ELIMINATION ROUND RECAPS
TOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:30 a.m.): Scott Palmer, fighting for his playoff life, scored a huge round win, beating Leah Pritchett to advance to the second round. Points leader Steve Torrence had the best run of the round, a 3.787, while his dad, low qualifier Billy Torrence, dodged a bullet, advancing with a cylinder-dropping 3.900 against Terry Totten.
Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Leah Pritchett vs Billy Torrence; Mike Salinas vs. Clay Millican; Steve Torrence vs. Tony Schumacher; Antron Brown vs. Brittany Force
FUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (11:59 a.m.): Jonnie Lindberg kept his Countdown to the Championship hopes on life support by getting by 2016 Funny Car champion Ron Capps. Lindberg made a 4.07-second hit and Capps uncharacteristically experienced a supercharger explosion about midway through his trip down the strip. That wasn’t the only big Countdown move – Tim Wilkerson powered to a first-round win over John Force, who blew the tires off as soon as the tree dropped. That pushed him past Bob Tasca III, who fell to Shawn Langdon by just two-hundredths of a second in a great drag race. With their wins, J.R. Todd and Tommy Johnson Jr. clinched their spots in the Countdown field.
Second-round pairings (lane choice first): J.R. Todd vs. Robert Hight; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Tim Wilkerson; Courtney Force vs. Jonnie Lindberg; Shawn Langdon vs. Jack Beckman
PRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:30 p.m.): Fernando Cuadra scored his first round win in more than 10 years, beating world champ Bo Butner on a holeshot, 6.67 to 6.62, while Mark Hogan added another upset with his first career win, defeating No. 2 qualifier Chris McGaha, whose car suffered problems on the burnout that carried over to the run. Defending event champ Tanner Gray beat his Gray Motorsports teammate Dave Connolly, driving around the veteran’s holeshot for the win. Three-time event winner and homestate hero Greg Anderson scored a big win over longtime rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. despite spinning the tires heavily at the start while fellow former Minnesotan Jason Line also advanced over Drew Skillman.
Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Erica Enders vs. Greg Anderson; Tanner Gray vs. Fernando Cuadra; Jason Line vs. Mark Hogan; Deric Kramer vs. Alex Laughlin
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 1 (12:45 p.m.): Mark Paquette, who qualified a career-high sixth, joined the list of first-time round winners when he rode his Matt Smith Racing-powered machine to victory over veteran Hector Arana Sr. Smith, meanwhile, ran low e.t of the meet with a 6.887 to beat Jim Underdhal; his reward is a second-round race with his wife, Angie. Eddie Krawiec was not far behind with a 6.900 on his Harley while defending event champ Jerry Savoie was impressive with a perfect .000 reaction time in beating Steve Johnson
Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Matt Smith vs. Angie Smith; Andrew Hines vs. Jerry Savoie; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Angelle Sampey; Eddie Krawiec vs. Mark Paquette
TOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1:10 p.m.): Mike Salinas raced his way into a provisional berth in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs by beating Clay Millican by .006-second on a holeshot to reach the semifinals for the second straight event. As close as that race was, Antron Brown scored an even closer one, edging Courtney Force by .005-second on a 3.768 to 3.746 (low e.t.) holeshot. But wait … points leader Steve Torrence also won on a holeshot, 3.79 to 3.77 over Tony Schumacher by just .001-second!
