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Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals Sunday Notebook

Blake Alexander secured his second Top Fuel win of the season while Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all secured Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals Wallys.
29 Jul 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Sonoma

Brackets | Features | Photos | Results

ELIMINATION ROUND RECAPS

kalitta.JPGTOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:26 a.m.): Doug Kalitta set a track speed record with a 332.26 mph burst to top a red-lighting Steve Torrence in a juggernaut first-round matchup. That gets him a meeting with Clay Millican, who ran the best elapsed time of the weekend (3.697) and will earn lane choice against the Mac Tools racer. Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown both ran great numbers but will not be joined by their fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate as Leah Pritchett also went red in the first round. That wasn’t the only first round drama, as Mike Salinas crossed the centerline against Blake Alexander.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Clay Millican vs. Doug Kalitta; Scott Palmer vs. Bill Litton; Antron Brown vs. Blake Alexander; Tony Schumacher vs. Brittany Force

NDE_0950.JPGFUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (11:51 p.m.): All four Don Schumacher Racing Funny Cars made it to the second round of racing, including Matt Hagan. He made the best run of the first round of racing (3.958), which gets him lane choice against teammate Ron Capps in the second stanza. That’s not as late as those two would prefer to race, and Hagan is going to have his hands full with Mr. Consistency as the race track warms up. On the other side of the later, John Force will race Del Worsham, who upset No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force in the first round. That’s a big win for Worsham, who’s racing on a thin budget this season. 

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Del Worsham vs. John Force; Jack Beckman vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.; Robert Hight vs. Bob Tasca III; Matt Hagan vs. Ron Capps

NDB_7494.JPGPRO STOCK ROUND 1 (11:52 p.m.): Jason Line set the pace during a quick opening round of Pro Stock eliminations with a 6.505, 211.96 out of his Summit Racing Camaro. Line easily defeated Steve Graham, who posted a 6.620. Line will take on two-time world champ Erica Enders in round two. Line’s teammate, Deric Kramer defeated Alan Pruisensky, who fouled in his eCarmover.com Dodge. Kramer ran a 6.506 to earn lane choice over Tanner Gray, who was the third quickest driver of the round with a 6.509 in his in over Vincent Nobile. Other survivors from the round include low qualifier Greg Anderson, who topped Joey Grove. Reigning champ Bo Butner did not advance after his KB-powered Camaro shut off early against Alex Laughlin.

Second round pairings (lane choice first): Deric Kramer vs. Tanner Gray; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Alex Laughlin; Greg Anderson vs. Drew Skillman; Jason Line vs. Erica Enders

DSC_1617.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 1 (12:20 p.m.): Another race, another 200-mph run for Hector Arana Jr. who won his fifth-straight round with a 6.832, 200.35 run against Angelle Sampey’s Liberty Raving Buell. The best elapsed time of the round went to Andrew Hines, who struggled in qualifying, but roared to life with a 6.778, 198.47 in his round one win against Scotty Pollacheck. Matt Smith, fresh off his win in Saturday’s Mickey Thompson Tire Pro Bike Battle, used a 6.803, 196.90 to get past rookie Ryan Oehler. After the first round, two more riders, LE Tonglet, and Hector Arana Jr., have officially locked up their spots in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. They join Hines and Krawiec, who clinched their spots during qualifying.

Second round pairings (lane choice first): Hector Arana Jr. vs. Jim Underdahl; Joey Gladstone vs. LE Tonglet; Eddie Krawiec vs. Jerry Savoie; Andrew Hines vs. Matt Smith

blake2.JPGTOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1:16 p.m.): Blake Alexander took down Antron Brown for the third time in his Top Fuel career to book a semifinal meeting with Scott Palmer. The second-year Top Fuel driver made the second-best pass of the session to get by Brown, while Doug Kalitta made the quickest run with a 3.772-second lap. He’ll face off against Tony Schumacher in yet another rendition of the most frequent matchup in Top Fuel history. Three of the four racers remaining have a win this season, with only Palmer seeking his first win of his Top Fuel career. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Blake Alexander vs. Scott Palmer; Doug Kalitta vs. Tony Schumacher

