be like this and it’s awesome.

FEATURES

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It seems disingenuous to say Tony Schumacher is entering the Countdown to the Championship quietly, but with only one win this season it may surprise some to find the veteran in second place entering the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. That is, until you see the kind of performance the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster has turned out this season. 

Schumacher averages the second-quickest elapsed time in the Top Fuel category (3.792), just a thousandth behind Steve Torrence. He also boasts the second-most consistent dragster of the full-time participants, also behind… you guessed it, Torrence. That’s a recipe for success in any category, especially one as volatile as Top Fuel. 

According to Schumacher, the team is focused on testing combinations at the U.S. Nationals as the surge into the Countdown begins. 

“We’re still working on some things with our U.S. Army car,” said Schumacher. “I know (crew chief) Mike (Neff) and (assistant crew chief) Phil (Shuler) won’t stop analyzing all the data we gathered today until they come up with a plan for tomorrow. We talked about it last night that you spend two days testing to be prepared for that Friday night session, but in reality, you are working for sessions like today in the heat too. We have two more opportunities tomorrow and over the years we have a learned a lot on Sundays here in Indy that paid dividends on Monday.”

Schumacher has made only one clean run so far (3.801 in Q1), but the team gets two more chances to make hits Sunday. Perhaps those will prove more fruitful for the U.S. Army team before race day arrives. 

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The Rapisarda Autosport Top Fuel team doesn’t come out to race often, but the Australian outfit has become a staple at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Wayne Newby is back in the driver’s seat this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway for the Rapisarda family and the affable Aussie, as always, relishes the opportunity to make a splash in the United States following a season of raising in Australia. 

“Our Q1 run was actually going good until we broke the blower shaft,” said Rapisarda. “We tested and went 3.82 and that run actually had a chance to be a little bit better than that. So, that’s a little bit frustrating but we’re happy with where the car is at overall.”

Newby drives one of a handful of dragsters fielded by the Rapisardas in Australia. Santo Rapisarda Jr. and Santino Rapisarda, a pair of sons of team owner Santo Rapisarda, take on the bulk of the crew chief duties. The team will race as long as the fun lasts, but this year will be a one-hit deal for Newby, who must return to Australia due to prior commitments. 

Last year featured a great run for the Rapisarda team as the duties were split between Newby and Top Fuel rookie Ashley Sanford. A good showing at the U.S. Nationals went forward into a solid run in Charlotte and a round win for Newby. The team went forward into Reading and St. Louis, where Sanford stepped into the seat. 

Newby is currently qualified in the No. 15 slot with a 3.887. That’s not safe, necessarily, with 19 cars on the property. But with two more runs to go, the Australian team must feel confident with its ability to improve. 

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kinsley.jpgNobody wants to enter the last day out of the field, especially at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Kebin Kinsley is no exception, but the 2017 U.S. Nationals finalist has a little experience sneaking into the field at the Big Go. Kinsley qualified No. 16 at Lucas Oil Raceway a year ago and worked his way into the final round before falling to Steve Torrence. 

Sufficed to say, Kinsley prefers to get further up the field this time around. He ran a 4.092 on Saturday night and threw the blower belt off his Road Rage Top Fuel Dragster after losing a cylinder of power right at the hit. 

“Once you do that, you’re just shredding the blower belt,” said Kinsley. “We lost our really good blower at the Topeka race, so we’ve been really up against it since then. We’re putting a new blower on today, so now the challenge is figuring out how good it is because you gotta make sure you run the fuel rich enough. These things are so tough because if you don’t run it rich enough or run it too rich, you run into problems.”

Kinsley did not have the race he wanted in Topeka, but he has a chance to rebound at one of the toughest races of the season. He provided the bump spot at the quickest field of all time a season ago (3.808). This weekend is shaping up to have the quickest bump spot of the season, as Richie Crampton is holding down the field with a 3.904. That’s likely to improve with weather conditions remarkably similar to Saturday and cars hitting the track an hour earlier. 

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Friday night’s rollout of throwback/tribute cars for Tom McEwen (Mike Salinas in Top Fuel and Shawn Langdon in Funny Car) and Bob Gidden (Bob Tasca III) included another surprise when Jim Head rolled his Jonnie Lindberg-driven Mustang to the line wearing a maroon and silver paint scheme that adorned his self-driven Funny Cars in the late 1980s. most notably his Oldsmobile answer to Kenny Bernstein’s notorious “Batmobile.”

