Steve Torrence was saluted during the pre-race ceremony to honor his 50th career win, which took place last weekend in Sonoma. Torrence’s Top Fuel victory there was his 46th to go with four wins in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, which Torrence did not realize counted towards his win totals. When NHRA officials tried to present him with the traditional 50-wins sign at the top end in Sonoma, he refused it, thinking the count was wrong.
“They handed me the sign and I looked at the guy and I go, ‘Hey, man, that’s only 46; we haven’t made it there yet,’ and nobody said anything to me and we just went on and did our deal. And then Monday I got a call that they count alcohol, so, sorry, I made everybody look like an idiot, including myself on TV.
“It’s been an amazing ride for the last three, four years and to be out here and have these Capco boys behind me it’s unbelievable. I mean 50 wins? There are guys that race out here forever that try to get one and so to be to be at this milestone in my career is just humbling.”
Torrence, of course, was trying to add No. 51 today and sweep the Western Swing, but he smoked the tires at 330 feet against good buddy Antron Brown in round one. Brown remains the last driver to sweep the Swing, doing it way back in 2009.
Track temp for the start of final elimination was just 115 degrees, down a ton from the 150-degree highs of Friday and Saturday, but eliminations nonetheless got off to a rocky start when both Clay Millican and Doug Kalitta oiled the track in their first-round battle, continuing a frustrating trend for both, who are the most penalized drivers in the class for oildown violations this season.
Kalitta, who sits a disappointing eighth in the standings, has forfeited 105 points over eight oildowns; without those, he’d be in fourth place. Millican, meanwhile, has oiled the track six times and had to give back 75 points and he’d be eighth instead of 10th and fighting to hold onto the last berth in the Countdown.
Millican got the win here to give him back 20 of those points and move him into the second round, where he will take on Mike Salinas.
Top Fuel qualifier Brittany Force and crew chief Dave Grubnic lost their crucial Q2 run Saturday –- the one pass of qualifying where the cars ran in the daytime that would have given them crucial data for today –- when the safety-shutoff system malfunctioned.
So with a bye run in round one for the short field and a chance to test any combination, what did Grubnic do? He went right back to the tune-up he had planned for yesterday and the Flav-R-Pac car breezed to a 3.843 to advance.
Buddy Hull surprised a lot of people Friday by having the third-best qualifying run and ultimately ended up qualified eighth with the Terry Haddock Racing/Circle Racing Wheels machine, but his hopes of a round win against Justin Ashley literally went up in flames in round one.
Leah Pruett wasn’t able to hold on to the No. 1 qualifying spot she grabbed Friday but by finishing No. 2 she earned something just as valuable, a second-round bye after defeating Steve Chrisman in round one. Pruett is coming off a runner-up last weekend in Sonoma and she’s already back into at least the semifinals.
Matt Hagan exchanged some angry words with John Force after their first-round race, where Force turned on the win light ahead of the reigning world champ by just .006-second. Hagan apparently was not happy with Force’s staging procedures (Force was trying to deep stage, but rolled in and accidentally lit both stage bulbs ahead of Hagan), and reportedly told Force at the other end, “What was that about? You’re a better driver than that,” to which Force reminded him needs to do whatever it takes to turn on the win light against his younger (and, he says, better) opponents and earn the points he needs toward a 17th championship.
Track temperature for the start of Funny Car had already reached 131 degrees, 16 degrees higher than at the start of Top Fuel.
Jim Campbell took down No. 3 qualifier Blake Alexander in the first round of Funny Car, powering Jim Dunn’s Mooneyes machine to a 4.22 to earn the team its first round-win of the season.
They’ll take on Alexis DeJoria in round two and will have lane choice after DeJoria dropped a cylinder early and shut off on her bye run, a single pass she took after Jason Rupert was unable to repair damage from a blower explosion in qualifying.
Ron Capps was the low qualifier, having made it down the track on two of three runs, and he’s looking for the first win with new crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and John Medlen. His 4.02 in round one to beat Bobby Bode was low e.t. of the round.
Capps told the media yesterday, “I feel like I’ve been saying our win’s coming. I’ve been saying that for a while now and almost feel like I’m jinxing us a little bit, but it it’s just such a great team. And we’re accumulating these Camping World points really quickly with consistency. But we’re also going up there and laying down great numbers to get these [low qualifier] hats, so that’s got to come together. And we’ve lost these close races of Hights and Hagans and guys that you’re going to battle for championships right here in November. So yeah, it’s coming. And I’m comfortable. I’m very comfortable, as you know, completely different car and I’m getting used to it, but I’m comfortable with them and the calls that they make, and I’m enjoying it. I’m having fun with it right now.”
