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NHRA Nitro Spring Training Friday Notebook

The third day of testing is under way, with teams continuing to learn ahead of the 2018 NHRA Drag Racing season. Stay tuned to our notebook for notes, quotes, and up-to-the-minute updates on Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock runs from Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
02 Feb 2018
National Dragster staff
News
Spring Training

Welcome back to the third day of NHRA Nitro Spring Training at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Teams from Top Fuel to Pro Stock are back on the track looking for more data as the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com quickly approach. Our run-by-run updates follow, with notebook items including quotes and notes from teams down below that. 

Clay Millican got the day started with a 9.089-second pass, and Bob Tasca III followed that up with an 8.726. Nothing doing for either car from the left lane. 

That held true for Doug Kalitta, who made it only about 100 feet before losing traction. He recorded a 6.321. Kalitta posted one of the best three times of the day on Thursday. 

cruz.JPGCruz Pedregon laid down a great pass (with an early shutoff) in his Snap-On Tools Toyota. The veteran Funny Car driver ran a 3.969, which easily makes it the best in the early portion of the day. a

Steve Torrence followed that solid run up with one of his own. The Kilgore, Texas native made a 3.736 pass in his own Top Fuel dragster (as opposed to the Top Fueler that will be driven by his father, Billy, this season). 

Hard tire shake at 150 feet ended Robert Hight's first pass of the day in the Auto Club Camaro. Hight ran 3.880 on Thursday,

Top Fuel world champ Brittany Force was on a nice-looking pass before the power was chopped -- voluntarily or involuntarily -- just past half-track. She coasted through to a 3.92 at just 232 mph.

Deric Kramer and Vincent Nobile went side-by-side in their Pro Stockers, but they weren't that way for long. Kramer's new Chevy chattered the tires and he shut off, while Nobile powered his purple MountainView Camaro to his first full pull of testing, a 6.592.

Teammates Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr. both failed to make it all the way down, with Enders shaking at about 100 feet and Coughlin lifting closer to halftrack.

After running as quick as 3.88 Thursday in their first runs of the season with the six-disc clutch, Ron Capps and Rahn Tobler's NAPA Dodge only makes it under power to 330 feet on his opening pass of the day.

chad.JPGChad Green shows some real promise with a solid 3.904 in Tim Wilkerson's Ford. It's the best run by far for the neophyte flopper drivers' short tenure behind the butterfly. His previous best e.t. was 4.14, recorded in testing last year in Charlotte.

Courtney Force was shaking the tires hard and then up in tire smoke before the 330 in her first pass of the day, Her car made a little sashay as she lifted so she dumped the 'chutes out and coasted across with a 6.723.

Still not much to show on the scoreboard for Jack Beckman and the Infinite Hero team. Whether by design or happenstance, they've yet to make a full run, His Friday opener is a lift at 450 feet and a 4.58 e.t.

The first pass in a new chassis custom-built for Shawn Langdon couldn't have gone better, as the Global Electronic Technology Toyota put an impressive 3.91 on the scoreboard. For more on the new chassis layout, see the story below.

_NDE4874.JPGLangdon's Kalitta Motorsports Toyota teammate, J.R. Todd, followed in his tracks and also looked solid with a 3.920 at 329 mph in the DHL Toyota,

Alex Laughlin dropped some jaws when a 6.48 popped up on his scoreboard, but with a Top Fuel-like .873  60-foot time, it's clear that there was a timing issue. Alongside him, world champ Bo Butner runs his fourth straight low 6.60 with a 6.619,

Greg Carrillo brought his Top Fueler to the line for his first shot at testing, but clicks it off after the launch, The car is tuned by veterans Glenn Mikres and Johnny West.

Billy Torrence made his first run of testing (though his son, Steve, has certainly given the car some work) and pulled off a solid run. He clicked the gas off early and ran a 3.937. 

Mike Salinas ran a 3.731, and looked to be on a strong pull, but there was a pop at the end and a bit of debris left on the track.

shoe400.jpgTony Schumacher followed up his strong performance on Thursday with another great run to kick off Friday. His 3.754 is a little off his Thursday pace, but it's a nice way to start his Friday afternoon. 