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Billy Torrence vs. Matt Salinas; Antron Brown vs. Steve Torrence
FUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (1:20 p.m.): Tommy Johnson Jr. stunned the field with a 3.93, low e.t. of the meet, in the John Collins-tuned Make-A-Wish Charger to drive around Tim Wilkerson and reach the semifinals. He’ll take on J.R. Todd, who pulled off a big upset, defeating low qualifier Robert Hight in a race that Hight as leading for much of the way before his engine went silent. Courtney Force (3.945) and Jack Beckman (3.98) also found the threes and will race one another in the semi’s.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. J.R. Todd; Courtney Force vs. Jack Beckman
PRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:35 p.m.): Greg Anderson defeated low qualifier Erica Enders in a race in which both drivers ran 6.63 and will take on defending event champ Tanner Gray in the semi’s. Fellow homestate hero and KB driver Jason Line, still looking for his first win of the season and what would be the 50th of his career, reached the semifinals where he will take on KB Racing stablemate Deric Kramer. Line, Kramer, Chris McGaha, and Drew Skillman all clinched their Countdown playoff berths.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. Tanner Gray; Jason Line vs. Deric Kramer
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (1:45 p.m.): Angie Smith defeated her husband, low qualifier Matt, whose EBR spun and faltered after the leave. She’ll take on three-time Brainerd winner Andrew Hines in the semifinals. Two-time event winner Eddie Krawiec drove around Mark Paquette’s holeshot to record a 6.919-second win and will race the sport’s only 200-mph bike, the EBR of Hector Arana Jr., which rode to victory over Angelle Sampey.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Andrew Hines vs, Angie Smith; Eddie Krawiec vs. Hector Arana Jr.
TOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:25 p.m.): Billy Torrence will race in his first career Top Fuel final after defeating Mike Salinas, 3.75 to 3.77. Torrence. who went to the semifinals earlier this year in Phoenix, has two previous event wins in Super Comp, the latest in 2016, but has never been to a Top Fuel final. He’s the fifth first-time finalist in the class this season. Torrence will take on Antron Brown in the final, where A.B, will have lane choice after denying Billy a match with his son, Steve, on a 3.73 to 3.75 count.
FUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:25 p.m.): Jack Beckman will race in his third final of the season after laying down a 3.96 to beat points leader Courtney Force’s 4.04. Force could have clinched the top seed in the Countdown had she reached the final but will now have to wait until Indy. Beckman, who hadn’t even been to a semifinal sice Atlanta, will take on his DSR teammate Tommy Johnson Jr., who beat J.R. Todd in an all-three-second battle. Johnson, who is still looking for his first win of the season, owns lane choice for the final.
PRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:40 p.m.): Deric Kramer will race in his fifth final of the year – and of his career – when he takes on Tanner Gray for the trophy in Brainerd. Kramer, who won his first career Wally earlier this season in Topek, was .008 on the Tree and beat Jason Line in their final-four battle while Gray, the defending event champ who sits second in points, beat points leader Greg Anderson to reach his 13th career final and sixth of the season. Gray owns lane choice thanks to a 6.62 to 6.64 performance advantage over Kramer in the semi’s.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFINALS (2:45 p.m.): Andrew Hines will race for his fourth Brainerd Wally after getting past red-lighting Angie Smith in the final; Smith left well early with a -.095 reaction trying to outrace the Harley rider’s 6.95. Hines, who is winless in four final-round appearance this season, will take on his Harley Street Rod teammate Eddie Krawiec in the semifinals. Krawiec, a perfect 3-0 in final round this season will have lane choice thanks to his 6.91 against Hector Arana Jr.
LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING FINALS: In addition to the action in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, racing also was contested in numerous categories of the Lucas Oil Series. Final-round results:
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER
Jackie Fricke def. Dean Dubbin
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
Annie Whiteley def. Jay Payne
Brian Johnson def. Jason DeForrest
Ben Line def. Randi Lyn Shipp
Don Nichols def. Donald Leisdon
Jeff Crooks def. Tom Carlson
Todd Fleck def. Ross Laris
JR Lobner def. Michael Freischel
PRO STOCK SLED
Glen Hall def. Matt Ernst
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (3:30 p.m.): Eddie Krawiec defeated his Harley-Davidson Street Rod teammate Andrew Hines to win his fourth Wally of the season and keep Hines winless on the year. Krawiec was .010 on the Tree and drove way from Hines for the win, 6.897 to 6.903. Krawiec enters the season finale in Indy with the points lead.