Pro Stock low qualifier Greg Anderson had the benefit of a bye run in round one, but offered plenty of insight last night into what might be in store in the class today.
“You’re gonna see a lot of a lot of crazy stuff happen [Sunday],” he said. “It’s gonna be a little bit unpredictable. You’re going to have cars have trouble managing that racetrack. So we need to be one of the ones that doesn’t have that problem. It’ll be all we can do, It’ll be very hard to make quality runs, but that’s what it’s going to take to win this race. It’s going to be the toughest challenge we’ve had all year. No question about that. But I’d like that, I’m looking forward to it. And, you know, just gonna have to find a way to beat the heat as they say
“Every run will not be the same; they’ll change every round. You’ll start at 11 o’clock in the morning, and the racetrack will not be so bad at all. And then it will progressively get worse each run. So you’re gonna have to make major changes every round.”
Asked about the insurgence of young guns like Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky, Mason McGaha, and Troy Coughlin Jr., and how he thinks they’ll fare under the tricky conditions, Anderson minced no words Saturday night.
“I think it gives them an advantage in their head, no question about that; they’re not scared of anything. I know better,” he said. “I know what can happen in conditions like this; you can make it a foot or you can make it 1,320. Sometimes it’s better off not knowing all that stuff. Sometimes you’re better off knowing, and I know what can happen. So, if we have a problem, you have to be ready to pedal the car, get back in it, and find a way to make it down the racetrack. Not sure some of these young cats that think nothing can ever go wrong, and everything’s gonna be perfect, will be ready for that. I would definitely much rather be the experienced driver in those conditions.”
Anderson had low e.t. of round one with a 6.606, showing that his HendrickCars.com Camaro will be tough today.
Pro Stock Motorcycle low qualifier Matt Smith feels like the Buells like his Denso entry definitely have an advantage over their Suzuki counterparts when the track gets tricky.
“We can change our gear ratios,” he said. “The Suzuki’s really can’t easily do that, they don’t have that option to do that, because they have to take the motor out of the bike, flip it upside down to take the transmission out. We have a cassette-style transmission so we can pull it out and in between runs. I’ve changed ratios to compensate for the bad track and bad air and seems to be working pretty good. We’ve been 1.06 every time to 60 feet.
I think it’s gonna be hot and crappy and you know, the track will be 140 degrees. We’re just gonna try to be conservative, and let the bike do the work. As long as I do my job on the Tree and go .030 to .040 to .050 every time, I think we’ll turn on lights and have a chance of winning this race.
Sonoma Pro Stock Motorcycle runner-up Andrew Hines’ hopes of making another trip to the final round this weekend ended early when his Vance & Hines Buell balked after fire-up. The team got the bike relit but it was clear that it was only running on one of its two cylinders.
Predictably, when Hines left the clutch out against underdog Fred Camarena, the bike went nowhere, giving part-time pilot Camarena his first round win since 2014. Moments later, Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec, made sure that Karen Stoffer, who beat Hines in that Sonoma final, also wouldn’t get a return, eking out a win by just .003-second against her.
The track temperature for the start of the second round of Top Fuel was 141 degrees, up 26 from the first round, but Justin Ashley’s Mike-Green-tuned Smart Sanitizer machine nearly matched its first-round 3.907 with a 3.912 to defeat low qualifier Brittany Force, who lost a cylinder and the race in her Flav-R-Pac entry. It’s Ashley’s first semifinal appearance since the season opener in Gainesville.
With the track heating up, the Funny Cars were tip-toeing down the track but the racing was incredibly close. J.R. Todd and Robert Hight both ran 4.192, but Todd got the win light on a holeshot. John Force beat Cruz Pedregon. 4.35 to 4.36, after both cars lost traction past halftrack. Force smoked first but, seeing Pedregon in a similar predicament, astutely got back on the gas to take the win.
Ron Capps had low e.t. with a 4.15 after points leader Bob Tasca III had to lift and pedal his way to a 4.27, and Capps will take on Force in a battle of the class’ two most experienced racers, which may be interesting if they get into a pedalfest. The shocker came in the final pair of the session where Campbell upset Alexis DeJoria to make it to the Dunn team’s first semifinal since the 2017 Denver race.
Pro Stock was feature super close racing in round two. Sonoma winner Aaron Stanfield ran 6.673 to beat Matt Hartford, Erica Enders ran a matching 6.673 to beat Elite teammate Aaron Strong’s 6.679, and Kenny Koretsky beat Troy Coughlin Jr. on a holeshot with a 6.665. Anderson again was the outlier, running 6.648 to advance to the semifinals over Chris McGaha.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle semifinals will feature a pair of teammate battles, with Matt Smith taking on Scotty Pollacheck and Angelle Sampey facing off with Vance & Hines squadmate Eddie Krawiec. Smith had the best run of the round. 6,838, but Sampey wasn’t far behind with a 6.843, making them the prohibitive favorites to reach the final round.