capps_0.JPGFUNNY CAR Q2 (1:26 p.m.): Ron Capps made a killer pass to take down teammate Matt Hagan and set up a matchup with John Force in a rematch of the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals final round. That ended with Force in the winner’s circle for the first time in more than a year and Capps certainly hopes he can get revenge this time around. It’ll be a Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car vs. a John Force Racing Funny Car on the other end of the ladder as Robert Hight battles Tommy Johnson Jr.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Ron Capps vs. John Force; Robert Hight vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.

jeggy_0.JPGPRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:31 p.m.): KB Racing drivers Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and Deric Kramer have reached the semifinals of Pro Stock where they’re joined by their biggest rival, five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. Anderson’s hopes to sweep the Western Swing are still intact after he defeated Drew Skillman with a 6.534. Kramer made the best run of the round with a 6.523 in his win against Tanner Gray and Coughlin defeated Alex Laughlin, 6.535 to 6.563.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Greg Anderson; Deric Kramer vs. Jason Line

underdahl.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (1:42 p.m.): The Denso Spark Plugs 200-mph club has a new member after Eddie Kraiwec rode his Harley-Davidson Street Rod to a 200.08 speed in his win against Jerry Savoie. Krawiec also outran opponent Jerry Savoie with the best pass of the round, a 6.771. Krawiec’s teammate, Andrew Hines, was also quick with a  6.798, 197.94 in his win over Matt Smith, who shut off early. Suzuki rider LE Tonglet and Jim Underdahl also moved on to the semifinals. Despite the loss, Savoie clinched his spot in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Eddie Krawiec vs. LE Tonglet; vs. Andrew Hines vs. Jim Underdahl

tony_0.JPGTOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:28 p.m.): Blake Alexander is headed to his fourth career final round and he’ll face off against the first racer he ever beat in a Top Fuel Dragster: Tony Schumacher, who is racing in his 151st final round. It’s experience vs. well, the opposite of experience. Alexander will have lane choice against Schumacher in the final as he chases his second win in a Top Fuel Dragster. Schumacher is looking for his 85th and his second of the season. Regardless, this is a big weekend for Schumacher who is now second in the standings after going deep on Sunday. 

hight3_0.JPGFUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:35 p.m.): It’s hard to say Robert Hight ever snuck up on anybody, but he unleased a booming run on Tommy Johnson Jr. to reach the final round of Funny Car against Ron Capps. His 3.956 earned him lane choice against the 2016 champion and he’s hoping to get his second win at Sonoma Raceway. Hight won’t get a chance to race his boss because Capps slid by “the old man” (Capps’ words, not ours). So, it’ll be the 2017 champ and the 2016 champ head-to-head in the final. That’s a matchup worth the price of admission in it of itself. 

DSC_2809.JPGPRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:35 p.m.): There will be no sweep of the Western Swing in Pro Stock after Jeg Coughlin Jr. extracted revenge against his arch rival, Greg Anderson. Anderson defeated Coughlin in the semifinals a week ago in Denver and Coughlin returned the favor in Sonoma with a 6.548 to 6.554 victory. Coughlin’s yellow and black JEGS.com Camaro crossed the stripe just .001-second ahead of Anderson’s Summit Chevy. In order to win his third event of the season, Coughlin will have to defeat another KB Racing team car after Deric Kramer took out Jason Line. Kramer, who won his first event in Topeka, reached the final with a 6.525 to beat Line’s 6.551.

DSC_2824.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFINALS (2:40 p.m.): LE Tonglet will have a chance to win a Sonoma title for the fourth time in the last eight years after an upset win over Eddie Krawiec in the semifinals. Tonglet was nearly perfect off the starting line and he rode to a 6.796 to beat Krawiec’s 6.769. Tonglet will be paired in the final with Krawiec’s teammate, Andrew Hines, who earned a spot in his 85th career final after a 6.820 win over Jim Underdahl’s Suzuki. Hines and Tonglet raced most recently in the Richmond final with Tonglet prevailing. Hines and Tonglet also fought a memorable battle for the world championship in 2010 with Tonglet winning the title as a rookie.