PRO STOCK FINAL (3:40 p.m.): With the points lead in reach with a win, Tanner Gray pulled a rare foul start (-.002 reaction) against Deric Kramer in an exact reversal of their final round two weeks ago in Seattle where Kramer red-lighted. Kramer would have been tough with a .002 reaction time and a 6.65 that earned him his second career win. Greg Anderson will lead the points into Indy.
FUNNY CAR FINAL (3:50 p.m.): Jack Beckman scored his 28th career Funny Car win and his second of the season when he beat Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. Beckman drilled the reaction-time numbers with a .027 light then drove away from Johnson with a 3.96 to keep T.J. winless on the season.
TOP FUEL FINAL (3:53 p.m.): Billy Torrence joined his son Steve as an NHRA Top Fuel winner after he beat Antron Brown in the final round on a holeshot, 3.756 to 3.751. Torrence, competing in just his 27th event, had never beaten Brown in five previous tries but hammered him this time on the Christmas Tree to become the 106th Top Fuel winner in NHRA history.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE WINNER EDDIE KRAWIEC: "This win certainly helps build momentum heading into the Countdown to the Championship. This was the site of the first ever all-Harley Davidson final back when I was first joining the team back in 2007, so to come out here and do it again was awesome. Andrew beat me in the last all-Harley final and I got him this time. Right now it's all about building momentum. We don't care about points right now because we know we're in a great position heading into the Countdown. As long as you have that upbeat spirit and you're feeling good, things are going alright. I know that if I'm not winning, it's most likely because of me."
For us, it's about picking away all year long and I think that the more runs that we get under our belt the better we'll be all year long."
PRO STOCK WINNER DERIC KRAMER: "This is almost like winning for the first time again. The fanfare and everything is completely different, it's been a lot of fun."
On what his dad said to him before the race: "My dad honestly leaves me alone out there. He knows that I go out there with the mindset of trying to not screw anything up because I know that if we can do that we should be just fine."
On his .002 reaction time: "I know how good you have to be to win in this class. There just aren't any free shots in Pro Stock, just like it is in Pro Stock Motorcycle -- you have to be ready every single time you roll up to the starting line. If you aren't competitive on the tree and you aren't competitive on the the track you're going to go home."
FUNNY CAR WINNER JACK BECKMAN: "I feel a heck of a lot better today than I did yesterday, but I don't think one race can necessarily make or break you because sometimes the race track can come to your tuneup. But if nothing else changes this weekend except we leave with the trophy, it certainly helps the team from a psychological perspective. Yeah we know we're capable of winning because we won Gainesville, but drag racing is a what have you done for me lately sport. I don't like that we didn't start out great, but I like the way we picked at the tuneup as we moved through the weekend."
There were something like 10 cars bunched between 3.99 and 4.03, so yes we may have been 14th, but we weren't that far away from being qualified sixth. That being said, that and $5 gets you the small coffee, right? So, we didn't have lane choice and we weren't necessarily sure if we had the data we needed."
TOP FUEL WINNER BILLY TORRENCE: "I'm a little bit bent out of shape right now, and I don't think I realized how out of shape I was until I got dog-piled by all my guys up there at the top end. Just to come out here and to race with my family, win lose or draw, is such a blessing. But to actually win an event and to give back something to those guys and to have a good operation, because there are only three full-time guys on my team and the rest are part-time guys with day jobs."
On pressure in the final round: "At this level there is pressure on everyone to win for your sponsors and people you're promoting out here. I just wanted to win because we race for fun and Antron is a tremendous racer and you have to be on your game to race him."
On bringing home the win for Capco: "There are pipeliners all over the country that are hooping and hollering all over the country right now, and that's what we are, that are rooting for us. There are Capco Contractors from coast to coast and I got a text this morning from our head safety guy, Todd Stewart, that said, 'good luck and, for Christ's sakes, don't embarrass the company.'"
Terry McMillen comes into race day with a tough draw in the first round of racing: Tony Schumacher. He also has an improved Top Fuel Dragster after a rough go of things during the Western Swing. The Amalie Motor Oil racer is trying to snap a four-race streak without a round win – to do it, he’ll have to get by the winningest Top Fuel racer of all time.
