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Sunday News and Notes from the Auto Club NHRA Finals

News, notes, quotes, photos, and videos from final eliminations at the Auto Club NHAR FInals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Updated throughout the day.
13 Nov 2022
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage

 

UPDATED THROUGHOUT THE DAY

The first-round battle between Clay Millican and Tony Schumacher may have seemed inconsequential in light of the fie-way championship battle of which neither are a part, but the duo were battling for other prestige, for the final spot in the Top10 in points.

Millican came into the round in 10th with a 41-point lead, then beat tire-smoking Schumacher to pretty much solidify his finish in the Top 10.

For Schumacher, who will finish12th, it’s the first time that the eight-time world champ has finished outside the Top 10 after a full campaign since 1999, a span of 21 seasons (discounting 2021, when he did not compete).

***

Leah Pruett, who had one of her best qualifying efforts of the season, escaped to round two after a wild battle with Alex Laughlin. Laughlin’s Havoline dragster smoked the tires early, Pruett further downtrack, and both exploded blowers, Pruett in spectacular fashion, but Pruett got the win light and passed Schumacher for 11th place. She still has a chance to put the Tony Stewart Racing/Dodge Power Brokers team into the Top 10 and could face Millican in the semifinals.

***

After seeing both Alex Laughlin and Doug Kalitta smoke the tires in front of them in the right lane, crew chief David Grubnic didn’t flinch and kept Brittany Force in the late lane, and was rewarded with a 3.70 victory over Steve Chrisman.

Force’s victory eliminated both Antron Brown and Steve Torrence from the championship hunt. For Torrence’s it’s the end of a dominant monopoly of the class that spanned the last four seasons.

***

One pair after Force's solid run, Mike Salinas, who also stayed in the right lane, smoked the tires and was eliminated from the championship battle, leaving just Justin Ashley and Force. Salinas' loss was emotional for both he and the driver who beat him, Krista Baldwin, who is driving a car with a throwback paint scheme to the car that her late father, Bobby, used to run in the 1990s and with her father's former crew chief, Scott Graham, tuning,

***

The upsets continued to Top Fuel as Ron August took down outgoing world champ Steve Torrence with a 3.903. It was the first career round win in Top Fuel for August, who drove Top Alcohol Funny Car from 1995-2010 before coming to Top Fuel and scored a national event win in the class in Las Vegas in 2006 and licensing in Top Fuel in 2009.

August, who was the 1993 NHRA Division 7 champion in Super Eliminator (precursor to Top Dragster), will take on Antron Brown in round two,

***

The Top Fuel championship battle, which was expected to last week into the day, ended with round one as Justin Ashey smoked the tires early and fell to Antron Brown, locking Brittany Force into her second world championship.

***

Top Fuel second-round pairings (lane choice first): Brittany Force vs. Clay Millican; Austin Prock vs. Leah Pruett; Antron Brown vs. Ron August Jr.; Josh Hart vs. Krista Baldwin

***

The wild, upset-filled first round continued in Funny Car where Matt Hagan smoked the tires a few hundred feet out against Steven Densham, and then got sideways, surrendering the round and his hopes of another championship. The title battle is now down to Robert Hight and Ron Capps.

***

It’s been quite an event for Cruz Pedregon, who in qualifying ran better than his incoming previous career best of 3.861 with four straight 3.84s:  3.840, 3.840, 3.849, 3.847, and 3.841. Only two other drivers — Bob Tasca III and Tim Wilkerson — were in the threes on all four qualifying runs.

the Cruzer made another strong run in round one, a 3.862 to defeat Jason Rupert.

***

Unlike the Top Fuel battle, the Funny Car championship race will move into at least the second round as Ron Capps beat Jeff Arend and points leader Robert Hight took down Chad Green.

Capps will take on Wilkersonin round two while Hight will face off against Bob Tasca III. Both have lane choice.