LUCAS OIL SPORTSMAN RESULTS:

Super Stock: Don Keen def. Mark Kirby
Stock: Leo Glasbrenner def. Jody Lang
Super Comp: Robert Naber def. Matt Woodard
Super Gas: Matt Blodgett def. Ron Makenzie
Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs.com: John Richardson def. Andy Spiegel
Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs.com: Ken Ratzloff def. Ted Kellner


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PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (3:39 p.m.): LE Tonglet won for the 18th time in his career and his fourth in Sonoma when he defeated Andrew Hines in a thrilling final round. Tonglet give up a slight lead at the start but quickly made up the difference and rode his Nitro Fish Suzuki to a 6.771, tying the best run of his career. Tonglet also ran a career best speed in the final with a 198.52 mph run. Hines, a runner-up for the third time this season, trailed with a 6.802. Tonglet, who was also a runner-up in Chicago, made his way to the final round with wins against Cory Reed, Joey Gladstone, and Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec. Tonglet has now won the last three Sonoma events, to go along with a fourth title in 2011.

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PRO STOCK FINAL (3:43 p.m.): In what may have been the best Pro Stock race of the weekend, Jeg Coughlin Jr. defeated Deric Kramer to win his 61st Pro Stock Wally and his third in the 2018 season. Coughlin left first in the final, .036 to .041, and maintained the lead to the finish line to win by a fraction of a second, 6.532 to 6.534. The difference between the two Chevy Camaros at the finish line was just .007-second. Coughlin has won three of the last seven events including titles in Chicago and Bristol. He’s also got a Super Comp victory in Richmond on his scorecard. Kramer, in his first season as a member of the KB team, made it to the final for the third time. 

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FUNNY CAR FINAL (3:51 p.m.): Robert Hight earned his 43rd Funny Car victory to tie Tony Pedregon for third all-time on the wins list with a 3.982-second hit against 2016 world champion Ron Capps. The NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car slowed to a 4.077 in their eighth meeting and Hight earned his second win of the season and second in a row for John Force Racing. 

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TOP FUEL FINAL (3:55 p.m.): Blake Alexander scored the second Wally of his career against the winningest driver of all time. Tony Schumacher got off the starting line first by more than seven hundredths of a second, but it didn’t matter as the U.S. Army Dragster put a hole out and fell to the Pronto Auto Services machine. 

FEATURES

shawn.JPGShawn Reed gets to stomp on the loud pedal in a Top Fuel Dragster a handful of times a year, but he makes his living on the water. He had his best day ever in a dragster this season at the NHRA Arizona Nationals and is currently piloting the best Nitro-burning machine he’s ever had access to thanks in part to a little help from Steve Torrence, Bobby Lagana and the Capco Contractors team. Those guys, and of course the backing from Todd Paton. 

Of course, it’s still very difficult to go from piloting a mean machine in the water to getting behind the wheel of a Top Fuel Dragster. As much as we write from week to week about swapping NHRA class licenses, it’s nothing compared to what Reed goes through when he swaps terrain types. Here’s his explanation on what it’s like leaving in a Lucas Oil Drag Racing Boat compared to a Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series Top Fueler:

“We have a 125-foot rolling start in a boat, so I’m sitting on the line holding the rope and then when the cockpit comes down to a certain point they call it and I’ve got five seconds basically. There’s a nine-count that comes up and those are half-second intervals. So, it’s 4.5 seconds long. When they go solid, I can make a final adjustment and shut the lid. When you’re all warmed you shut the lid and you’re ready to go. 

So, then the nine comes up and it starts counting down in half-second intervals. I leave on a portion of the six and then I floor it and I hope that I get to the line as it turns green.”