The 16-time champion made it about 300 feet under power before losing traction. John Force pulled a 5.724 in the left lane. The car that he is driving is the JFR-built chassis in which daughter Brittany made licensing runs last year.

Leah Pritchett didn't make it halfway down the track (5.849) on her first run of the day, and Scott Palmer didn't fare much better on his (4.636).

Antron Brown made it well past half track before a bang cut his ride short. He made it to the stripe in 3.921 seconds, but left a small mess on the strip. 

Jonnie Lindberg made his first pass of the day, a 3.904. That builds on a pair of runs yesterday that went as low as 3.96. 

Blake Alexander, now driving Bob Vandergriff's dragster, made his first pass of testing and racked a 3.77. It appeared he shut the dragster off at about 800 feet. 

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Well, we haven't seen this since the 2000 No Bull Showdown. In a very rare Top Fuel vs. Funny Car face off, Clay Millican squared off against Matt Hagan. Millican got to the stripe first, but neither car made it more than 300 feet under power. 

Tommy Johnson Jr., this time taking to the left lane with the right lane unoccupied, didn't have much more luck.  

Kalitta laid down the first 3.60 of testing, notching a 3.688 next to teammate Richie Crampton's 4.358. Kalitta ran in the right lane, while Crampton ran in the left lane. 

Hight picked up a bit of time in his second pass of the day, but lost traction at about half track and ended up with a 4.926-second pass. 

Richard Townsend made his best pass of testing so far, a 4.059, but his parachute didn't deploy. The long run off after the finish line came in handy for Townsend, who brought the car to a stop without issue. 

Steve Torrence looked to be on a good run before his dragster backfired the blower in a burst of fire at about half track. The Texan ran a 4.213.

erica.JPGAlready the quickest of the six Pro Stock drivers who have made runs, Enders, who earlier clocked a 6.55, made  the weekend's second-best pass as well with a 6.578.

Kramer put down another solid pass in Pro Stock, backing up an earlier 6.635 with a 6.631 as his new KB-powered Camaro begins to find its form.

Right behind that duo comes Pro Stock's reigning champ, Butner, who follows them down the right lane with a 6.620. The Pro Stockers definitely seem to prefer the right lane, the fuel cars the left.

Capps and Tobler continue to feel their way along with the six-disc clutch, and they must be feeling good after their second 3.8-second clocking in an many days, a 3.893.

New tuner Brian Corradi and Courtney Force continue to work the new Advanced Auto Car down the track, but lost this run early to a dropped cylinder. Dragster guy Corradi, working with incumbent crew chief Danny Hood, said his biggest goal of testing is learning the car and making consistent passes.

After making three straight three-second passes, Todd and the DHL Toyota just miss a fourth with a 4.001 after the engine soured past halftrack.

Pedregon, who ran a 3.96 earlier in the day, smoked the tires this time at 330 feet as crew chief Aaron Brooks and new right-hand man Glen Huszar continue to look for a consistent tune-up.

beckman.JPGSix runs into testing, Beckman and crew still don't have anywhere near a full pull to their credit. This pass ended early when the car lost traction just past the 330-foot timers.

Tasca had a cylinder out from the hit, and the new orange Mustang finally knocked the tires loose at 300 feet.

Langdon is looking real comfortable now in his new Funny Car environment as the new Global Electronic car put down its second straight three-second pass, a 3.968.

Pritchett and Okuhara brought out a second car (or a least a new set of body panels) for their second run of the day, this one sporting black and red Mopar livery. Despite an early lift and a dropped cylinder, the car rocketed to a 3.85 at just 269 mph.

With a second 3.71 and their third 3.7-second pass in five runs, Schumacher and Mike Neff have to be feeling good after a solid 3.718, the second best run of the day,

nobile.jpgAfter four frustrating aborted passes Thursday, this morning's 6.592 looked awful good to Nobile and team, but a tire-shaking, right-turning launch on their next pass wasn't what they were looking for,

Terry McMillen and crew chief Rob Wendland, who sat out all but one run Thursday installing a new RacePak data system and waiting on parts, finally got their first run of the Friday, but not until 2:30, and it their early-shutoff 4.404 at 221 got them a little more data,

Millican didn't  even make it to the Tree before the Parts Plus machine was up in tire smoke. Back to the drawing board.