Head’s intention was not to be part of the nostalgia parade – after all, Jim Head seldom is inclined to follow anyone – but more a case of him tiring of the bright green paint scheme that had been applied to the car earlier that year. The color and graphics of the body are one of the few things on his car over which Head usually does not obsess. Sometimes he doesn’t even know what color the car will be until he sees it. Which was part of the problem.

head-green.jpgThe blue-hued car with which the team began the season – “one of the most beautiful cars I’ve ever had,” said Head – lasted just two races before being involved in a top-end altercation with John Force in Phoenix.. They quickly brought in a Mustang body, painted yellow for Lindberg’s sponsor Landmeco, which quickly became a green car that Head hated.

“I was so frustrated over what happened in Phoenix that I told Jonnie I didn’t [care] what he put on the car,” Head remembers. “The yellow car I didn’t mind because it was for his sponsor so there was a reason for it, but I hated that green car. Lime green and me do not get along. The first I saw it, it like, ‘What the [heck]?’ We still have it –- this car is the yellow car –- it’s up there in the trailer, but I sure don;t want to run it again.”

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If round wins were the only indicator, Tim Wilkerson wouldn’t be sweating through this weekend, the final event of the regular season.

Wilkerson entered the race clinging to the No. 10 spot in points, with fellow Ford campaigner Bob Tasca III breathing down his neck and trying to take away his berth in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Wilkerson has won nearly twice as many rounds this season as Tasca (13 to 7) yet his lead is just 24 points which, at Indy, is less than a round’s worth of racing.

Part of that lopsided stat has to do with Tasca’s performance in qualifying, where he had earned 25 bonus points to Wilkerson’s 12. The other, more painful part for Wilkerson, is 80 lost points: 75 from six oildowns and five for a centerline violation. Were it not for those transgressions, Wilkerson might be breathing a whole lot easier.

Tasca nibbled away at that 24-point lead by grabbing three qualifying points with a 3.92 in Q1, but Wilkerson battled back with three of his own on a strong 3.95 lap Saturday to push his lead back to 24. 

“I really need to get that lead over 30 points before we start racing,” said Wilkerson, noting that gaining those points would give him some cushion on Monday if he were to lose early. “I really need to get two top qualifiers today. If I don’t, that’s OK, too. It’s not like we’re trying to cure cancer here.”

Tasca is currently qualified No. 2 (worth nine position points) and Wilkerson is No. 5 (worth six points) so if neither gains bonus points or position the lead going into Monday would be 21, meaning that whoever goes furthest in eliminations would earn the 10th spot. Wilkerson would have to run at least 3.927 to take away No. 2 from Tasca and be the best qualifier in both sessions to be able to push that lead to his desired 30-point gap.

In the unlikely event the two end up tied for the final position, Tasca holds the first tiebreaker, which is head-to-head races this season. They’ve only raced once, in the first round in Bristol, where Tasca got the nod.

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Until they won the Lucas Oil Nationals two weeks ago, Jack Beckman and the Infinite Hero team hadn’t seen the semifinals since the Atlanta event in early May and the winner’s circle since the Gainesville race in March. The opening round wasn’t a problem, but the second round was like driving into a brick wall.

“We have struggled, it’s no secret,” he admitted. “We haven’t had the car we had early in the season. We changed the chassis, clutches, we faced the track prep reduction and we had a tough time.

“I don’t think one race can make or break you. Yeah, you know you’re capable of winning, but the last time was at Gainesville. To put it back in the winner’s circle again just reaffirmed that we are coming up on the Countdown and we have a contending car.”

The team didn’t rest on its laurels though, testing hard and successfully at Lucas Oil Raceway, where they were among the best of the Funny Car class even after adding the new Hellcat Charger body that teammate Matt Hagan debuted earlier this season.

"Indy is the convergence of a whole lot of things,” he said. “It's obviously the biggest race of the year for us. It's points and a half, and it's the last race of the regular season. We know we will go into the Countdown somewhere between second and fifth in the points, and to me, that's not nearly as big a deal as trying to win [the race]. I feel like we have an excellent chance. We're the most recent winners on tour, we had an excellent outing Sunday at Brainerd and left with the trophy. Then we went to Indy for a two-day test. Bolted the brand-new Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat body on the car and went right down the track all four runs on Wednesday with the two quickest runs of the day, so I feel like we have as good a chance as any car out there."

Beckman has had great success at Indy, winning the Shootout bonus even in 2013, 2015, and 2017 and claimed the biggest race trophy of his career when he also won the 2015 U.S Nationals in a double-up weekend.

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John Gaydosh enters the final day of qualifying sitting in the precarious No. 16 spot in Pro Stock, but he’ll be happy to end up anywhere in the Indy field after missing Monday eliminations the last two years.

