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Denso Spark Plugs Four-Wide NHRA Nationals Sunday Notebook

J.R. Todd (Funny Car) and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) earned their first wins of the season, while Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) earned his second victory of the season at the Denso Spark Plugs Four-Wide NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas.
07 Apr 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Las Vegas Hero

Preview | Features | Results | Photos

ELIMINATION ROUND RECAPS

millican2.jpgTOP FUEL ROUND 1 (12:15 p.m.): Clay Millican set new low e.t. by more than two-hundredths with a 3.744 in winning his quad ahead of Steve Torrence, who edged his dad Billy on a holeshot when both ran 3.811. DSR teammates Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett emerged from their quad, with A.B. winning on a 3.797 to 3.793 holeshot and will face Kalitta teammates Doug Kalitta (3.819) and Richie Crampton (3.832). Low qualifier Tony Schumacher won his quad with a backfiring 3.899 caused by a broken fuel line and will be joined in the semifinals by upset-minded Steve Chrisman, who got there ahead of trouble-plauged Scott Palmer and Terry McMillen with a 4.111.

Semifinal quads (lane choice listed first): Clay Millican vs. Steve Torrence vs. Tony Schumacher vs. Steve Chrisman; Leah Pritchett vs. Antron Brown vs. Doug Kalitta vs. Richie Crampton.

densham2.jpgFUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (12:35 p.m.): Gary Densham surprisingly emerged from the “quad of death” that also included world champs Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, and Robert Hight; Beckman got the win with a 4.082 while Denham snuck in with a 5.304. They’ll take on Courtney Force, who ran 3.967, and Jonnie Lindberg (4.389). J.R. Todd will have lane choice in his semifinal quad after running 3.954, low e.t. of the round, to finish ahead of inaugural Four-Wide winner John Force’s 4.015 and they’ll be joined defending event champ Tommy Johnson (4.030) and Del Worsham, who outlasted Matt Hagan and Tim Wilkerson for the second spot with a 4.496.

Semifinal quads (lane choice listed first): Courtney Force vs. Jack Beckman vs. Jonnie Lindberg vs. Gary Densham; J.R. Todd vs. John Force vs. Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Del Worsham.

skillman.JPGPRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:50 p.m.): Both Drew Skillman and Matt Hartford got healthy in the first round of racing after not qualifying quite where they wanted. They’ll race on opposite of the brackets after running nearly identical elapsed times in the first round; Skillman ran a 6.685 and Hartford was a thousandth quicker. That books Skillman a race against his teammate, Tanner Gray, and the defending champ, Bo Butner, who is racing his teammate: Deric Kramer. If that’s not enough team vs. team intrigue, look to the other quad, where Hartford will race his new teammate, Vincent Nobile as they both get power from Elite Motorsports.

Semifinal quads (lane choice listed first): Greg Anderson vs. Chris McGaha vs. Vincent Nobile vs. Matt Hartford; Deric Kramer vs. Bo Butner vs. Tanner Gray vs. Drew Skillman

steveo.jpgTOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (3 p.m.): Steve Torrence, who won last year’s Four-Wide event in Charlotte and only made it down the track in qualifying one time here, is in the final round, where he’ll take on Tony Schumacher, who finished second behind him in their quad, as well as Doug Kalitta, who won his quad ahead of Antron Brown, who was participating in his 1,000th career round. Torrence’s 3.763 was more than tenth better than Kalitta’s next best pass of 3.864.

Final round quad (lane choice listed first): Steve Torrence vs. Doug Kalitta vs. Antron Brown vs. Tony Schumacher

jrt.jpgFUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (3:10 p.m.): J.R. Todd used a double holeshot to finish second in his quad and advance to the final round alongside quad winner Tommy Johnson Jr. Todd’s 4.054 beat both Del Worsham’s 4.049 and John Force’s 4.050 and finished behind T.J.’s 4.007. They’ll be joined in the final-round quad by Jack Beckman (4.013) and low qualifier Courtney Force (4.126), who finished ahead of Del Worsham and Gary Densham.