Two Friday passes and two tire-smoke-aborted 5.72s are not what John Force, Jon Schaffer, and Jason McCulloch are looking for out of the Peak Chevy.

Reigning Top Fuel champ Brittany Force made it to the 330-foot timers before her Monster Energy machine had too much energy for the track to harness. A 4.85 was what they got.

hight.JPGHight got all of this pass -- at least for as long as he chose to hold down the loud pedal -- with a 3.949 at just 290 mph.

Kalitta, already the clubhouse leader with his early 3.68, fired off another great-looking -- albeit early shutoff -- pass of 3.84 at just 248 mph in the Mac Tools rail.

After his stunning 3.904 pass earlier n the day -- the second-best pass of Friday -- Green's second attempt ends with a 4.68 as the Wilkmobile drove into tire smoke at about 400 feet.

Bo knows 6.60s. Reigning Pro Stock champ Butner now has five runs between 6.602 and 6.623, This one was a 6.609.

Kramer followed up his new teammate with a 6.661 in his American Ethanol Chevy, a few hundredths off the pace of his previous run.. 

Elite teammates Coughlin and Nobile went side by side in the next pair, with Nobile slowing a bit (6.612) and Coughlin shoving the clutch back in (8.035).

hagan.JPGHagan continued to run in the 3-second zone, this time making a clean pass that nearly got him into the 3.80s. He crossed the strip in 3.907 seconds.  

Carrillo went up in smoke in a hurry. His dragster made it only 100 feet under power, resulting in a 7.946-second pass. 

Alexander followed up his 3.77 from earlier in the day with a tire-shaking 6.462 in the right lane. 

The Kalitta Air/DHL Dragster has yet to make a full pull in testing. Crampton recorded a 5.22 this time around. 

Lindberg and Courtney Force went head to head (pun... not intended, despite the owner of Lindberg's Funny Car) and the Swede posted the better time, a 3.952. Force ran a 4.067.

Harry Hruska's turbocharged Camaro Pro Mod entry rode out a spectacular 300-foot-long wheelie before lifting just before halftrack and coasting to a 7.55. That was fun!

Brown had cylinders out at the step, resulting in a 6.707. 

capps2.JPG2016 Funny Car champion Capps lost a little bit on his third run of the day, a 3.964. 

Millican had a hole out early, but still ran a 4.212. That's his best run since a 3.79 on Wednesday. The team isn't planning on making a full pull during testing, but this is a nice step forward. 

Butner and Enders went side by side with great results. Enders continued her incredible run of performance, posting a 6.563, while Butner stayed consistent with a 6.608. 

Another pair of Pro Stockers, this time driven by Nobile and Couglin hit the lanes. The purple Camaro of Nobile made a 6.593-second pass while Coughlin's yellow-and-black machine ran the quarter-mile in 6.568 seconds. 

The chutes came out almost immediately on Langdon's third run of the day. That resulted in an 11.171 pass for the newly-minted Funny Car driver. 

Palmer got his second pass of the day alongside Pritchett, who was taking her third lap of the day. Palmer ran a 5.725 after going silent early, while Pritchett made a 3.76-second pull at 297.35. 

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Another Funny Car vs. Top Fuel matchup was set up, with this one getting run just about all the way to the finish line. Schumacher ripped off a 3.714-second pass, his best of the day, and teammate Johnson reeled off the best Funny Car pass of the day (3.884). 

Kalitta followed that up with an even stronger pass, though not quick enough to beat his own top time of the day. His 3.703 is a little off his 3.688, but stands as the second-best run of the day. 

Townsend completed his licensing runs and continued to gain data, this time with a 4.18-second hit. 

Brittany Force came through with the second 3.60 of testing. A 3.699 at 323.35 mph gave her the second-best pass of the day. 