"Indy has been a curse for me,” he said. “In my Pro Stock career I've yet to qualify for race day at the U.S. Nationals. The last two years I've qualified at every event I entered -- except Indy. In fact, the last two years I only missed the field by three-hundredths."

Gaydosh likes his chances much better this year after contracting the services of the McGaha family—Lester and son Chris, the latter a former Ind champ himself – to provide the muscle under the hood of his Pypes Performance Exhaust Camaro.
 
"In 10 years of racing at Indy, this weekend is the best chance I've had to qualify,” he said. “"We tried to get some last-minute testing in, but Mother Nature foiled our plans. Though we did get in some quality time working with Chris and Lester."

McGaha will have to fend off Alan Prusiensky, Val Smeland, Shane Tucker, and Charlie Westcott, who will all try to better his 6.718-second bump spot.

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tanner_0.jpgTanner Gray picked up 11 qualifying bonus points through the first three qualifying sessions thanks to the savvy tuning of crew chief Dave Connolly. The former driver unloaded a 6.603 that currently stands as the best run of the weekend during the Friday night hero session and Gray hit his shift points to put the Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaro at the top of the heap. 

Since then, no one has managed to do better than the 6.621 run by Greg Anderson in the third qualifying session. Gray ran a 6.623 in the same session, the only time he’s taken home fewer than four bonus points so far this weekend, and it appears Connolly has a great read on Lucas Oil Raceway thus far. 

“To be honest I didn’t think we got a great read so much as I think everyone else missed it a little bit,” said Connolly of the team’s first qualifying run. “During the heat we’re going to try to run 6.61-6.62s and see what we can do from there.”

So far, the team has hit right in that zone. Given Gray’s driving ability, staying in that range should give him an opportunity to win in Indianapolis for the first time in his second attempt. Teammate Drew Skillman took home the U.S. Nationals in Pro Stock a season ago. Gray would join his father, Shane, as an Indy winner. Shane took home the U.S. Nationals Wally against Connolly of all people in 2014. 

The family connections go even deeper: Tanner’s grandfather, Johnny, went to an Indy final in 2003. He fell to Tim Wilkerson in Funny Car. That’s something to worry about on Monday, of course. For now, there are two qualifying sessions to fret about. 

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Charlie Westcott’s place in U.S. Nationals history is secure thanks to his multiple wins in the Dodge Hemi Challenge event with his iconic War Fish Barracuda. Now, the Michigan-based engine builder is hoping to make inroads into the Pro Stock class with his Ford Mustang. Westcott makes sporadic appearances on the NHRA Mello Yello tour, but decided to come to Indy to see how much his program has improved.

“I’m up about 30 horsepower so I decided to come out and see how that translated to numbers on the race track,” said Westcott. “I think we’re about five-hundredths closer to the field than we were the last time we came out so that’s an improvement. We’re off in the first 330-feet more than anything so that’s a product of engine tuning and clutch. Those are the things we’re working on this weekend. I know I’m not going to qualify this weekend but it was good to get out here and make some runs. I also got to talk to a few people who were willing to offer some good advice. I had a nice talk with [two-time champion] Jim Yates and he was pretty helpful.”

Westcott admitted that he watched the Hemi Challenge with interest and he still has his ’68 Barracuda, although its been collecting dust for the better part of a decade.

“I have a little bit of a desire to come back [for the Hemi Challenge] but I really have no time for it,” Westcott said. “I have a business that is doing well and when I get some spare time, I’m working on this Pro Stock stuff. I still only have about 40 runs in a Pro Stock car so that’s another deal entirely. I’m just now starting to make good runs.”

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There wasn’t a lot of movement in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class yesterday but Karen Stoffer was able to go from outside the field to the No. 14 spot on her Skillman Auto Suzuki. Stoffer improved from Fridayt’s 6.99 to a 6.94 thanks to an engine change initiated by her husband and crew chief, Gary.

“We put an engine in the bike yesterday that I’d never run before,” said Gary Stoffer. “I’ve had this engine for a while but in order to fit it in this chassis I had to grind the case a little bit and I just hadn’t done that before now. We just guessed at the tune-up and I think we got it pretty close. I still think there is more left. We only ran 192-mph and our other Suzuki’s ran 195.We’ve got three bikes in this camp and we finally went with the strategy to try a different tune-up in each of them. That’s the only way we’re going to learn.”

