Gainesville: Sunday eliminations report

KALITTA, BAZEMORE, LINE AND JOHNSON EARN VICTORIES AT MAC TOOLS NHRA GATORNATIONALS GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Doug Kalitta raced to the Top Fuel victory Sunday at the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. Whit Bazemore, Jason Line and...

KALITTA, BAZEMORE, LINE AND JOHNSON EARN VICTORIES AT MAC TOOLS NHRA GATORNATIONALS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Doug Kalitta raced to the Top Fuel victory Sunday at the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Whit Bazemore, Jason Line and Steve Johnson also were winners at the $2 million race, the third of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

In a thrilling, tire-smoking finish, Kalitta managed to regain traction in his Mac Tools dragster and cross the finish line just in front of final-round opponent Larry Dixon. Kalitta claimed his 20th career victory by recording a 5.182 at 296.24, while Dixon trailed with a 5.925 at 169.81 in his Miller Lite dragster.

"That was certainly an exciting final," Kalitta said. "(My tires) started spinning at half-track and I could see Larry out there turning sideways and (losing traction) too, so I gave it a hit and it hooked back up. Obviously both teams were trying hard to run a number against the other guy knowing they'd be up for it and it got both of us."

It was Kalitta's second victory at Gainesville and it put him back on the championship track after opening the season with back-to-back first round losses.

"To win this race is phenomenal," said Kalitta, who defeated Doug Herbert, Andrew Cowin and Cory McClenathan to advance to the final-round. "There's so much history with this race. I came here just wondering what it would take to get back in the mix (of the championship chase) and I guess this will go a long way towards helping us out. We moved up to fifth today so that's a start."

Bazemore earned his 18th Funny Car victory when final round opponent Bob Gilbertson fouled at the start in his Prestone/Autolite Chevy Monte Carlo. Bazemore, who clocked a 4.897 at 315.67 in his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus, moved into the series points lead with the victory.

Bazemore, who earned his competition license at this track in 1986, claimed his first victory at the historic quarter-mile dragstrip by beating Cruz Pedregon, top qualifier Robert Hight and teammate Gary Scelzi in earlier rounds.

"This is huge," Bazemore said. "I remember our family driving to Orlando for Thanksgiving with my grandparents when I was 10 years old. On the way home I begged my parent to stop by Gainesville Raceway. I just had to see it. I remember thinking I'd come here and race one day. I took Frank Hawley's (Drag Racing) School here, but to actually win a national event here, the Gatornationals, is incredible. This is a special place for drag racers. This is one of the classics, like Indy or Pomona."

Line beat fellow young gun Dave Connolly to score his fifth Pro Stock victory. Line drove his KB Racing Pontiac Grand Am to a 6.716 at 205.90 to hold off Connolly's Bullet Motorsports Chevy Cavalier, which posted a 6.749 at 205.66.

"It's a tough task to race Dave with a trophy on the line, trust me," Line said. "He's unbelievable on the Tree. I did about the best I can do with a .027 and I made some mistakes shifting, but we ended up with the win. Credit the horsepower the guys gave me today."

Line, a former engine builder on the NASCAR circuit who won the Auto Club Road to the Future Award last year which recognizes NHRA's top rookie performer for the year, said he and team owner Greg Anderson are finally moving in the right direction after a slow start to the 2005 campaign. Anderson, the two-time defending series champion and 2004 Driver of the Year, lost in the second round to Warren Johnson, but earned 20 bonus points for resetting the national elapsed time record ( 6.633 seconds). Anderson also upped the national speed record to 208.23 mph.

"We haven't been happy with our performance this year on either car but we had a great rebound weekend for the whole team," said Line, who defeated Ron Krisher, Richie Stevens and Jim Yates to advance to the final-round. "With Greg setting all the records and being No. 1 and then me winning, the only thing that could have been better was if he was in the other lane in the final. I remember losing here in the semis in 1992 in my Stocker and I was bummed out for weeks. I never thought I'd get that close again."

Johnson became the series points leader for the first time in his career in Pro Stock Motorcycle by earning his second career victory. Johnson raced to a performance of 7.139 at 187.26 on his Snap-on Tools Suzuki to hold off rival Craig Treble's Matco Tools Suzuki, which trailed with a 7.161 at 185.95.

Johnson rolled to easy victories over red-lighting Chip Ellis and Andrew Hines and used a holeshot start to hold off the quicker U.S. Army Suzuki of Antron Brown before using more horsepower to drive around Treble in the final.

"I just found out the POWERade rules have changed; the Motorcycle season is now over and the champion will be crowned Monday," Johnson said jokingly. "This is the Gatornationals. It's our season opener and such a big race. I am thrilled to win it."

The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues with the 18th annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, April 8-10 at Houston Raceway Park.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Andrew Cowin , Ron Krisher , Cruz Pedregon , Craig Treble , Cory McClenathan , Jason Line , Steve Johnson , Chip Ellis , Robert Hight , Dave Connolly