Final round quad (lane choice listed first): Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Jack Beckman vs. J.R. Todd vs. Courtney Force.

nobile_0.JPGPRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (3:14 p.m.): Vincent Nobile is headed to his first final round of the season after matching Chris McGaha with the best elapsed time of the session. McGaha got to the finish line first as the Texan had a slightly better reaction time, but Nobile won’t mind a lick as the two edged K&N Horsepower Challenge winner Greg Anderson. Anderson nearly got by Nobile via a holeshot but didn’t grab enough at the Christmas Tree. Deric Kramer and his teammate, Bo Butner, joined the pair in the final round; Kramer ran a great number and Butner used a reaction-time advantage to take down Drew Skillman and move into the final. 

Final round quad (lane choice listed first): Chris McGaha vs. Vincent Nobile vs. Deric Kramer vs. Bo Butner

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TOP FUEL HARLEY FINAL (3:30 P.M.): Rickey House, near lane, won his second title in the Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Series, defeating reigning series champ Jay Turner in the final,6.32 to 6.79. House’s first win came in Phoenix in 2017.

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LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES RESULTS: Justin Lamb (pictured), who won NHRA Lucas Oil world championships last year in both Super Stock and Stock, showed off that championship prowess by winning both classes at this event as well. Final-round results for all classes:

Alcohol Dragster
Joey Severance def. Julie Nataas

Alcohol Funny Car
Sean Bellemeur def. John Lombardo Jr.

Comp
Joe Mozeris def. Scott McClay

Super Stock
Justin Lamb def. Brad Burton

Stock
Justin Lamb def. Larry Gilley    

Super Gas
Michael Miller def. Aaron Kinard

Super Comp
Beadley Johnson def. Ryan McClanahan

Top Dragster
Mike MacBrair def. Steve Casner

Top Sportsman
Bud Preuss def. Jeff Gillette

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PRO STOCK FINAL (4:17 p.m.): Vincent Nobile, far lane, earned his first Wally since he grabbed the trophy in Reading in 2016, and he did it with a double-holeshot and an elapsed time of 6.69 seconds. Chris McGaha went red, and Bo Butner and Deric Kramer both came up short – the later by fewer than .001 second. That’s four-wide racing at its best, especially for the Mountain View Tire team.

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FUNNY CAR FINAL (4:20 p.m.): J.R. Todd, second from top, scored his third career Funny Car win and his first at a four-wide event when he powered the DHL Toyota to a 4.041 to fend off the Jack Beckman’s 4.053 and late-leaving Courtney Force’s 4.007. Tommy Johnson Jr. had the best run of the final round, a 3.978, but red-lighted. Todd is the fourth different winner in the class this season.

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TOP FUEL FINAL (4:30 p.m.) Steve Torrence, far lane, became the first repeat winner in Top Fuel this season, taking a narrow .008-second margin of victory over holeshot-aided Tony Schumacher, 3.771 to 3.790. Dough Kalitta finished third for the third time in four-wide competition while two-time four-wide winner Antron Brown finished fourth.

V_Nobile.JPGPRO STOCK WINNER VINCENT NOBILE: We worked our butts off this weekend, that was actually our third engine of the weekend which is three too many for a Pro Stock car. On Friday we struggled during qualifying, which was unbeknownst to us, then we put in our second bullet which was also a turd and that thing came right off the dyno. Then we put in our backup-backup and that was obviously the one that should have been in there from the beginning. Obviously, I can’t thank my team enough; I’ve got a great team and a great car.

We sat out at the end of the year to regroup, I got a new Jerry Haas car and the Elite team really went to work and found some horsepower there. The car has been running really well. We popped a relay in Phoenix and we ran alright in Gainesville with a semifinal finish and now we’re in the winner’s circle.

J_Todd.JPGFUNNY CAR WINNER J.R. TODD: “All of our teams across the board have come out swinging I’d say. Doug and Richie have wins under their belts and Shawn has been to two semifinals and we’ve kind of struggled up until this point of the year. We brought out a new car in Gainesville and didn’t run that well, had the chutes fall out and then didn’t run that well during qualifying on Friday. Then Saturday we made some changes and ran a lot better and we kind of threw down on Saturday and that really got my confidence going as a driver.”