Green looked to be on a solid pass, but there was a small pop past half track that cut the ride short. He still ran a 4.068 while driving Tim Wilkerson's Funny Car. 

John Force made the second-best pass of the day (3.894) next to JFR teammate Hight (6.779), who got out of the gas after some tire shake. 

In a run that would have set six different track records (though not this one), Hagan ran the best time of testing with a 3.851-second pass alongside a tire-smoking Todd. 

The first pass of the weekend for Texas Top Fuel newcomer Terry Brian went as planned. A quick hit of the throttle resulted in a pass of 8.119 seconds. 

Nobile's team really began to hit its stride at day's end, following a 6.568 with a 6.570. In the other lane, "Bracket Bo" Butner stayed in the same low 6.60 zone for the seventh straight run with a 6.617 (6.602, 6.608, 6.609, 6.617, 6.619, 6.620, and 6.623). Shoe-polish a number on the windshield and go racing,

With the sun sinking below the Superstition Mountains, the header flames became visible, making it real easy to see Tasca step off the throttle 100 feet into his run and coast to an 8.22.

Alexander made an impressive early shut off pass of 3.755 at just 284 mph in Bob Vandergriff Jr.'s Ron Douglas-tuned machine.

courtney2.jpgCourtney Force, last year's preseason testing star, went right to the top of the sheets of this year's affair with a 3.839 (3.106 to the 660!). Alongside her, Pedregon steps off the gas at halftrack.

Salinas nailed down another great run on his second pass, a 3.780, in the Scrappers machine. McMillen lifted early alongside him to a 5.07.

Crampton made another solid halftrack pass, the candles all lit until he chopped the power and coasted to a 4.23.

Beckman closed out his Friday with a 200-foot blast and a coasting 7.930. He's yet to make it to the finish under power (perhaps by design).

Here's a Friday recap, by class:

TOP FUEL
Doug Kalitta 3.688
Brittany Force 3.699
Tony Schumacher 3.714
Billy Torrence 3.718
Mike Salinas 3.731
Steve Torrence 3.739
Blake Alexander 3.755
Leah Pritchett 3.760
Antron Brown 3.921
Terry McMilllen 4.048
Clay Millican 4.212
Richie Crampton 4.236
Scott Palmer 4.636
Greg Carrillo 7.946
Terry Brian 8.667
FUNNY CAR
Courtney Force 3.839
Matt Hagan 3.851
Tommy Johnson Jr. 3.884
Ron Capps 3.893
John Force 3.894
Chad Green 3.904
Jonnie Lindberg 3.904
Shawn Langdon 3.911
J.R. Todd 3.920
Robert Hight 3.949
Cruz Pedregon 3.969
Richard Townsend 4.096
Jack Beckman 4.588
Bob Tasca 5.353
PRO STOCK
Erica Enders 6.563
Jeg Coughlin Jr. 6.568
Vincent Nobile 6.592
Bo Butner 6.608
Deric Kramer 6.643

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All of Shawn Langdon’s Funny Car runs have come in Alexis DeJoria’s Funny Car. Well, that’s a half truth. The car is Langdon’s. It has Langdon’s name on it, and it has the snappy Global Electronic Technology paint scheme, too. But the chassis was molded for DeJoria, and it’s the same car he got his first runs in following the Fall Las Vegas race in 2017. 

On Friday, Langdon will get his first Funny Car runs in a flopper designed specifically for him. In this case, that means a car that’s wider at the shoulder, allows Langdon to sit up straighter, and gives the former Top Fuel champ more leg room. So, it makes the process of switching to a new class a little more comfortable. 

“I think he’s doing great,” said Langdon’s new crew chief Tommy DeLago. “But he holds himself to such a high standard. The other day he took it down to 650 feet, and we’re all saying how nice it looked, and he gets back here and he’s talking about all the little things he could have done better. He’s really critical of himself, and he’s so competitive.”

So much of the early stages of Langdon’s Funny Car career are about getting comfortable, and that’s going to come with more seat time. He’ll get a day full of runs in the new Funny Car Friday and will (probably) get another full day of them on Saturday. From there, it’s up in the air, as the team would like to get some data on both Funny Cars. 

