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Notes: Rain Puts Kibosh On Friday Qualifying

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 3 2015

nhra logoBy John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Persistent rain Friday at Maple Grove Raceway forced NHRA officials to cancel the first two qualifying sessions for the 31st annual Keystone NHRA Nationals, third event in the six-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship playoff.

Overnight rain in the Reading, Pa., area coupled with temperatures in the high 40s prompted the decision. But an improving forecast should allow for Saturday’s nitro qualifying sessions to run at noon and 3:30 p.m. (EDT), subject to change, leading to championship eliminations set for 11 a.m. Sunday.

ESPN2 is scheduled to televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage Sunday at 6 a.m. (EDT) and re-air that show at 3 p.m. The network will televise three hours of finals coverage starting at 8 p.m. Sunday.

NHRA tried to adjust to the forecast Thursday by moving up Friday’s times by two hours due to expected rain for the eastern Pennsylvania region, but precipitation was more persistent and extensive than had been predicted. For updated track conditions, follow MapleGroveRaceway.com/maple-grove-statement-on-weather or NHRA.com.

No refunds are available for admission tickets. But the value of purchased tickets can be applied to the purchase of tickets to this Saturday or Sunday’s events at Maple Grove or for next year’s Friday racing (Sept. 30, 2016) in the Keystone NHRA Nationals. Maple Grove Racing handles all ticket exchanges.

Hector Arana Jr. knew he needed a clutch performance at the second race of the 2015 Countdown to the Championship last weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park at Madison, Ill., near St. Louis.

Arana delivered in impressive fashion and now aims to replicate that effort en route to his first Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship. After a near-disastrous start to the Countdown at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., Arana responded with a win at Gateway to jump to second in the point standings.

“We’re back in the hunt for the championship,” said Arana, a son of 2009 PSM world champion Hector Sr. “That’s all that matters. We’ve got some momentum now. We went back to the shop after Charlotte and rebuilt my motor. That can always be nerve-wracking, especially since we’re in the Countdown, but we rebuilt the motor and she’s back strong. She’s running well and she got faster and faster every run.

“It was a great, great week. I don’t know if I could ask for anything more. I just look forward to having many more weeks like this. Monday, I pulled the trigger and I asked my beautiful girlfriend (Nichole Nobile) to marry me. Then I got the win, and it’s like the icing on the cake. I tell you what, that was a bittersweet win. I watched my dad win in the semis and I said to myself, ‘I have to win’ so we can see which one of us can take home the Wally. I want to see him win and of course he wants to see me win, but at the same time I want to beat him. We also needed this to move forward in the points.”

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Rodger Brogdon (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s professional winners. This event will finish off a string of three consecutive race weekends.

Hector Jr. and his team showed remarkable resolve after recovering from a first-round loss at zMAX Dragway that dropped him to fifth in points, his worst spot in the standings since the second race of the season.

Team Arana pulled off an impressive overhaul heading into Gateway Motorsports Park. It was capped by that all-Arana final round in which Hector Jr. picked up his second win of the season. But the biggest round win may have come in the quarterfinals against point-leader Andrew Hines, the four-time world champion. Arana ran a 6.872-second quarter-mile to hold off Hines, and by the end of the day Hector Jr. had cut the reigning world champion’s point lead to just 34. That’s less than two rounds of racing.

“After (his loss at zMAX), I got real nervous and thought we had lost the shot to win the championship,” Arana said. “I knew we had to perform (at Gateway) and we were able to do that. I had the perfect opportunity when I raced Andrew in the second round. I knew if I wanted to win the championship I had to beat him, and we were able to dig deep and get that round win.”

Arana praised his team for making massive adjustments to his Lucas Oil Buell. That work ethic will put Arana among the favorites at Maple Grove, where he was the No. 1 qualifier a year ago. “I can’t thank them enough for doing all that work after Charlotte,” Arana said following his 11th career victory. “It’s a hard-working team, and we dig deep and do what we have to do in order to move forward.”

Hector Jr. qualified No. 7 en route to beating Jim Underdahl in the first round with a pass of 6.870- seconds at 196.42 mph to set up the crucial race with Hines. Their reaction times were nearly identical, but Hector Jr. won it with his 6.872-second/195.73 mph pass, edging Hines’ run of 6.882-seconds at 194.91 mph.