Capps and Hight could meet in the semifinals where a victory by Capps and then a win in the final round would make Capps a back-to-back champion, the first in the class in 20 years. If Hight wins that potential round, he’s a four-time world champion.

***

Funny Car second-round pairings (lane choice first): Ron Capps vs. Tim Wilkerson; Robert Hight vs. Bob Tasca III; Cruz Pedregon vs. John Force; Alexis DeJoria vs. Steven Densham

***

Erica Enders clinched the Pro Stock title two weeks ago in Las Vegas and that might be a good thing since the Elite team has struggled this weekend in Pomona. Enders is qualified in the bottom half of the field for the first time since the 2021 Spring Las Vegas race, but she managed to survive round one with her best run of the weekend with a 6.520 to defeat Mason McGaha, whose season ended when he shook the tires off the starting line. Enders still has a chance to win five of six races during the Countdown, nearly duplicating Steve Torrence’s memorable six-race sweep in Top Fuel.

 ***

Cristian Cuadra picked up a round win on a single run after Kyle Koretsky’s Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro would not start. Koretsky’s KB led team worked hard to rectify what appeared to be a fuel-related issue but were not able to get the car to fire before time ran out. Korestsky’s mission going into Pomona was not only to win his first race of the season, but also to prevent the Elite team from what now appears to be an inevitable 1-2-3 finish. Cuadra would have been tough to beat regardless with a competitive 6.559 in his Corral Boots Mustang. Cuadra will now race his father, Fernando Sr., in round two.

***

What’s a Pro Stock round without a holeshot victory? Matt Hartford did the deed this time when he wheeled his Total Seal Camaro to a 6.596 to 6.549 win over Deric Kramer. Neither driver was particularly impressive off the starting line, but Hartford gained what he needed to claim a .003-second decision. Hartford was able to pass Dallas Glenn for sixth place with the win.

***

There is no championship drama left in Pro Stock, but there is an Auto Club NHRA Finals Wally trophy to be won and one of the early favorites is low qualifier Troy Coughlin Jr., who easily defeated Shane Tucker to close out round one. Tucker left first, but got loose and hit a timing block at the 1,000 foot mark. Coughlin’s JEGS.com Camaro has been quick all weekend, and he was also strong in round one with a 6.518, the best pass of the round. Coughlin will face a tough test in round two when he races teammate Erica Enders, but he’ll have lane choice.

***

Pro Stock second-round pairings (lane choice first): Fernando Cuadra Sr. vs. Cristian Cuadra; Aaron Stanfield vs. Matt Hartford; Greg Anderson vs. Bo Butner;  Troy Coughlin Jr. vs. Erica Enders

***

Marc Ingwersen’s breakout season continued in Pomona when he easily dispatched rookie Gaige Herrera in round one. Ingwersen left cleanly with a .013 light and then wheeled his Buell to a competitive 6.849 to advance where he will face newly-crowned world champ Matt Smith in the quarterfinals.

***

Angie Smith knew coming into Pomona that she had a bike capable of winning this race and she reaffirmed that in round one with an easy 6.75 win against Fred Camarena. Smith also topped 202-mph on her Denso Buell.

***

Hector Arana Jr’s win streak ended at eight rounds after he lost to championship contender Joey Gladstone in round one. Arana Jr., winner of the Dallas and Las Vegas races, struggled all weekend with his GETTRX Buell and was easy pickings for Gladstone, who was solid with a 6.765.

***

Matt Smith put the wraps on his sixth NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship when he defeated his old rival, Michael Phillips in round one. Phillips hinted that he might play some starting line games in order to get the edge on his much quicker rival, but they both played it straight and Smith rolled to a 6.770 to put his name in the history books alongside fellow six-time champs Dave Schultz and Andrew Hines.

