RACING

NHRA Flav-R-Pac Northwest Nationals Sunday News and Notes

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UPDATED THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Low qualifier Breton strength advanced easily over Jim Maroney, putting the event sponsor’s car into lap two with the best run of the weekend and – in the best conditions of the event, a relatively cool 80 degrees – ran a 3.742 which was better than his 3.753 qualifying pass and his speed of 332.43 mph was a new track speed record, beating Steve Torrence’s four-year mark of 331.61. The track and record is 3,685 set by Antron Brown in 2016.

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With No. 10 Clay Millican and No. 11 Antron Brown both retired in the first two pairings of the first round, 12th overall Tony Schumacher has a chance to catch up in an attempt to fight their way into the Top 10 and earn the first light of victory for the Maynard family, who bought the operation right after the Sonoma event.

The eight-time world champion did both, beating Scott Palmer in the first round to take 11th place ahead of Brown. If Schumacher can win the event, he will come within 10 points of Millican.

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Mike SalinasThe star-studded weekend – his Valley Services car only hit the track one of three times tried in qualifying – continued into the first lap when the former points leader had transmission problems and couldn’t to stage. Problems first arose when the car came to a stop midway through its post-burnout backup, and then the transmission found itself in no-man’s land between forward and reverse. Shawn Langdon soloed into the second round with a 3.79.

Salinas entered the race just six points behind Brittany Force, but will now leave at least 35 points behind, possibly more depending on how far Force can go.

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Del Worsham — who won that race in Funny Car in 1999 and in Top Fuel in 2011 — had a tough decision for his driver, Alexis DeJoria: should he take the left lane, a lane he loves because it’s is where he set the stop-track record of 3.832 seconds as a driver in 2016 and where DeJoria ran his No. 2 qualifying 3.994 this year, or, after local Top Fuel favorite Ron Smith, thinned the track with an oil leak in front of them on the first lap of Top Carburant, should we pass to the right?

After seeing two Top Fuel cars and a Funny Car navigate the revamped lane successfully, he put the Bandero Tequila Toyota in the left lane and watched it go 3.964 to beat Jim Campbell.

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the old master, John Force, showcased his veteran riding skills, coasting smoothly through tire smoke at the 330-foot mark to beat Matt Hagan, who dropped a cylinder. The loss — Hagan’s third straight outing in the first round of the Western Swing — leaves Hagan even further behind points leader Robert Hight.

Hagan received a bit of good/bad news as Hight qualified for the second round, but did so by beating third-placed Ron Capps, meaning Hagan will still exit the event in second place.

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Blake Alexanderwho sits 12th in points, lost a golden opportunity to fight his way into the countdown Top 10 after seeing 10th-placed Jim Campbell fall on the first lap and the race absence of the No. 11 Chad Green.

Alexander and owner/tuner Jim Head got almost everything right, posting their best course of the event, a 3.99, but did it alongside JR Todd’s 3.96. With a bye run in the semis, if he could have beaten Bob Tasca III in the second round, he would have passed Campbell.

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How did the cool weather on Sunday morning affect performance? In Top Fuel qualifying, contested in an average temperature of 90 degrees, only Brittany Force ran in the 3.7 second zone. In Top Fuel’s first lap, nine runs of 3.7 seconds — including his lowest and 3.74 — were recorded.

In Funny Car, where just three three-second runs were recorded in qualifying, five of 12 drivers made a pass in under four seconds, including Robert Hight, whose 3.91 was half a tenth faster than Bob Tasca III’s qualifying 3.96.

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It was a mixed bag for the Cuadra family in round one, where they had races in back-to-back pairs. First-round losses to 10th-placed Bob Butner and 11th-placed Deric Kramer opened the door to Fernando Cuadra Jr. to crack the Top 10. Cuadra rounded Butner’s 0.004-second reaction time to advance, but will need to beat weak qualifier Greg Anderson on the second lap to advance to 10th place.

Cuadra’s brother Cristian, a finalist earlier this year in Las Vegas, threw low and run, a 6.600, with a red light of -.097 against Camrie Caruso. Their father, Fernando Cuadra Sr., scared Troy Coughlin Jr. in the next pair with a close run he lost by just 0.007 seconds when Coughlin reset the low etto 6.598.