As difficult as it is to go on yellow in NHRA Drag Racing, leaving on time in a drag boat sounds especially contentious. Of course, more difficult still is trying to keep your mind straight when you’re going from one to the other. During the home stretch of the season Reed plans to bounce from one to the other nearly every week. That’s great news for fans of the racer (that’s us), but boy is that stressful for the gears turning in his head. 

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Blake Alexander is ready to hit the gas pedal in the first round, no matter who it’s against (it’s Mike Salinas). Alexander was not pleased with himself after losing on a holeshot with a late light at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals a week ago and the racer has a chance to redeem himself on that count with a team that’s very capable of winning for the second time this season. 

“I was just walking around, and this fan was like, ‘you lost on a holeshot last weekend!’ and I was like, I know man, I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Alexander said. “It just sucks to let people down. I’ll try to be better this weekend.”

In his second year in Top Fuel, Alexander is third in the class in reaction time average. His .071 reaction time average trails only Antron Brown and Doug Kalitta this season, both of whom are hammering lights in the .06s on average. That’s something to be proud of, especially given the relatively small number of times Alexander has been given the opportunity to come out and race. 

The rest of the Pronto Auto Services team has done their part, including crew chief Ron Douglas and team owner Bob Vandergriff Jr. The dragster is qualified in the No. 6 position and looks primed to make noise on race day. Alexander made a pair of solid runs in the second and fourth qualifying sessions, the latter of which likely provides more comfort to the team as those conditions better mirrored the race day setup. 

Regardless, from a confidence standpoint, it’s that first run that Alexander is hoping to get through unscathed. Seeing a win light come on is of No. 1 importance, but a good reaction time wouldn’t hurt. 

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Barring a disaster (or someone else’s miracle), Steve Torrence will enter the Countdown to the Championship as the No. 1 seed for the second year in a row. The Texan knows full well all that guarantees is a 20-point cushion over the racer in the No. 2 spot. 

“After what happened last year we don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “In this sport, it doesn’t take long to go from zero to hero or hero to zero. Last year we were close enough to taste it and when we didn’t win it, it was a big kick in the gut.  But you know, when you get that close, you just want to win it that much more.”

Torrence struggled during the first day of qualifying, making a pair of passes slower than 3 seconds and finding himself in the bottom half of the field. But he rebounded as the Bobby Lagana and Richard Hogan-tuned Capco Contractors dragster surged to the No. 8 spot despite warm conditions with a 3.802 and 3.785 hit. That earned him a meeting with Doug Kalitta. 

It’s not much of a reward, admittedly, but the takeaway should be that betting against Torrence tomorrow would be a mistake for the same reason it’s always good to bet on Steve-O on Sunday: the dragster seems to improve run by run. Much like LE Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle, the more shots they get at the track, the better they get. That’s scary for the rest of the competition, though less so for Jim Oberhofer and Kalitta. They’re vets. 

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Jack Beckman is second in points to runaway points leader Courtney Force, though it seems the gap has been narrowed if ever so slightly in terms of performance. The former Funny Car champion hasn’t made up leaps and bounds, at least not in obvious ways. However, he finds himself qualified No. 2 with a meeting against J.R. Todd and a chance to further improve as the Countdown to the Championship approaches. 

The true goal, frankly, isn’t running down Force before the U.S. Nationals concludes. It’s making sure his Infinite Hero Funny Car is capable of runner her down during the final six races of the season. At this point, Beckman is equally frank about what’s going on with his car, which has been terrific all season – just not quite as terrific as the Advance Auto Parts machine. 

“You hate to say this, but in many ways you’re running against yourselves,” he said. “We’re trying to perfect our own combination. So, it’s watching the track prep and our own race car. We’re not trying to overstep our own capabilities. We’ve done such a good job at nipping away at this thing and you’re not going to make a big huge change. You have to make incremental changes that will eventually get you where you want to be.”

