Phoneix: Sunday finals report

CHANDLER, Ariz. - John Force scored his 93rd career Funny Car victory Sunday at the 17th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Firebird Raceway, the second race of the NHRA's 50th anniversary season. Doug Kalitta and Warren Johnson also were...

CHANDLER, Ariz. - John Force scored his 93rd career Funny Car victory Sunday at the 17th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Firebird Raceway, the second race of the NHRA's 50th anniversary season. Doug Kalitta and Warren Johnson also were winners of their respective categories at the $1.8 million race, the second of 24 races in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Force's first victory of the season came when be blasted down the track in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in 4.929 seconds at 285.77 mph as final round opponent Bruce Sarver had some parts fail in his e-moola.com Pontiac Firebird at half track and rolled to a 6.956 at 121.91. Force's win also gave Austin Coil 100 victories as a crew chief. Force drove past Sarver, Al Hofmann, Chuck Etchells and Ron Capps for the win. Force has now won the last three national events at Firebird Raceway and seven of the last eight at the facility. "I thought Sarver was going to come around me because my hot rod was nosing over," said Force. "I kept it right on the gas and just killed (the engine). There is some real good competition and some bad old teams out there now. Every year I honestly say that Funny Car will be tough this year so it makes it exciting for the fans. The real truth is, it's going to be tough this year. It really is. Now, there is not just one guy, there are a bunch of guys out here that can whip you." This event also marked the fastest Funny Car field in NHRA history, and the first all four second Funny Car field. Dean Skuza was the No. 1 qualifier with a 4.805 pass while No. 16 qualifier Gary Densham anchored the category with his 4.961 pass. Kalitta won his sixth career national event as covered the distance in 4.628 at 309.84 in his Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster to defeat rookie Darrell Russell who lost traction and slowed to a 7.416 at 111.94. Kalitta, who became a father earlier in the week, drove past David Grubnic, Larry Dixon, Kenny Bernstein and Russell en route to the victory. Getting the win was quite a turnaround since Kalitta successfully drove his dragster down the track only once during qualifying. He failed to qualify for last year's Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals. "On Sunday last week I thought we were going to have to induce labor because I thought we were getting a little close to this race," said Kalitta. "But the timing worked out well and I never even had to have the conversation with her. Our Phoenix curse was something we were all thinking about. We're starting to breathe a little easier. We struggled a little bit this morning with some engine problems but we were able to work it out and I think that was our lucky round. We all re-grouped and went round by round and we were fortunate to get the win. I think this will build some momentum for us and we are hoping for that because we really want to take a shot at winning the championship this year."

Russell was trying to become only the second driver ever to win his first two professional starts in NHRA competition, a feat accomplished by Team Winston driver Gary Scelzi in 1997. Johnson earned his 82nd career Pro Stock victory with his pass of 6.924 at 199.20 edging out fellow Pontiac Grand Am driver Brad Jeter and his pass of 6.967 at 198.23. Johnson defeated Bruce Allen, Jeg Coughlin and Mark Pawuk before meeting Jeter in the final. With the win, Johnson leaves Arizona with the Winston points lead. It is the first time he has been atop the standings since November of 1999, his last Winston championship. Jeter almost stole the victory on a holeshot but Johnson made up the difference near the end of the track and won by one thousandths of a second. Johnson's son Kurt won the season opener in the new Chevy Cavalier and now the new Pontiac Grand Am also has visited the winner's circle. "The only time you need to be in the points lead is after the last race," said Johnson. "Don't get me wrong, you don't want to be so far out that you can't get the lead, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. Kurt's team, my team, we feel extremely happy with the progress we've made with these cars considering the limited amount of time we've had to test them. The NHRA's 50th anniversary season continues with the 32nd annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 15-18, at historic Gainesville Raceway.

-NHRA-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , Dean Skuza , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Chuck Etchells , David Grubnic , Gary Densham , Bruce Allen , Austin Coil