***

Pro Stock Motorcycle second-round pairings (lane choice first): Joey Gladstone vs. Karen Stoffer; Angie Smith vs. Jerry Savoie; Angelle Sampey vs. Steve Johnson;  Matt Smith

***

Josh Hart, who entered the event on a disappointing streak of first-round losses in Dallas and Las Vegas, put the R+L Carriers dragster into the semifinals for the fifth time this season after defeating Krista Baldwin with a 3.746 to kick off round two of Top Fuel.

Hart, who went to the final round in St. Louis and Norwalk earlier this season, will be shooting for his first win of the year after winning twice in his rookie campaign in 2021.

***

Antron Brown, whose first-round victory over Justin Ashley eliminated the second-place driver from the championship battle, now has a chance to overtake Ashley and finish in second place behind Brittany Force.

Brown raced to a 3.80 to defeat underdog Ron August Jr. and moved past Mike Salinas into third place. A semifinal victory would give him second place, but he’ll have to beat Josh Hart to do it.

***

New world champ Brittany Force and crew chief David Grubnic haven't taken their foot off the gas, running low e..t of round two with a 3.687. They'll take on teammate Austin Prock, who ran 3.703 to trailer Leah Pruett.

***

Top Fuel semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Brittany Force vs. Austin Prock; Josh Hart vs. Antron Brown

***

The 118th meeting between John Force and Cruz Pedregon was a thriller as Force’s Peak Chevy blew the body off a couple of hundred feet into the round, giving Cruz just his 38th victory over the GOAT in their long careers. Pedregon take on Alexis DeJoria, who defeated Steven Densham in their second-round race.

***

After Ron Capps kept his championship dreams alive by beating Tim Wilkerson, jaws dropped across the track when Funny car points leader Robert Hight smoked the tires early into his second-round race with Bob Tasca III, opening the door for Capps to win the championship.

If Capps defeats Tasca in the semifinals, he'll become the first back-to-back Funny Car champ since John Force in 2001-02.

"We just need to keep doing what we're doing," said Capps. "We need to stay calm. if we can't win a round against Tim Wim Wilkerson at Pomona Raceway, we don't deserve it. These are the moments you dream about."

A disappointed Hight remarked, "I'm a big Bob Tasca fan now, He told me [before the round[ that if he beats me he's going to keep winning, so I hope he does."

***

Funny Car semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Ron Capps vs. Bob Tasca III; Cruz Pedregon vs. Alexis DeJoria

***

Father usually knows best, and that held true during the round two Pro Stock race featuring Fernando Cuadra Sr. and his son, Cristian. The two Corral Boots entries put on a good show, but Fernando Sr.  prevailed to reach the semifinal round for the first time this year and third time in his career. The elder Cuadra gave up a lead at the start, but Cristian’s car made a less than perfectly straight run and slowed to a 6.624, allowing dad to take the win with a 6.565.  Cristian kicked off the Countdown to the Championship in the No. 13 spot but has climbed to No. 8 after his recent success.

***

The best race of the round was easily Greg Anderson’s 6.537 to 6.539 race against former teammate Bo Butner but what most fans will remember is the drama that followed after the finish line. The parachute in Anderson’s HendrickCars.com Camaro didn’t deploy and he appeared headed for a sure trip into the Pomona sand trap. Anderson, being the veteran that he is, was able to get the car stopped just at the edge of the sand trap, avoiding what could have been a disaster in the final event for team owner and founder Ken Black.

“Well, the fans wanted action, and we gave it to them,” Anderson said. “In these deals you just can’t panic. That’s the bottom line. When the car starts bouncing, you have to let up on the brakes. If you end up in kitty litter it won’t hurt too much. It’s better than getting into the wall. The bottom line is that we got the win. This is all about Ken Black and getting him a trophy.”

***

Pro Stock semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Erica Enders vs. Aaron Stanfield; Greg Anderson vs. Fernando Cuadra Sr.

***

Angelle Sampey’s dreadful season continued with another red-light start that sent Steve Johnson to the semifinals. Sampey was the low qualifier in Pomona and had arguably the best bike, but fouled by five hundredths. Sampey has now fouled out five times in 16 races. As for Johnson, he got the win, but reportedly wounded an engine in the process.  That will make for a lot of work as he prepares for his semifinal race against Angie Smith.