“The thing with Funny Car is that you can kind of cheat on the starting line a little bit where you can kind of steal a few on the starting line here or there. I probably got us five-thousandth there, and you really do have to be on your a-game every time you roll up there if you want to turn on your win light.”

S_Torrence.JPGTOP FUEL WINNER STEVE TORRENCE: “We rode the struggle bus all through qualifying – we even stopped  in Struggletown – making only one lap out of four, and I actually had my money on my dad [Billy], because his car did exactly what they were telling it to do every time and ours was doing nothing that we told it to and couldn’t figure out what he was going to do, so hats off to Richard Hogan for figuring it out.

“You go up there in the final and you have A.B. [Antron Brown], Tony Schumacher, and Doug [Kalitta] and they’re all legends in my eyes and I;m the kid over there going, ‘What am I doing here?’ It was tough final; I just went up there and tried to do my job.

“We’ve won two races out of the four [this season], but no one is really setting the woods on fire because we sucked in Pomona and we sucked in Gainesville and we still lead the points. Hell, we might hang out a little tonight and try to gamble.  I haven’t gambled at all yet because I didn’t want to use up any of my luck, because as bad as we did in qualifying I wasn’t going to be lucky anyway.”

FEATURES

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Now four races into the season, Scott Palmer is already on the path towards his best season of all time. He has four round wins through three races after taking home just six round wins through 24 races in 2017. That’s a big step in the right direction for the CatSpot Kitty Litter team, backed by Tommy Thompson and now packing a six-disc clutch.

And while it’s one of the most consistent dragsters in the class this season, it hasn’t been terribly quick – yet. That likely won’t change at the Denso Spark Plugs Four-Wide NHRA Nationals, but it might not be long before the team starts to step it up.  

“We have a few things we want to work on, maintenance-wise, to make it more consistent so that we can make the next step,” said Palmer. “We need to refine a few things, because the faster you go the more particular everything is. We just spent $35,000 in head gaskets because the ones we were using were fine, but to step on it harder and to put a little more of everything in it we might start pushing head gaskets out of it and that could cost us $100,000 when it blows up.

“So, we’re trying to get everything in place. We’ve got all new stuff because there’s more to going faster than just turning it up. Even though this is only our fourth race we’ve actually gone a lot of rounds this year, you know?”

That follows the same line of thinking that got Palmer into the Countdown a season ago. So, it stands to reason he’d keep on the same line in 2018.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of it,” said Palmer. “It’s like prepping food at a restaurant. We’re trying to prep ourselves to run better. We used to run valve springs that Torrence took off after 10 runs, but we’re not going to run their hand me downs and run the numbers they run, otherwise they’d be running their hand me downs.”

For now, the team is looking to run the car calmly while picking up round wins and being safe on parts. Soon, they’ll be able to back the car down and go deeper into races in the process. That process is what put them in a position to get to a final round in Phoenix, and Palmer is confident it will lead him to his first race win.

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neff.jpgTop Fuel low qualifier Tony Schumacher will enter eliminations from the No. 1 spot for the second time this season, a testament to the U.S. Army team’s seemingly paradoxical decision to hire noted Funny Car tuner Mike Neff to wrench their dragster.

“We already had [incumbent tuner] Phil Shuler and that was the first, most important decision in hiring Mike,” explained Schumacher. “Phil knows the inside and outside of a car and knows our tune-up better than anyone I’ve ever seen. If we get off track – and that’s why we brought Mike in, to get us off track – Phil can help get us back if we have to. Mike’s job was to come in and stir the pot. We had normal. We had a good car that would make good runs, but we needed great runs.

“All the crew chiefs are pretty much doing the same thing, and we’d needed something a little outside the box. Plus, he was a driver. He’s found things in my driving that no other crew would have noticed or even thought about. He doesn’t want me to drive like he drove, he just comes to me and says, ‘Tell me what you’re doing and I can adapt to it.’ “

After two tough seasons where the perennial champion finished eighth, he’s having fun again.