The only Funny Car that gets down the track more consistently than Beckman (71.8 percent) is Matt Hagan (73.6 percent). That’s based on a 4.3-second elapsed time which has become the new normal under the new NHRA track prep policy, particularly in the warmer conditions teams face throughout most of the season. So, while Beckman might not have the quickest car, he does have a very consistent one. He also has one that can be cranked up as we’ve seen time and again this year. That’s a car that’s worth being feared. 

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Robert Hight may call Southern California home now, but he didn’t always. He’s one of a handful of racers competing this weekend that has a special tie to Sonoma Raceway, and not just because it’s one of the most beautiful tracks on tour. 

“I still consider Sonoma my home track because it is the closest racetrack to where I grew up,” said Hight. “I have been to every single NHRA national event they have had there. I have seen races there as a fan, a crewman and a driver.”

Hight only has one win at the track as a driver, which came back in 2008, but he also owns the track speed record with a 339-mph blast. It stands to reason that won’t be going away any time soon. So, perhaps Hight can add another win to his resume 10 years following his first. 

“Setting the speed record there last year was pretty special but I have only won that race one time and I want to get another win there,” he said. “We had a good race car in Denver. We went down the track just about every run and we made a lot of three second runs on the mountain. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) was very happy leaving Denver with the way this Auto Club Chevrolet ran. He told me he thought we could run this strong at sea level. This is the time of year where we are focusing on getting everything worked out so that in a few races from now, when it really counts for the championship, we are where we need to be.”

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NDB_7184.JPGMr. Consistency is Ron Capps, pure and simple. There is no driver with a more consistent Funny Car over the past few seasons than the one who drives for crew chief Rahn Tobler. That being said, Bob Tasca III has given Capps a run for his money this weekend. 

With crew chief Eric Lane in tow, Tasca moved into the second round by defeating Jonnie Lindberg with a 4.004-second pass. That’s just .008 second quicker than his five-round average (4.012 for the mathematically challenged). Here are his five runs so far: 4.086, 3.95, 4.006, 4.014 and 4.004. That’s not setting the world on fire, but it shows Lane has a great handle on the Auto Alert Funny Car. 

Here’s how it comes back to Capps: Lane used to work on the NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car under Tobler. The two are on opposite side of the ladders and have raced in the final this year. Capps got the better of that matchup, but the meeting certainly gave Tasca and company some confidence. Tasca is in his first full-time season since taking a hiatus from full-time competition and is looking to stay in a Countdown to the Competition spot. Getting another a round win, this time against Robert Hight, would go a long ways towards accomplishing that goal. 

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Those who know Jason Line understand that he’s first and foremost an engine builder so to a certain degree, he values qualifying position every bit as much as race-day success. Line was obviously pleased after the KB Racing team swept the first four qualifying spots in Sonoma with Greg Anderson leading the pack. Line ended up second after a 6.517 best and teammates Deric Kramer and Bo Butner were close behind. Line’s performance marked just the second time this season that the three-time Pro Stock champion has qualified as high as No. 2.
 
“We've never had the KB Racing cars qualify 1-2-3-4, so I'm pretty happy,” said Line. “I kind of knew we would run good here after how well we ran in Denver, but did I think we'd get the top four spots? No, I probably didn't. We certainly have good cars, and we need to get Fernando [Cuadra, KB Racing teammate] a little faster, but all-in-all, we're headed in a good direction.”
 
Surprisingly, Line has yet to win a race this season, and he entered this event in the No. 9 position in the Pro Stock standings. He does, however see light at the end of the tunnel especially after a runner-up finish a week ago at Bandimere Speedway. Line’s next win will be the 50th of his career and he’s determined to get it in 2018, the 50th anniversary of longtime sponsor, Summit Racing.

“It's tough sledding out there,” said Line. “This year has been a struggle, and there have been a lot of Saturday nights after qualifying where you go back to the hotel not feeling very good about how you did your job. Today, I feel good about how I did my job and how our team did, as a whole. We definitely have cars that can win tomorrow."