In the semifinal, Hector Jr. dumped No. 2 qualifier Steve Johnson with a pass of 6.881-seconds at 196.30 mph to set up the final round with his dad. “We tuned both bikes and I was able to get the win,” Hector Jr. said. “Those Harleys, they’ve got it figured out and the Suzukis are running strong. It was definitely a big move to get everything figured out on Sunday.”

The remainder of the Pro Stock Motorcycle field will be looking to counterpunch at Maple Grove, including Hines, who won the opening playoff race aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Van & Hines Harley-Davidson. Other top contenders are Eddie Krawiec, who sits in third aboard his H-D V-Rod after his second straight early exit in the Countdown; Jerry Savoie, three points behind Krawiec in fourth; two-time world champion Matt Smith; the elder Arana; two-time season winner Karen Stoffer, Jim Underdahl, Chip Ellis and Scotty Pollacheck.

In Top Fuel, 2012 world champion Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing has been red-hot with two Countdown wins in his Matco Tools dragster, opening up a 77-point lead over defending event winner and eight-time/reigning world champion Tony Schumacher of DSR. Other Countdown standouts include three-time world champion Larry Dixon; Richie Crampton, who has four wins in 2015 and 2013 world champion Shawn Langdon.

Del Worsham, driver of the DHL Toyota Camry fielded by Connie Kalitta, opened a 90-point lead over reigning Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan by knocking off the two-time champ at Gateway. Worsham now has authored back-to-back Countdown wins. Among Worsham’s top competition are DSR’s Jack Beckman, a former world champion who has six wins in 2015; 16-time world champion John Force and two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon.

Erica Enders has the largest point lead in any class, extending her Pro Stock advantage to 113 after a runnerup finish at Gateway in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro, and her victory at zMAX. The reigning world champion will have to deal with four-time world champ Greg Anderson, who sits in second; 2012 world champion Allen Johnson and rookie Drew Skillman, Erica’s teammate who picked up his first career Pro Stock win last weekend.

MAPLE GROVE RACEWAY FAST FACTS

MOST VICTORIES

John Force, Funny Car, 7; Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle, 6; Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel, 5; Jeg Coughlin Jr., Pro Stock, 4; Warren Johnson, Pro Stock, 4.

TRACK RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, Oct. ’12; 334.15 mph by Shawn Langdon, Oct. ’12

Funny Car _ 3.986-seconds by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’12; 323.97 mph by John Force, Oct. ’14

Pro Stock _ 6.465-seconds by Erica Enders, Oct. ’14; 214.35 mph by Jason Line, Oct. ’12

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.728-seconds and 198.73 mph by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12

NATIONAL RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.680-seconds by Antron Brown, Aug. ‘15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ‘15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car _ 3.899-seconds by Del Worsham, Sept. ‘15, Madison, Ill.; 330.47 mph by Matt Hagan, Sept. ‘15, Madison, Ill.

Pro Stock _ 6.455-seconds by Jason Line, March ’15, Concord, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders-Stevens, May ‘14, Englishtown, N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.728-seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Concord, N.C.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Top-10 Countdown to the Championship contenders following the second of six playoff races:

Top Fuel _ 1. Antron Brown, 2,320; 2. Tony Schumacher, 2,243; 3. Larry Dixon, 2,161; 4. Brittany Force, 2,157; 5. J.R. Todd, 2,149; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,139; 7. Richie Crampton, 2,133; 8. (tie) Dave Connolly, 2,127; Steve Torrence, 2,127; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,126.

Funny Car_1. Del Worsham, 2,327; 2. Matt Hagan, 2,237; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,211; 4. Jack Beckman, 2,208; 5. John Force, 2,178; 6. Ron Capps, 2,177; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 2,123; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 2,116; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,107; 10. Robert Hight, 2,099.

Pro Stock _1. Erica Enders, 2,331; 2. Greg Anderson, 2,218; 3. Allen Johnson, 2,195; 4. Drew Skillman, 2,171; 5. Larry Morgan, 2,167; 6. Chris McGaha, 2,162; 7. Vincent Nobile, 2,155; 8. Jason Line, 2,125; 9. Shane Gray, 2,117; 10. Jonathan Gray, 2,066.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Andrew Hines, 2,259; 2. Hector Arana Jr., 2,225; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 2,208; 4. Jerry Savoie, 2,205; 5. Matt Smith, 2,167; 6. Karen Stoffer, 2,146; 7. Hector Arana, 2,135; 8. Chip Ellis, 2,131; 9. Jim Underdahl, 2,094; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,041.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 3 2015
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