“What makes him funny is he’ll say to me, ‘Man, we’re running good; I wish I knew why,’ and he jokes about it because that’s his dry, sarcastic California nature. He’s comfortable. When he says he’s making a change, he’s making a change.

“It’s fun right now; even when we get beat it’s not like we we’re lost. We have a great car. On every given Sunday I wake up knowing we have a chance to win. Mike was a great choice and I'm proud to have him on our team.”

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It’s not Father’s Day (in the United States or Canada, we here at NHRA National Dragster can’t be expected to keep up with every holiday in every country in the world), but there will be some fun father-child rivalries happening in the opening quads on race day. Whether you’re a big fan of Top Fuel or Pro Stock, or like us, you’re a fan of all forms of NHRA Drag Racing, the qualifying gods have something for you.

First up, Shane Gray came out of hiding for the first time since the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, and for his trouble will race his son for the first time since the Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals. Yes, he’ll also be racing a couple of other human beings in that first quad (Deric Kramer and Alan Prusiensky), but all eyes will be on the Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaros. The young Gray hasn’t lost to his father yet.

By now you’ve probably deduced what the other father-son matchup is. Billy Torrence and Steve Torrence will race for the second time this season, and if it’s anything like their first meeting, we’re in for a treat. Steve got the best of his dad by a hair in Phoenix, and Billy out-qualified his son this weekend. They’re lined up against Clay Millican and Troy Buff, so not exactly light competition.

Just for the sake of completism: The earliest Courtney Force can race her dad, John, is the final round of competition. That’s always a good time, in no small part because it would be the first final round for the elder Force this season and the second of the year for his daughter. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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In the first three races of the Funny Car season, the No. 1 qualifier has also reached the winner’s circle, and Courtney Force would love to make it a perfect four-for-four. She’s already pulled off the feat, going wire to wire in Phoenix, and after snatching the pole in Q4, she and her Advanced Auto Parts team, led by co-crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Dan Hood, will get the chance.

It’s been a fruitful season already for the team, which hired noted dragster tuner Corradi to help them reach the winner’s circle they’d been shut out of for more than a year, and he delivered early, at the season’s second event. Needless to say, Force is having fun again.

“I love working with Corradi,” she said. “He jokes around but acts almost like a second dad. He’s so protective. You can tell he cares and is such a family man. It’s a lot of fun.

“He just does a great job. It’s awesome to be in the seat of a great car and to be comfortable as a driver Sometimes you can see teams from afar and think, ‘Man, I wouldn’t want to get in that car right now.’ We need a consistent race car, and he gave us one. You want an aggressive tuner, but he’s smart aggressive. He analyzes everything.”

Courtney season has been the bright spot for the Force team this year. Her sister, Brittany, was injured in a crash at the season opener and her father, 16-time champ John, had ridden out blower explosions at the season’s first race, a big that even bit teammate Robert Hight in Gainesville.

“It’s been hard,” she when asked how she’s been able to keep a steady emotional keel through it all. “I knew coming into this sport that anything can happen -- Dad taught us from an early age that anything can happen with these race cars -- but it’s a lot harder when you see your family going through it weekend after weekend after weekend. It’s a struggle, but you have to suck it up and get in the car. 

“This is not only a physical sport, it’s a mental sport. As a driver you just have to learn from it and get yourself comfortable and block everything out there and concentrate on getting it down there safe."

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Jonnie Lindberg has had a tough couple of race weekends. When John Force blew up just before the lights in Phoenix, Lindberg got caught in Force’s parachutes and was dragged along with Force on an unpleasant ride past the finish line. That wrecked Lindberg’s body completely, which made for a big challenge in Gainesville. The Swede, who’s tuned by team owner Jim Head, didn’t qualify at the next race in Gainesville.  

“We checked everything, worked hard, triple checked everything on the car,” said Lindberg. “We had small gremlins on the new car in Gainesville, but the crew worked really hard and I think we should be good to go now.”

Not qualifying had a little to do with a tricky track in the Sunshine State that everyone had to deal with, and a lot to do with trying to figure out a new car. It seemed like the team was dealing with a lot of little problems all at once, which proved too much to overcome in a short period of time without any testing data to lean on.