His dragster was front-halved prior to the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, a move that was long needed according to McMillen.
“We know we hurt the car in Houston, but we kept supporting it with our uprights and tried balancing it that way. But at some point, we were just going out and smoking the tires,” said McMillen. “So, we were fighting clutch issues and we were fighting the chassis. Don Schumacher Racing called us last Friday night and we took it over there and they welded it all day Monday and put it together Tuesday and then brought it here.”
The seventh-place driver may be the latest to lock himself into a Countdown to the Championship spot. He finished 2017 in ninth, the same place he entered the Countdown in. McMillen is enjoying a career year despite not getting into the winner’s circle. He earned his first career win at the 2017 NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas and is still hunting his second.
“No matter what I can leave here locked in, I’m pretty certain of that,” he said. “But I’m not here to one-round it. I’m here to win. The good thing is that I got the front end done and we’re in a good position with seven races to go and I’m very happy about that.”
Robert Hight earned just his second No. 1 qualifying position of the year despite having, on average, one of the quickest cars in the Funny Car category. His 3.959-second pull in the third qualifying session booked him this fourth matchup with Cruz Pedregon. He’s 2-1 against the Snap-On Tools driver this season and is chasing his third win of the year.
“(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) thought we could step up and we ran what he thought it would. The left lane is the better lane. He was going for it. I am surprised other teams didn’t run better,” said Hight. “The conditions were really good today. We got all the bonus points except one in qualifying. I am pretty jazzed because this is the time of year you better have your act together.”
Hight currently lead the Funny Car category in average elapsed time (3.995, including all runs quicker than 4.19 seconds*) and is getting down the track 57.3 percent of the time. That’s not as consistent as teammate Courtney Force (61.3), Matt Hagan (64.4) or category leader in consistency Ron Capps (68) but no one was as consistently quick as Hight this weekend.
The Auto Club Chevy Camaro made four runs in the 3-second run (3.971, 3.989, 3.959, 3.994), the only Funny Car to do so. The only racers to get in that range were, you guessed it, Capps and Hagan. Those Don Schumacher Racing drivers qualified second and third just behind Hight. Force struggled to start the weekend and ended up qualified in the No. 10 position. She will race Capps if the two win their first-round matchups.
That’s not Hight’s problem. He’s looking to get by another former world champion in Pedregon on his way to moving up the standings before points lock in ahead of the Countdown to the Championship.
Bob Bode needed to make an impressive pass to get into the Funny Car field at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, an event he won eight years ago. He did more than get in – he ran a 4.018 to get all the way up to the No. 9 position. That’s the best pass Bode has made since the 2017 NHRA Springnationals (4.027) and the best run the racer has made in at least the past three season.
“The last couple years in Brainerd when we got in it was like we were holding on just by the tips of our fingers,” said Bode. “It felt great to not just get in, but to feel like we were one of the boys.”
Near the tail end of the 2017 season, Bode started to get help from Funny Car owner / tuner / racer extraordinaire Tim Wilkerson. That helped the racer turn things around – and Bode was quick to give credit to Wilk for helping him get into the field.
“That guy is amazing, what he’s able to do,” said Bode. “I felt proud walking over to his pit after I made that run yesterday, that’s for sure.”
Now Bode will try to get by J.R. Todd in the first round of racing.
The K.B. Racing powered Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaros have performed at varying levels this season. The Greg Anderson-driven Camaro has been at the forefront of performance all season long, while the Camaro driven by Jason Line … well, not so much.
The biggest problem facing the tuner of approximately 50 (okay, five) Pro Stock machines this season has been the early portion of the race track. That’s what the numbers say, anyway. Line’s blue Chevy has been behind the eight ball throughout the entire season, as has Bo Butner’s white Chevy. That’s an area the Camaros driven by Anderson and Deric Kramer have found success.