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An hour before the first round of Pro Stock eliminations and Matt Hartford and crew chief Eddie Guaranaccia have their Total Seal Camaro stripped almost bare and they are contemplating a number of changes including the all-important aspect of transmission gear ratios. After qualifying No. 10, Hartford has a very tough round one draw against two-time world champ and noted starting line ace Erica Enders.

“Well, we’re certainly not going to just sit around and do nothing,” joked Hartford. “We need to make some changes because I know we can run better than we did. We didn’t make a good run on either of the first two sessions and anytime you get behind the eight-ball like that, you’re going to spend the rest of the weekend playing catch-up. We made a really good run in the third session, but it was still not exactly what we were looking for. We’re going to take a big swing at it and one thing I guarantee is that it won’t be on the weaker side.”

Hartford is 1-1 in two races against Enders this season. He claimed his professional victory earlier this season in Houston by beating the Elite driver in the final and she returned the favor in the second round in Epping last month.


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Vincent Nobile hasn’t been to a final since Atlanta and has not been to the semifinals since Chicago and the Mountain View driver figures that it’s time to fix that. Admittedly Nobile hasn’t run bad this year, but in today’s dog-eat-dog world of Pro Stock racing, anything less than perfection is unacceptable. This week in Sonoma, Nobile has qualified in the top half of the field in all but two events. He was 12th in Phoenix, and he begins eliminations from the No. 11 spot this weekend. That means a tough battle against Tanner Gray in round one.

“It doesn’t matter; they’re all tough” said Nobile. “If you aren’t .020 or better on the Tree, you have almost no chance anymore. I mean you can get away with an occasional bad light, but if you want to win races, you’ve got the get the clutch out on time. We’ve struggled with our car lately but I have a feeling that we’re about to turn the corner. It’s not anything major, we just haven’t been making good runs. This weekend I put a shock on wrong and it broke a fitting. That was in Q3 and we could have run quicker on that run. That probably cost us a couple of qualifying spots.”

Nobile has already eclipsed last year’s results with two wins and a runner-up, but he feels that the 2018 season might present his best chance to win a championship since he joined the Mountain View team in 2011.

“It’s out there,” Nobile said of the championship. “It’s the same old story; there are about a dozen cars that can win a race and as long as you finish in the top ten, you’ve got a chance to win the championship. You just need to have some luck in the last six races. We’re gearing up for that now. We’re trying to get our car to be as reliable as possible before we get to Indy, and the start of the Countdown in Reading.”

 

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Angelle Sampey’s 42 NHRA national event victories include one at Sonoma Raceway. The three-time world champ won the 2004 Sonoma event by beating her cousin-in-law, Antron Brown in the final. Sampey would love nothing more than a second Sonoma win but she knows that in order to do so, she’s going to have to come from the No. 15 qualifying spot, which is a rarity. Sampey ran a best of 6.914 on Friday to make the field on her Liberty Racing Buell, but she also smoked the rear tire on another run. She had hoped to improve during Saturday’s two runs but missed the set-up with back-to-back runs of 7.014 and 6.996.

“When you launch, you are preparing yourself for 3G’s,” said Sampey. “You are tightening up your ab muscles and spurring the bike like a horse with your feet and your knees, and then all of a sudden the back tire jumped up and shot my head forward. I probably looked like a rookie rider but that’s what happens when the tire smokes like that. I’m really thankful we were able to capitalize on Friday night’s crisp air conditions and get a good run to keep us solidly in the show. Larry Morgan builds our engines and he’s giving us some good power and I think we can really turn on some win lights tomorrow.”
 
When it comes to the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Sampey is fighting to stay among the top ten playoff contenders. She entered the Sonoma race tied for the No. 10 spot with former world champ Hector Arana Sr. Her teammate, Cory Reed and veteran Steve Johnson are also in the mix, less than a round out of contention. Counting the Sonoma race, there are three races remaining for the Pro Stock Motorcycle riders to claim points, including the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, which features a points-an-a-half format.