That’s the balance between collecting data on the driver and the race car. DeLago figures by the time they get to midseason, everything will have meshed together nicely. That certainly worked out for J.R. Todd, a first time Funny Car driver last season who ended up winning two events after the midway point. 

“Right now, it’s just learning, he’s just getting comfortable in the car,” said DeLago. “His brain hasn’t slowed everything down yet. Pretty soon his brain will slow it down and he’ll be able to figure everything out.”
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Terry McMillen only got one run under his belt on Thursday thanks to a late delivery, but plans to make the full complement of passes on Friday and Saturday. In addition to the new chassis specs all Top Fuel teams are working with this weekend, McMillen has a new set of brakes to … break in …. During Nitro Spring Training.

He says the new brakes are “incredibly smooth,” and is one of the major components of what the team is working on this weekend. The newly-minted national event winner is looking to pick up more round wins on a more consistent basis in 2018, and that all starts at testing.

McMillen will also have a new part-time racing partner in 2018 in A/Fuel driver Dan Mercier. The Canadian, who has an event win in Top Alcohol Dragster in 2006, will likely debut with the team at the NHRA Southern Nationals. He made his Top Fuel debut in Epping back in 2015. 

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No one who visited Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park will forget Leah Pritchett’s dominance. She and crew chief Todd Okuhara ran 3.65, unofficially the quickest pass in Top Fuel history at the time, in last year’s Spring Training session, then returned a few weeks later to win the NHRA Arizona Nationals, just two weeks after winning the Winternationals.

The team was not able to sustain that pace and eventually finished in fifth place after winning just six rounds in the six-event Countdown.

“Unfortunately for us, two of our worst races of 2017 were in the Countdown, and that put us way behind,” said Okuhara, who again will be joined in the tuning tandem by Joe Barlam. “This weekend, we’re working on refining our tune-up; we want to be more aggressive on the hot race tracks. We should have pushed harder in the hot last year. You have all these cars running good and quick, so you have to push it, so that is my approach for the season.”

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Greg Carrillo’s rig is parked as far down the pit lane as possible, and it’s not because he arrived late. The former Super Comp racer who has made off-and-on forays in Top Fuel for a number of years feels he needs to earn his way up the ranks before he’s able to park with the Steve Torrences and DSRs of the Top Fuel world.

“I’m down here and I know I want to get up there, and the way to do that is to turn in some performances, to keep improving,” he said. “For me, as a driver, it’s to leave on time.”

Carrillo’s best run in his limited time in the class is just 4.35, but the native Arizonian’s goal is not to immediately try to jump into the 3.70s. He’s got good talent onboard with experienced tuners Glenn Mikres and Johnny West, and a game plan.

“The goal for the next run is to go better than 4.35, and the goal for the run after that is to go quicker than whatever that run was. Right now we’re just racing ourselves. We came out at Denver last year and made a mistake in the pit area on our first that put us behind the 8 ball and didn’t really allow us to show what we’re capable of or even to learn a lot. We have all of the right parts, the Stage VII heads, the right blower, it’s just learning how to run. Eventually I want to be within a tenth or so of half of that the top cars are running.”

The team will bypass the Pomona season opener and run the NHRA Arizona Nationals back here in a few weeks. As they did last year in Denver, they’ll be flying the colors of Santiago’s Mexican Restaurants, a Denver-based chain that also sells its food in Wal-Mart.

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With both Steve and Billy Torrence on hand today, Kilgore, Texas, is well represented in Top Fuel, but they’re also joined by a neighbor, Terry Brian, who’s out trying to earn his Top Fuel license in his own car, which banners his custom fabrication shop, ProFab, on its white and blue flanks

Brian, a veteran fuel altered driver from New London, Texas, just eight miles south of Kilgore, bought Keith Murt’s Murf McKinney-built dragster, front-halved it himself, and has filled it with good parts, including a Brad Anderson block and Alan Johnson heads. He made his first runs in the car last fall, right after the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, but didn’t learn much due to some organizational issues.