Stoffer admits that it will take some effort for Karen to make the Countdown, but he’s not ruling it out. Stoffer entered the U.S. Nationals 76-points out of tenth place which amounts to three rounds of competition based on the points-and-a-half format. The bigger issue is that she’s in 16th place and would have to pass six other riders in order to qualify for the playoffs.

“As much as we’d like to get in, our goal is to help get Jimmy [Underdahl, teammate] in the Countdown,” said Stoffer. “He’s in tenth and he’s got a legit shot to get in. If he does, we’ll turn this bike into a test dummy. At the last six races of the year we’ll make all the crazy changes that the others are afraid to make. We haven’t had the year that we wanted but it’s not over yet. We’re hoping to salvage something positive.”

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Mark Paquette is a part-time Pro Stock Motorcycle racer who has full-time aspirations and so far, he appears to be on the right track. After dabbling in the class for the last couple of years, Paquette has made a serious commitment to the class this season. He owns his own Buell and is leasing V-twin engines from Matt Smith. While Paquette also gets tuning assistance from Smith, he’s committed to running his own program and making his own calls. He runs his own clutch program and his own fuel system on the bike.

“It’s been a slow process but we’re getting there,” said Paquette. “Matt has given us good horsepower and we’ve been making good laps and that’s a matter of just learning how to tune the bike. Matt has been a huge help but I’m starting to do more and more on my own. It’s a learning process which is exactly what I want it to be. I’m not the kind of racer who wants someone else to do all the work.”

Paquette’s results so far this season have improved dramatically. He qualified tenth in Norwalk and then made the top half of the field in Brainerd for the first time when he was the No. 6 seed. After the first three runs at Indy, Paquette is seventh with a 6.893, 194.13 pass.

“We had a little too much wheelspeed on our run yesterday or we might have been able to pick up a little bit,” said Paquette. “We don’t get much testing time so we’re using a couple of the runs this weekend to try a few things. We’ll definitely do that today [Sunday]. We know it’s going to be hot today and you probably won’t see many improvements. We’ll just work on a few things.”

Paquette recently underwent back surgery but says it hasn’t impacted his riding too much although he did have to sit out the Western Swing events in Denver and Sonoma.

“They did the surgery eight weeks ago so I’m feeling pretty good now,” Paquette said. “My core is still a little week but it’s getting better. I had one run in Brainerd where I shut the bike off early because I thought I might have tweaked it but that’s been about it. I’m lucky that the recovery has gone well so far. I really want to run a full season next year so that’s what we’re gearing up for.”

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Even has he approaches his 29th birthday, LE Tonglet still looks like the young kid that shocked the sport in 2010 by winning the Mello Yello championship as a 21-year old rookie. Tonglet arrived at Indy sporting what looks to be the beginning of a moustache and predictably, his fellow Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors have taken notice.

“Everyone has been on my about it,” he said. “They all want to know if I’m finally old enough to grow a moustache. Hate to tell them, but I’ve got gray hair now and everything. I can tell you that if I win this race, it’s staying.”

Tonglet won Indy during his championship season in 2010 but hasn’t been back to a final since. Currently seeded in the fifth spot with a 6.858, Tonglet is optimistic about his chances on race-day.

“We’re doing good so far,” Tonglet said. “I didn’t make a perfect run but that 6.85 on Saturday was pretty good. It would have been quicker if I’d have made that run on Friday but I’m happy because the conditions were closer yesterday to what we’ll have on Monday. That was a good tune-up run. That’s also our plan for today [Sunday]. We know we probably aren’t going to improve, so we’ll just try to perfect the tune-up for round one tomorrow.”

Tonglet isn’t the nostalgic type but he admits that every time he races at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis, he gets a nostalgic feel for his 2010 victory. In 2010, Tonglet was struggling to find the funding to finish the season and Nitro Fish owner Kenny Koretsky stepped in at Indy to sponsor the team, forming an association that continues to this day.

“People forget that I won Indy that year and I won the championship, but I actually lost points to Andrew Hines in that race because he set the record,” said Tonglet. “At one point, we were 80 points back and I thought there was no way I was going to win the championship. Then we went and won Charlotte, Dallas, and Las Vegas and somehow, we managed to hold off Andrew and win the championship but it all started here in Indy.”   

PHOTOS

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Lucas Oil Raceway is packed with fans for the final day of qualifying.

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Fans in the pits were dialed into the popular Nitro School segment, where Bobby Lagana Jr., left, joined NHRA’s Alan Reinhart to discuss the basics of fuel racing.

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The Scott Rods gassers delighted the fans with smoky burnouts and wheels-up launches from their vintage machines.
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Rahn Tobler, crew chief of the NAPA Auto Parts Charger Funny Car hopes to give Ron Capps his first Indy win this year.