“It was so much bad stuff happening at the same time in Gainesville,” he said. “We’re going to stay on Monday and test depending on what happens this weekend. (The four wide) is a little different, but it’s the same for everyone. I didn’t have a problem with it in Charlotte. I just focus on my own lane and don’t think so much about other stuff.”

Lindberg made the final round in Las Vegas a season ago when this race was only a two-lane affair, perhaps he can have a really get healthy weekend by repeating that success. To do it, he’ll have to get by at least two of Courtney Force, Cruz Pedregon and Jim Campbell in the first quad. He qualified with a 3-second pass, which is encouraging, but he knows he may have to do it again on Sunday.  

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kylie.jpegOf all the great race cars hurtling their way down the strip every weekend, few are as meaningful as the Infinite Hero Dodge Charger driven by Jack Beckman. The car, which began thanks to the late Terry Chandler and is now backed by her husband Doug Chandler, is privately funded and is meant to boost awareness for the charity which funds programs that drive innovation and accessibility of effective treatments for veterans and their families dealing with service-related ailments.

It’s a great cause, and one familiar by now to even casual NHRA Drag Racing fans. It’s also one very familiar to Kylie Lightfoot, whose father is probably very familiar to fans who have strolled the pits of an NHRA event this year, even if they’re not aware of it. Her father, Gary, is pictured on the back of Beckman’s trailer and received an exoskeleton from the Infinite Hero foundation which allows him to walk.

Since then, the family has been heavily involved with the Infinite Hero Foundation. Kylie went to her first drag race in 2016 and began managing the Infinite Hero coin program during the Countdown to the Championship last season. That program, which allows fans to buy a special coin that goes down the track with Beckman for $100, also supports the Infinite Hero Foundation.

“They needed someone to run the coin program and I immediately said I would do it, and once I did it I fell in love with the people at the drag races,” said Linfoot. “Once it became a more permanent position I immediately stepped up and said I wanted to do all the races. Once it became clear it was a more permanent position I said I wanted to do all the races and hoped it would work out.”

Since starting in the position at the Fall Charlotte event, Linfoot has grown to love both the sport and the fans who she’s interacted with in on a nearly weekly basis. The Tennessee native is already looking forward to getting to work the Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals in Bristol.

“I love the interaction between everyone and I love that since I’ve done some of the races a couple of times that I’m seeing the same fans over and over again,” said Linfoot. “That I recognize them, and they recognize me – that we know each other by name, that’s a really cool thing.

“My dad is still involved, and people reach out to him over social media and they come up to me and ask what race he’ll be at next. And it’s cool for people to ask me how he’s doing and for people to know who he is and make the connection that I’m his daughter. It’s great knowing that their donations are helping veterans and are helping real people and making a difference in people’s lives.”

Fans can find out more about the Infinite Hero Foundation at http://infinitehero.org/

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Matt Hartford made his first hit of the year at what is essentially his home race in Phoenix; though, in truth, the New Mexico native could claim Las Vegas, Denver or Phoenix as his home race if he really wanted to. Existential dread about home aside, Hartford is making his four-wide debut at the Denso Spark Plugs Four-Wide NHRA Nationals this weekend and he’s his usual blasé self about the whole thing.

“I don’t really care one way or another. It’s four cars instead of two,” said Hartford. “I think it’s all good.”

That’s pretty much Hartford’s deal. The team lost in the first round in Phoenix but ran relatively well with Elite power under the hood. That’s indicative of how most of the Elite team has run this season, despite being held out of the win column – so far, anyway.

“We’re feeling really good, I think we should have run better in Phoenix,” said Hartford. “I think we have a car that can go to the front. We ran a tire that was a little bit past its life cycle in Phoenix, so, we made a bad decision there, totally our fault.”

He has a chance to redeem himself in a tough quad. Hartford qualified in the No. 12 slot and will race against Chris McGaha, Alex Laughlin and Jeg Coughlin Jr. Yes, he only needs to finish in one of those top two spots but finishing in the top three will be a challenge, let alone getting into the top two. Still, the car ran well this weekend and he’s got a shot if he leaves on time. Now he just needs to, you know, do it.

