Norwalk: Sunday eliminations report

HOMETOWN DRIVER CONNOLLY DRIVES TO WIN WHILE ASHLEY, SCHUMACHER, HINES EARN TITLES IN NORWALK NORWALK, Ohio - Funny Car racer Mike Ashley figured out the perfect way to get over his streak of two DNQs in a row by winning ...

HOMETOWN DRIVER CONNOLLY DRIVES TO WIN WHILE ASHLEY, SCHUMACHER, HINES EARN TITLES IN NORWALK

NORWALK, Ohio - Funny Car racer Mike Ashley figured out the perfect way to get over his streak of two DNQs in a row by winning the inaugural Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals Sunday at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.

Defending series Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher also erased a downturn in his recent performances with a victory over current points leader "Hot Rod" Fuller, while Dave Connolly and Andrew Hines won in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively.

Ashley's report card from the last four races now shows a pair of wins and a pair of DNQs for his Torco/Skull Gear Dodge Charger. His victory Sunday denied final-round opponent Kenny Bernstein the chance to claim his first Funny Car win in 18 years.

Bernstein, who drove Top Fuel dragsters from 1990-2003 and returned to Funny Car this season with backing from Monster Energy Drink, got a big jump on Ashley in the final, leaving with a .059-second reaction time to Ashley's .097-second start. But Bernstein was soon lost in a cloud of smoke, which allowed Ashley to streak by for a 4.823-second, 321-88-mph victory.

"I told the team this morning to just forget about the last two races and pretend we were coming in here off that Topeka win," said Ashley, who earned his second career win. "Racing Kenny Bernstein, the ultimate professional, in the final was a real honor."

Ashley's win lifted him two slots in the points. He's now just one point behind third-place racer Tony Pedregon. Ashley had the quickest car in three of four rounds Sunday. Bernstein was the quickest in the quarterfinals.

Everyone gained on points leader Ron Capps, who lost in the first round for the second race in a row. He now leads Robert Hight by 98 points.

Schumacher was an afterthought at the start of the day after qualifying in the No. 14 position, but his U.S. Army dragster came to life in the Ohio heat and he punched his way past Brandon Bernstein, J.R. Todd, Whit Bazemore, and Fuller.

The final against Fuller was a classic run by crew chief Alan Johnson, who dug deep into his bag of tricks to tune his man to an otherworldly 4.537 at 322.04 mph. For the second round in a row, Fuller had to pedal his unsponsored rail to get down the track, only this time it was far too late as Schumacher pulled away for the win.

"Doug Kalitta is a competitor of mine and I need to beat him because that's my job, but I was kind of pulling for the guy today," said Schumacher of his 37th career win. "He's part of our family out here and he lost his dad this week so we're all hurting for him. I wanted to race him in the final so I could be the first one to either congratulate him or give him the trophy because this one belongs to him. I will present it to him as soon as I get the chance."

Despite his runner-up finish, Fuller extended his lead in the POWERade points to 98 markers over Larry Dixon. Schumacher stayed fifth overall but is now just 33 points out of second place. Bernstein and Dixon both lost in Round 1, while Todd lost in the quarterfinals.

Local hero Connolly's win over Morgan was the biggest crowd pleaser as his legion of supporters roared their approval of his 11th career win from the capacity grandstands. Morgan left first by a tenth of a second but Connolly had him reeled in very soon thereafter and simply drove away for an easy 6.660 win at 207.11 mph in his Torco Cobalt over Morgan's 6.718 at 205.54 mph in his Lucas Oil Stratus.

"What a picture-perfect weekend for our race team," Connolly said. 'The only thing that could have been better was if I could have raced Jeg [Coughlin, teammate] in the final instead of the semifinals. To come back home like this and win the race in front of all my friends and family is great. Even my mom (Elaine) was here today and she doesn't make it to many races because of her work schedule so that was cool."

Points leader Greg Anderson, the No. 1 qualifier at this event, was timed out at the starting line against Round 1 opponent Erica Enders. That allowed second-place points earner Jeg Coughlin to make up two rounds and third-place points earner Connolly three rounds on the lead.

Hines' Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod Pro Stock Motorcycle got stronger as race day progressed with the 24-year-old racer running the quickest elapsed times of the final three rounds. In the final, he gave up a reaction-time advantage to Smith but quickly zoomed by after Smith aborted his run just a few hundred feet into his pass. He won with a 6.988, his fourth six-second pass of the day.

"This was a great weekend for the entire class and all the different bikes had a chance to shine," said Hines, who earned his 10th career win. "Angelle [Sampey] was all over it on her Suzuki, Matt was No. 1 qualifier on a Buell, and we won the race on a Harley. I'd say it's pretty level right now."

It was a hard fought 20-point gain for Hines on Smith's lead in the POWERade points but he now finds himself just 108 points back in third place. Angelle Sampey is in second place, 79 points off the lead.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Brandon Bernstein , Mike Ashley , Andrew Hines , Robert Hight , Angelle Sampey , Dave Connolly