“We just need to win some rounds in the next few races,” said Sampey. “We’re capable of doing that; we just need to find a way. I’d prefer not to go into Indy fighting for the last spot. I’d love to win a few rounds and get some breathing room but I also don’t want to think too far ahead.”

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Until his win in Denver last week, Pro Stock’s Greg Anderson garnered a lot of attention because he’d gone half a season without a national event victory. Andrew Hines, the winningest rider in the history of the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, finds himself in a similar situation heading into final eliminations in Sonoma. Hines came into Sonoma as the points leader, but his scorecard reads three runner-up finishes at zero wins for the season. Ironically, each of Hines’ losses have come against six different riders. He’s lost to teammate Eddie Krawiec, LE Tonglet, Jerry Savoie, Angelle Sampey, Matt Smith, and Hector Arana Jr. Savoie is the only rider to beat Hines twice, winning at the Charlotte Four-Wide race, and Norwalk.

“Believe it or not, there is a method to the madness,” said Hines. “We’ve made a lot of changes to my bike lately, including a lot this weekend. We’ve gone back and forth between extremes as far as the tune-up because we’re trying to find what works and what doesn’t. My bike appears to be a little more finicky than Eddie’s so we need to see how it responds to changes. We’ve jumped around during every qualifying session, especially when it comes to fuel and timing. It’s always a learning process.”

For all the experimentation, Hines is qualified solidly in the field with a sixth-best 6.823 and he’s on the opposite side of the latter from teammate Krawiec. That does not mean that Hines has an easy draw since he’ll likely have to go through Pro Bike Battle champ Matt Smith and/or Denver champ Hector Arana Jr. in order to make it to the final round.

“I think we’re going to surprise a few people today,” Hines said. “We took all the information we learned during qualifying and put our tune-up squarely in the middle. I think we have a program that works and my bike should be a lot closer to Eddie’s today. I made some really nice runs in high gear. We just need to get the rest of the track figured out. I think we’re a lot closer to doing just that.”

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The Western Swing presents a unique challenge for all NHRA pros but to be more specific, the adjustment from Denver to Sonoma seems to cause the most grief for racers chasing Mello Yello series championships. At this point, no one knows that better than Jerry Savoie, who was a runner-up in Denver, but has struggled in Sonoma’s seal-level conditions. Savoie made his best run in qualifying on Saturday afternoon with a 6.857, which was just enough to sneak into the top half of the field. Savoie insists that his issues aren’t necessarily related to the change in venues, but rather a mechanical issue with his White Alligator Suzuki.

“Something in our bike isn’t right; we’re just chasing it right now,” said Savoie. “We’ve got an internal issue with our engines and we’re just not running up to our full potential. We’ve made some good runs, we’re just not able to do it consistently. I should have been running 6.7s with he rest of the fast bikes. We’ve done that before here. We should be able to do it again. It’s frustrating but we’re just doing to deal with it for now.”

Savoie has also had past success in Sonoma. He was a runner-up to Eddie Krawiec in 2014 and 2015 and his teammate, LE Tonglet is the defending event winner.

“We love racing here; it’s such a beautiful place,” said Savoie. “Of course it’s even more beautiful when you’re winning. Last week, I gave one away. I red-lighted in the final against Junior [Hector Arana Jr.] and if I had been late as usual I’d have won the race. I’m not sure what Hector as thinking going red against me. He had me covered by a tenth.”

Savoie's quest to reach a second-straight final begins with a round-one match against Hector Arana Sr.

PHOTOS

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The race track was dedicated to Georgia Seipel ahead of on-track action. 

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Clay Millican and team took to the stage before burning Nitro. 

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Big Jim Dunn joined the SealMaster Trackwalk. 

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Ed "The Ace" McCulloch and Big Jim Dunn joined NHRA Announcer Joe Costello on stage as part of the NHRA Legends Tour.

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Tony Schumacher and Brittany Force rocket down the strip. 

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Eddie Krawiec joins the Denso Spark Plugs 200 mph club. 

BRACKETS

Here are the first round pairings and brackets for all four professional categories:

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