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The weather can be tricky to predict, even for the weatherman. So, it’s especially tough for Pro Stock racers, even though they rely on the weather to get down the track in a reasonable amount of time. When Deric Kramer showed up to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, he wasn’t sure if his 6.681-second pass made during the first qualifying session would hold up.

“We’ve got a long way to improve to go up and a long way for somebody to improve to catch us,” said Kramer. “I don’t know if it’s where we want to be, but it’s a pretty good spot. We can keep trying stuff to improve.”

As it turns out, nobody made a run in the 6.60s on Saturday as the track was warm, and more importantly, the air was terrible thanks to gusty winds in the area. That worked out just fine for Kramer, who felt he could learn things from his Saturday runs regardless of the numbers that popped up on the scoreboard.

“I think there was definitely something in our run from the first session and we fixed those things and we’ll base everything off the corrected number like we always do and see where we go from there,” he said.

That corrected number refers to the Density Altitude, a number that can take an elapsed time or mph run at altitude and adjust it to the number which would have been run at sea level. It’s neat, and you’ll hear it talked about a whole bunch at NHRA Drag Racing events, especially when we get to places at higher elevations like Las Vegas and Denver (especially Denver).

With all that in mind, Kramer gets a shot at the Grays and a Dodge on Sunday. That ought to be fun. Tanner Gray, Shane Gray and Alan Prusiensky will be in the quad with the Man Formerly Known as Dodge Dart Driver Deric Kramer.

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When Bo Butner won the Mello Yello Pro Stock world championship in 2017, he did so by defeating former world champion (and teammate) Greg Anderson by a hair. You can beat the driver of the red Summit Chevy Camaro hasn’t forgotten that, but the competitive racer doesn’t hold any ill will towards the leaser of a K.B. engine – that was proven almost immediately during the offseason when Deric Kramer joined the team in an almost identical capacity.

If adding another racer to the K.B. Racing stable has weakened the team, it hasn’t showed in the standings, nor in the performance. Anderson just won his seventh K&N Horsepower Challenge trophy, qualified No. 1 for the second time this season, and Kramer is enjoying the most success he ever has in the class. Bo Butner already has a race win this season, Jason Line has been to two finals and Anderson looks poised to get one himself.

“It shows what kind of team we have and that starts at the quarterback, Ken Black, and the job he’s done and the kind of team he’s created here and what he’s allowed us to do,” said Anderson. “Adding an extra car like that it ends up being extra effort and extra work, but it’s also extra information because we get data from those race cars. It allows us to go further on Sunday, so they’ve been great teammates so far, and Bo Butner has been a great addition the last couple of years and Deric Kramer has been a great addition so far as well.”

That doesn’t mean Anderson has forgotten what happened in the final round of the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, of course. Or the final round of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk when Butner defeated Anderson with a perfect reaction time.

“We have a great four-way punch right now, it’s absolutely going to cost me races because it’s hiring your own assassins, but it’s fun and it makes you proud at the end of the day what we have under our own awning over there,” said Anderson.

He’s got a chance to win for the ninth time in Las Vegas – that will put him all by himself at the top of the list of Las Vegas winners. If Tony Schumacher doesn’t win, too, of course. No guarantees.  

PHOTOS

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For the second straight day, NHRA and The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway have announced a sellout. It’s the third event so far this season with at least one sold-out day.

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Raceday began, as it always does, with the popular and traditional SealMaster Track Walk, allowing fans to traverse the actual racing surface. Several NHRA legends and current racers also took part.

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It’s a somber anniversary for the NHRA family who one year ago about this time we lost Chief Starter Mark Lyle, who is still remembered by his friends.

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Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team entered eliminations from the No. 1 qualifying spot.

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It wouldn’t be Las Vegas without the showgirls, and Courtney Force was one, too, as she showed the boys the fast way down the track during qualifying en route to the No. 1 spot.

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For the second straight day, fans also got to witness the spectacle of four-wide Fuel Altered racing, including the famed Winged Express.

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The event winners, from left, Steve Torrence, J.R. Todd, and Vincent Nobile.

PREVIEW

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

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