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Veteran Pat Dakin, who began his Top Fuel career in the early 1970s, is still at it and qualified solidly in the field.

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Here comes the next generation! Declan Hines, son of past U.S. Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Andrew Hines, warms up his Jr. Dragster.

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Susan Pollacheck gives husband Scotty an assist as he rolls his Suzuki up for another qualifying attempt.

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Another new-look paint scheme is the LoCo Cookers livery on the Blake Alexander-driven Bob Vandergriff Jr. Top Fueler which clocked a strong 3.81 early in qualifying.

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The English Leather Corvette, which Tom McEwen drove to an emotional upset win in Funny Car at the 1978 U.S. Nationals was paraded down the track on the 40th anniversary of the memorable moment.

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At the wheel of “the Mongoose’s” Funny Car and wearing McEwen's actual victory helmet was Trevor Galvin, son of Pat Galvin, who was the crew chief that weekend.

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In memory of McEwen, who passed away earlier this year, NHRA also rechristened a lane at the track as Mongoose Street, to go along with Bob Glidden Drive, which was named in honor of another Indy legend. McEwen's former partner and runner-up that year, Don Prudhomme, left, Galvin, third from left, and other former crew members and family were on hand for the presentation.

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Speaking of Indy legends, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits took part in an exclusive Q&A in the NHRA Member hospitality area.

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Another legend of the sport, Chris “the Greek” Karamesines, is at Indy, too, but he’s still racing in Top Fuel!

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Darrell Gwynn, right, who won in Top Fuel (1989) and Alcohol Dragster (1983) at Indy, and his father, Jerry, a former world champion in Super eliminator, are on hand greeting fans at their display by the staging lanes.

PREVIEW

C_Millican.JPGThe second day of Top Fuel qualifying proved more clean-up than step-up for the majority of competitors. The qualified field is comprised entirely of 3-second runs, and Richie Crampton holds the bump spot with a 3.904-second hit. He’s more than a tenth of a second behind Mike Salinas, who didn’t make a clean run down the race track during the second day of qualifying as the Scrappers Racing team tried to learn something during the warm conditions. That’s something Clay Millican certainly did, as both the Tennessean and Billy Torrence are the only two racers to make three-straight 3-second passes at the U.S. Nationals.

T_Johnson.JPGTommy Johnson Jr. has never won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but the veteran racer, who lives nearby Lucas Oil Raceway, has had one of the better cars this weekend with three-second passes on two of his three attempts in the special-edition Riley Childrens Hospital Dodge. His John Collins-tuned machine is the only one that can make that boast and missed only during Saturday’s tough opening session where the vast majority of the cars didn’t make it down. J.R. Todd continues to hold onto the No. 1 spot he claimed Friday night and probably will through today’s final two sessions while the bottom half of the ladder is still unclaimed territory as 18 drivers fight for the 16 spots.


T_Gray.JPGThe top spot in Pro Stock did not change yesterday with Tanner Gray’s 6.603 run from Friday holding a comfortable lead over the rest of the field. Gray also had the quickest run in Saturday’s second session and was second-quickest on the afternoon run which means he’s collected 11 of a possible 12 qualifying bonus points. Points leader Greg Anderson has kept Gray within his sights and is second in the tight field with a 6.621. The top nine qualifiers are all qualified at 6.629 or quicker including reigning champ Bo Butner, who was the biggest mover on Saturday with a 6.621 that is good for the No. 3 spot. The current bump spot is held by John Gaydosh at 6.718 and Alan Prusiensky, Val Smeland, Shane Tucker, and Charlie Westcott are outside the field with two runs remaining today.

A_Sampey.jpgEddie Krawiec’s 6.825-second run from Friday night remains the standard in Pro Stock Motorcycle after three of five qualifying runs although new teammate Chip Ellis came close with a 6.831 on his Harley-Davidson Street Rod. Krawiec has also racked up his share of qualifying bonus points with the second-quickest pass on each of Saturday’s runs. All told, Krawiec has added 10-points to his total so far. Aided by a slight tailwind, the field showed an overall improvement on Saturday with the bump spot dropping from a 6.992 to 6.952. Karen Stoffer was not in the field after the first two runs but posted a solid 6.941 on her Suzuki that is currently good for the No. 14 spot. Heading into Sunday’s runs, three-time world champ Angelle Sampey is not a part of the field. Throughout her long career, which now spans 232 races, Sampey has not been a part of final eliminations just three times.