“We’re just sticking our toe in this thing; we’ve got a lot to learn,” admitted Brian, who has run as fast as 240-mph in his Top Fuel-winged fuel altered. “I need to make two full runs here to crossgrade my license and if we can get that done, we hope to run at the Houston event [NHRA SpringNationals, April 20-22] and then maybe Dallas at the end of the year. If we can get some [sponsorship help], we’ll do more.”

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Rich Townsend is hoping to complete his nitro Funny Car upgrade this weekend as the experienced Nostalgia Funny Car driver and partner Dustin Davis get ready to join the “big show,” as the nostalgia racers call the Mello Yello Series. The Oakdale, Calif., duo, have won races and been to late rounds in their six-race nostalgia career, have enlisted the help of former Top Fuel world champ crew chief Lance Larsen to guide them along. The car is a former Tony Pedregon chassis that belonged to Larry Dixon that the duo front-halved themselves in their shop.

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Richard Townsend, left, and Lance Larsen

“This was always the dream; it just happened a lot faster than we planned,” said Davis. “We had already started on the new nostalgia car and the next thing I know Rich is on RacingJunk[.com] and I get a phone call at 5:30 in the morning from Rich that Larry is selling a roller [Funny Car chassis]. Eight hours later I get an email from him with two plane tickets to Indianapolis and we came to deal. We got some good parts from Morgan Lucas when they were liquidating their equipment.”

For Davis, it’s been a tough year as the Santa Rosa, Calif., racer lost his home in the fire that decimated the Northern California town earlier this winter. He’s the owner of a demolition and recycling company there, so while he’s been busy helping the town recover, it’s a tough go to do that and try to pull together a new team.

If all goes according to plan, they’ll make their debut at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals and then return to Phoenix two weeks later for the NHRA Arizona Nationals.

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Spring Training marks the one-year anniversary of the pairing of two-time former Funny Car champ Cruz Pedregon and Top Fuel tuning whiz Aaron Brooks, The duo enjoyed a roller-coaster, get-acquainted season last year, and have brought veteran Glen Huszar onto the team this year on the heels of a new three-year sponsorship pact with Snap-on Tools.

“Glen has been flying under the radar a little bit," said Pedregon, "He’s worked with Tim Richards and he won a championship in 2010 with Tommy DeLago. He really brings a previously missing element.”

“We had some good runs from 2010 through 2014 and won close to 10 races in that span. But the competition has stepped up and some new technology has been introduced. I feel confident that 2017 was the year we put money in the bank and this year is going to be the year we start to collect interest -– and that’s on the track performance-wise."

Pedregon is helping the team in other ways, too, shedding 15 pounds from his frame over the winter by eating right and working out. “We put the car on a diet and we put me on a diet,” he reasoned. “If it makes us go faster – and it will – then it was an easy decision.”

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Blake Alexander made his Top Fuel debut in 2017 and competed in four events while driving Del Worsham’s dragster. He’s no rookie to NHRA Drag Racing, having driven Funny Car prior to hopping into a dragster. This season, he’ll drive for Bob Vandergriff Jr., who did a bit of driving himself in 2017 while primarily focusing on his personal life. That makes the duo a perfect match.

Alexander approached Vandergriff during the offseason, hoping to partner the sponsorship the young driver can bring with what Vandergriff already has on the table. The result? A 10-race schedule (give or take an event) beginning with the NHRA Arizona Nationals in late February.

“We came to an agreement in late December, and this is just the best opportunity for me, I really like all the people,” said Alexander.

Although an official announcement has yet to be made, the pair plan to run about once a month early in the season before running a bit more heavily during the Summer months. Vandergriff competed in four events in 2017.

“I worked my whole life to drive a nice car, so I get in this thing and it’s like… there’s no rust in this thing,” said Alexander. “It was made for a professional race car driver.”

Alexander got his first career round win in a Top Fueler last season, and will look to build on that in 2018. This weekend, it’s about getting more comfortable in his new car, with his new team ahead of what will be a busy season.

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