Kyle Rizzoli will have the chance to become the 29th driver in NHRA history to score two wins at a national event as he will be in the final rounds of both Stock and Super Stock. He beat Justin Jerome in the Stock semifinals and will take on Brian McClanahan in the final and had a bye run in the Super Stock semifinals and will run Jimmy DeFrank in that final.
The double-up feat has been accomplished 42 times, most recently by Aaron Stanfield in winning Pro Stock and Factory Stock last October in Houston.
Justin Ashley will get the chance to run for his second Top Fuel Wally and Leah Pruett will get her chance for the second weekend in a row to add another to her collection.
Ashley defeated Antron Brown, 3.94 to 4.02, to reach his first final round since last year’s special Indy events -– ironically, the event was also sponsored by Lucas Oil and known as the Summernationals –- while Pruett, who lost to Steve Torrence in the final round last weekend in Sonoma, will get the shot at her ninth Top Fuel Wally and 15th overall after defeating blower-banging Mike Salinas with a 3.92 to earn her lane choice.
The Funny Car final will be a rematch of last year’s U.S. Nationals battle where Ron Capps defeated J.R. Todd for the win.
Capps, whose most recent win came last October in Houston, will have final-round lane choice after a 4.158 to defeat cylinder-dropping John Force while Todd, a winner earlier this year in Gainesville where he beat Robert Hight in the final, ended Jim Campbell’s Cinderella day with a 4.29 in a race in which both cars suffered dropped cylinders.
Greg Anderson will get a chance to tie Warren Johnson as Pro Stock’s winningest driver as he reached his 163rd final by besting Kyle Koretsky. Anderson will be shooting for his 97th career win to tie W.J.
Aaron Stanfield, who stopped Anderson from winning No. 97 in the final in Norwalk will get the chance to do it again and the opportunity to go back-to-back in Pro Stock after reaching his second straight final round. Stanfield, winner last weekend in Sonoma, defeated Erica Enders in a so-close match, leaving on her by just .006-second (.048 to .054) and outrunning her 6.684 to 6.866 for a true-win margin of .008-second, the exact same margin that Enders beat Aaron Strong the round before.
Low qualifier Matt Smith will line up for a chance to win his fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle Wally of the season and expand his points lead when he faces Angelle Sampey in the final round. Smith beat teammate Scotty Pollacheck with a 6.91 to advance to the money round.
Sampey, whose last win was a big one, at the U.S. Nationals last year, will be competing in her 75th career final and will have lane choice after a 6.87 conquest of teammate Eddie Krawiec. She’ll be gunning for her 44th career win.
CAMPING WORLD SERIES FINAL-ROUND RESULTS
Top Fuel: Leah Pruett completes comeback with first 2021 Top Fuel win at home track
Funny Car: Consistent Ron Capps nabs fourth Winternats Funny Car crown, points lead
Pro Stock: Aaron Stanfield denies Greg Anderson history with second straight Pro Stock win
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Matt Smith dominates again to become first Winternationals PSM champion
LUCAS OIL SERIES FINAL-ROUND RESULTS
Top Alcohol Dragster
Shawn Cowie, 5.325, 274.39 def. Joey Severance, 5.726, 195.96.
Top Alcohol Funny Car
Terry Ruckman, Chevy Camaro, 5.724, 262.23 def. Brian Hough, Camaro, 5.712, 260.41.
Tibor Kadar, Chevy Cobalt, 8.174, 165.97 def. Joe Mozeris, Dragster, 7.098, 183.37.
Jimmy DeFrank, Chevy Cobalt, 9.006, 151.05 def. Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 9.747, 134.71.
Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 10.249, 126.99 def. Brian McClanahan, Camaro, 9.900, 131.01.
Nick Cobb, Dragster, 8.906, 172.83 def. Ryan Hansen, Dragster, 8.894, 173.14.
Mike Wiblishouser, Chevy Corvette, 10.025, 149.46 def. Larry Bradshaw, Corvette, 9.902, 164.55.
Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers
Richard Okerman, Chevy Beretta, 7.332, 166.66 def. Phil Miller, Chevy S-10, 7.662, 153.60.
Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers
Paul Nero, Dragster, 7.141, 187.00 def. Mike Mendenhall, Dragster, 6.407, 216.24.