***

Matt Smith didn’t need much luck to win the championship, but he got a bit of it in his quarterfinal race against Marc Ingwersen, who fouled out early. Smith was late off the starting line and also made his slowest run of the weekend with a 6.91. Smith will now race against Joey Gladstone, who is fighting to hold on to second place in the Camping World standings.

***

Pro Stock Motorcycle semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Angie Smith vs. Steve Johnson; Joey Gladstone vs. Matt Smith

***

Antron Brown will finish second in points in his first year as a team owner, sealing the spot with a semifinal holeshot win over Josh Hart that was decided by less than .001-second. Brown left first, .051 to .061, but Hart ran quicker, 3.717 to 3.725 for a near-dead-heat.

***

Brown will take on Austin Prock, who made the ninth-quickest run in class history, a career-best 3.642, to beat his teammate, newly crowned world champ Brittany Force, who lost with a stout 3.676 in the quickest side-by-side race in NHRA history. 

Force was on the winning end of the previous best side-by-side race when he 3.674 beat Antron Brown's 3.677 five years ago at this event.

***

Cruz Pedregon, who hadn’t been to the semifinals since the season opener here, will now get a chance to collect his 39th career win after defeating Alexis DeJoria in the semifinals. Pedregon’s; long run today boosted him from ninth lace to sixth,

***

In a pressure-packed round, Ron Capps defeated Bob Tasca III to take over the points lead from Robert Hight, who lost a round earlier. Capps’ lead is now three points but he was not crowned the champion as the thin potential of a final-round centerline violation looms, a miscue that would cost Capps five points and make Hight the champion by default.

***

Erica Enders and Greg Anderson, who have combined to win 10 Pro Stock world championships, will race in the final Pro Stock round of the 2022 season. Enders, who locked up her fifth title two weeks ago in Las Vegas, will have a chance to win her 11th race of the season after defeating Elite teammate Aaron Stanfield in the semifinal round. Enders earned lane choice with a 6.537 in her Elite Camaro. Enders will be racing in her 76th career final.

Anderson, in search of his 101st career win, took care of business with a 6.546 against Fernando Cuadra Sr., who red-lighted in his Corral Boots Camaro. Anderson is looking to win a final event for his team owner, Ken Black, who recently announced his retirement after more than 20 years and well over 150 race wins. Anderson has lost to Enders all four times they’ve raced this season. Anderson can also move to second place in the Camping World standings should he win the final.

***

Joey Gladstone gained a small measure of revenge when he defeated newly-crowned six-time champion Matt Smith in the Pro Stock Motorcycle semifinals. Gladstone locked up second place in the standings following a close win over Smith’s Denso Buell. Both riders ran 6.757 but Gladstone was a touch quicker (.025 to .039) off the starting line. Gladstone will now face Angie Smith in the final round in a battle of riders who are seeking their third NHRA national event wins.

Angie Smith got a single into her fifth career final after Steve Johnson’s Suzuki broke on the burnout and he was unable to make the run. Smith would have been a tough out with a solid 6.794 on her Denso Buell.

LUCAS OIL SPORTSMAN RESULTS

TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER
Taylor Vetter def. Joey Severance

TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
Sean Bellemeur def. Doug Gordon

COMP
Allen Wilson def. Ryan Piddy

SUPER STOCK
Jimmy Hidalgo Jr. def. Tim Seymour

STOCK
Ryan Mangus def. Chris Hall

SUPER COMP
Jerron Settles def. Angelina Ferre

SUPER GAS
*Bob Locke def. Brian Prezler
(Locke wins world championship with win)

TOP SPORTSMAN presented by Vortech Superchargers
Lance Abbott def. Vince Hoda

TOP DRAGSTER presented by Vortech Superchargers
Al Kenny def. Dylan Hough