MEDLEN USES HOLESHOT START TO EARN FUNNY CAR VICTORY OVER FORCE AT LUCAS OIL NHRA NATIONALS Kalitta, Johnson and Tonglet also win at Brainerd International Raceway BRAINERD, Minn. -- Second-year Funny Car driver Eric Medlen defeated team owner...
MEDLEN USES HOLESHOT START TO EARN FUNNY CAR VICTORY OVER FORCE AT LUCAS OIL NHRA NATIONALS
Kalitta, Johnson and Tonglet also win at Brainerd International Raceway
BRAINERD, Minn. -- Second-year Funny Car driver Eric Medlen defeated team owner John Force, a 13-time world champion and fan-favorite, with a quicker reaction time start at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.
Doug Kalitta, Kurt Johnson, and GT Tonglet also raced to victory in their respective categories at the $1.6 million race, the 16th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade drag racing series' schedule.
Medlen rocketed down the quarter-mile track in 4.826 seconds at 315.42 mph in his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang in the final against Force, who posted a quicker, but losing run of 4.787 in 321.12 in his Castrol GTX Start-Up Mustang. Medlen's quicker reaction time was enough to give the young driver his second victory of the season and third of his career.
"I felt like I was on that Donald Trump show down there because the first thing Force said to me was, 'You're fired!'" Medlen joked. "He said I should be for (staging) deep on him. Heck, he pays me to win so that's what I tried to do. I did everything I could think of, talking on the radio right up until the end, whatever it took. I got the little gold man and that's all that matters."
The runner-up finish ended a four-race string of first-round exits for Force, who cut teammate Robert Hight's series lead to 22. Hight and second-place points-sitter Gary Scelzi both were upset in the first round. Scelzi is 14 points out of the lead. Ron Capps, who advanced to the semifinal in his Brut Dodge Stratus, is 45 out of the lead in fourth place. Medlen's victory put him within striking range of the championship as well, as he is only 107 back in fifth place.
"All three of our Fords are so good right now," said Medlen, who beat Phil Burkart, Tony Pedregon and Capps to advance to the final. "Then you got Scelzi out there and Tommy Johnson Jr. is probably driving better than all of us. It's gonna be a fight all the way to the end. I used to think being the No. 1 qualifier was a jinx but not this time, knock on wood. The class is so tough right now that you get to where you're so happy just to get out of the first round. I know I was today. Anyone can beat you."
Kalitta increased his series points lead in Top Fuel with a personal-best fifth victory of the season. He clocked a 4.593 at 325.92 in his Mac Tools dragster to defeat final round opponent Larry Dixon, whose Miller Light dragster lost traction and coasted to a 6.799 at 119.62.
"What a huge day," said Kalitta, who moved 70 points in front of championship rival Tony Schumacher, whom he defeated in the second round.
"This is exactly the momentum we needed," Kalitta added. "The guys were racing are tough and you have to take advantage of early-round losses by the other people around you in the points. We were able to do that today."
Kalitta also defeated Jack Beckman and Brandon Bernstein in early rounds to claim his 24th career victory.
"Yesterday we really tried to get after it because we wanted to qualify up near the top so we'd have lane choice," Kalitta said. "But we smoked the tires both times and we ended up ninth. I had to beat No. 8 in the first round, Jack Beckman, and then we had Tony. Fortunately for us he had smoked the tires in Round 1 so we had lane choice and we were able to win that race. It was so huge. I know there was a massive oildown in that right lane early in the day but we stayed over on the left side until the final. I guess by then there had been enough runs for it to clean itself up. We didn't really talk about it before the final. Rahn (Tobler, crew chief) just did his job and it worked out for us."
Schumacher's U.S. Army dragster had traction problems in both rounds and he failed to certify his top speed of 337.58 mph for the national record.
Local favorite Johnson drove his ACDelco Chevrolet Cobalt to a run of 6.726 at 204.57 to claim the Pro Stock victory over Greg Stanfield, who posted a 6.778 pass in 203.71 behind the wheel of his Pirana Z Chevrolet Cavalier.
It was the third victory for Johnson in the last five races and it moves him firmly into contention for the POWERade world championship title, 55 points out of the lead.
"I had (my team publicist) look over the stats from the last several years to see the closest I'd been to the points lead coming into this race," Johnson said. "It was 139 points. We arrived here just 94 back so we're already ahead of the game. To gain some more with this win makes it all the more interesting for all of us in the championship chase and for the fans as well.
It was Johnson's 31st victory of his career and the third time that he has won at the track near his native Virginia, Minn. Johnson defeated Kenny Koretsky, Dave Howard and Greg Anderson to advance to the final round.
"It's great to win back home here," Johnson said. "We have lots of friends and family here. I haven't been bit by one mosquito yet so I'm not entirely sure I'm back in Minnesota but that's what they're telling me. The (semifinal) win over Greg (Anderson) was big. I figured he'd run a 6.72 and about the best we could do was a 6.74 so I knew I needed to get three (hundredths of a second) at the Tree. Then I guess he broke so we were able to win anyway. Dad was happy about that one."
Anderson maintained his series lead with the semifinal finish, 49 over second-place driver Warren Johnson, Kurt's father, who also lost in the semifinals.
Tonglet returned to the series points lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a final round victory over Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines teammate Andrew Hines. In a battle of identically-prepared Harley-Davidson V-Rods, Tonglet was quickest with a 7.179 finish at 187.68, while Hines trailed with a 7.268 at 180.62.
"We both said before the final that it would come down to reaction times and that's what happened," said Tonglet, who outran Michael Phillips, Angelle Sampey and Geno Scali to advance to the final. "I'm not sure why he was late. I guess he didn't put it on the chip soon enough. The bottom line is that we each go for the win no matter what."
Tonglet's series lead is slim, a mere six points in front of Hines. Antron Brown is 26 points back in third place on his U.S. Army Suzuki.
"I didn't think I'd get back in the points lead to be honest," Tonglet said. "It's just by a few points now but this was such a huge confidence boost for me that I really feel like we can run for it all now. Last night I knew I had a pretty good shot if I could keep my head together. It all worked out and I'm just so happy right now for the entire team."
The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues with the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, Aug. 19-21 at Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park.