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The McGaha family’s cursed weekend ended in the first round, but at least on a high note. Patriarch Chris couldn’t get his Harlow Sammons Camaro down on any of his three passes – 8.03, 7.61 and 17.39 – but made a decent pass of 6.67 against Erica’s new low Enders and the pass of 6.593. Mason McGaha, who only hit the track once in qualifying with a 6.71, clawed back nearly a tenth of a second and, thanks to a holeshot, came just 0.002 seconds from upsetting Aaron Stanfield.

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Tony SchumacherTop Fuel’s all-time leader * 85 wins), hasn’t won a race since the 2020 event in Houston, but is in the semis for only the second time this season after beating Shawn Langdon on a hole, 3.82 to 3.79.

It’s a welcome turnaround for Schumacher who had lost in the first round five straight going into this event.

***

If you can’t sweep the Western Swing – and no one will this year – the best thing to do is go two for three, and the two previous Western Swing winners – champion Denver Lea Prutt and Sonoma titlist Brittany Force — will square off in the semifinals, where Force will have a choice of lane based on their superior winning time, 3.79 over Josh Hart to Pruett’s 3.81 over Doug Kalitta.

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After disappointing outings from Kalitta Motorsports Top Fuel teammates Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon just ahead of him on lap two, JR Todd will have a chance to save the weekend for the team as their second-round victory over low qualifier Bob Tasca III earned them a bye to the final round.

“It all started to fall into place for us in the third quarter and the first round,” Todd said. “Jim [Oberhofer] and Todd [Smith] they just take it. Hopefully we can have a good test run in the exemption race and see what we have for these JFR cars in the final.”

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The “JFR cars” Todd refers to top the points Robert Hight and defending event champion John Force, who each won their second-round matches — Hight over Alexis DeJoria and Force over Tim Wilkerson — and both sported a power of 3.9 seconds, with Hight slightly faster, 3.960 to 3.965 for channel selection.

The only time Force beat Hight in four tries this season was in the final round of the four-man event in Charlotte. Hight won their last meeting, in the semi-finals of the Mile-High Nationals, which he went on to win.

***

As the temperature begins to warm up, its effect on the Pro Stock cars was noticeable as round winners Troy Coughlin Jr. slowed two hundredths and Aaron Stanfield slowed four hundredths, but don’t tell to leaders. Greg Anderson and Erica Enders, who nearly tied their first lap times

Anderson ran faster than his first lap time (6.598 to 6.599) while Enders was a thousand times slower (6.594 to 6.593).

Anderson will face Coughlin in the semi-finals while Enders will face teammate Aaron Stanfield for the seventh time this season, having won six of their previous clashes.

***

Seattle fans applaud the efforts of Top Sportsman rider Joe Mellof, who rebounded from a quarter-final crash in Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers to reach the final round. Mellof had just beaten Bryan Warr in the semi-finals when his car spun out of control, crossed the center line and slammed into the opposite lane guard wall. Luckily for Mellof, he had a semi-final bye and was able to repair the damage to his car to advance.

***

Brittany Force and Leah Pruett went head-to-head for the first time this year – they had raced in both four-man events – and this one went the same way as the four, with Force leading the way at the finish line after Pruett’s Sparkling Ice dragster inflated the tire 300 feet into the race.

Force will have the choice of lane over Tony Schumacher after a savage battle between the eight-time world champion and Justin Ashley. Both riders hit the tires early, but Schumacher quickly pedaled up and started as Ashley’s Phillips Connect dragster spun into its lane before finally crossing the center line.

Of Schumacher’s eight wins this season, three have come against Ashley.

***

Robert Hight will have a choice of lane for the final round as he tries to win his second Western Swing race in three events. The Denver champ beat boss John Fore with a 3.97 while JR Todd ran a solid 3.98 in his exemption race in the DHL Toyota. Hight also hopes to double up with Top Fuel teammate Brittany Force, as they did earlier this year in Richmond.

***

Troy Coughlin Jr. will have a shot at winning his first Pro Stock Wally after upsetting weak qualifier Greg Anderson, who shook the tires at him. Coughlin, an eight-time winner in the NHRA sport racing ranks, made three Pro Stock finals but was disallowed each time.

To do so this time, he will only have to beat the points leader and dominator of the season Erica Enders, who will have the choice of lane thanks to her 6l64 victory over Aaron Stanfield. Interestingly, Enders’ red Camaro had been lined up in the left lane behind Anderson until he shook the tires, after which they moved to the right lane.

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