The average 60-foot time for a Pro Stock car in 2018 is .997 second. Here are the K.B. Racing powered Camaros from best to worst. Keep in mind that thousandths of a second make all the difference in this category:
Deric Kramer: .987
Greg Anderson: .989
Bo Butner: .991
Jason Line: .992
Fernando Cuadra: 1.003
It’s fair to throw Cuadra’s number out the window for a few reasons, the biggest being that the car hasn’t made enough runs to be considered. While the numbers for the other four K.B.-powered machines may seem close, consider this: Kramer has the best average 60-foot time in the Pro Stock category. Drew Skillman has the worst of full-time racers with a .994. A small number makes a big difference.
Here’s where Line feels the improvements have come:
“It’s just a little bit of everything. We were trying too many things. But again, the Countdown format has it that you don’t have to be that good until you have to be good. It’s not like we were panicking over it, but at the same time you want to win races. We didn’t have a car capable of doing that before, and now we do so now it’s up to us to get it done.”
While Line spoke a bit to the struggles of Butner’s car to the 60-foot area, he also pointed out how strong it had been at Brainerd International Raceway. That shows how finicky these cars can be going from race to race. A setup may work poorly in Seattle but click perfectly in Brainerd.
“He has not been good at all and honestly, I couldn’t tell you why,” said Line. “If I knew why I would fix it. His car just hasn’t been good at all in that area, and it’s been worse than mine even for the better part of the year. Sometimes you go to places and things sort of fall into your lap and maybe that ends up happening here with Bo’s. For now, I’m happy that his car is running well.”
A pair of drivers, both named Mark, earned their first career round wins at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. We’re pretty sure the name is a coincidence and Mark Hogan and Mark Paquette aren’t too concerned with the rather fortunate nature of their victories.
Hogan picked off No. 2 Pro Stock qualifier Chris McGaha with a 6.835-second pass to earn his first round victory in a Pro Stocker. He did so when McGaha didn’t get off the starting line and ended up stalling in the middle of the track. That was of no concern to Hogan, whose Pontiac GXP made it to the finish line under power and booked a second-line matchup with Jason Line.
The same was more-or-less true for Paquette, who defeated Hector Arana Sr. thanks to a red-light foul. That got Paquette a tough second-round matchup against Eddie Krawiec. Paquette had to sit up on his bike in the first round and rolled to a 10.401 – he’ll have to do much better than that in the second round if he wants to get another round win.
Another Pro Stock racer got his first round win in 14 years – Fernando Cuadra. It wasn’t luck that got Cuadra that victory, as he took down defending champ Bo Butner courtesy of a holeshot. He cut a .01 light and wheeled his car to victory. Next up is someone else who’s very good at letting the clutch out on time: Tanner Gray.
Let’s see what the second round has in store.
Angelle Sampey went through the ringer during the four-race swing that kicked off the NHRA’s summer schedule. She failed to qualify twice based on performance, a first for the legendary Pro Stock Motorcycle racer, but rebounded by qualifying third in Norwalk. Since then, she’s picked up one round win in the past three races.
Sampey feels a recent test session and a first-round matchup against Joey Gladstone offers her another opportunity for a long Sunday.
“We tested at Mooresville Dragway in North Carolina earlier this week and I think that made all the difference in the world,” Sampey said. “My good buddy Chip Ellis came out and helped Ken Johnson, Derrell Mullis, and I a bunch and I’m really thankful he came out to help us. We’re No. 10 in the points right now and Joey is on the outside looking in, but I think we’ve got the bike to beat this weekend. I think we have a good chance of going rounds tomorrow.”
This is a vital matchup for both racers. Gladstone desperately needs to go rounds both this weekend and at the U.S. Nationals in two weeks to have a shot at making the Countdown to the Championship for the first time in his career. Likewise, Sampey is being chased by a handful of riders hoping to leapfrog her for playoff positioning.
She made three six-second runs and nearly bullied her way into the top half of the field. Gladstone will be a difficult out given how well his bike ran in Sonoma and again this weekend, but if Sampey can get past him it could be a good day for Team Liberty.
Here are the ladders and first-round pairings for all four professional categories: