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Courtney Force On Pole At Baytown; Zeroes In On First Funny Car Win of ’17

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, April 23 2017

Courtney Force has been qualifying well this season. Now she needs to race well on Sunday. (Photo by Marc Gewertz/NHRA)


Defending event champion Courtney Force secured pole position in Funny Car Saturday as qualifications concluded for the 30th annual NHRA SpringNationals in Baytown, Texas.

Courtney’s next mission? Win a first-round matchup at Royal Purple Raceway.

Force stood on a 1,000-foot elapsed time of 3.851-seconds _ tying the third-quickest pass of her career _ at 330.23 mph set Friday evening to earn the No. 1 spot.  

Force advanced to the finals of the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season-opener at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., in February. But she hasn’t won a first-round pairing since, despite qualifying no worse than fourth. Her first-round matchup Sunday is against Jeff Diehl, whom she has faced only twice in her career. Force and Diehl split their matchups last season. Diehl did not make a full run during qualifying in his Toyota Solara and holds the No. 16 position at 11.833-seconds and 68.24 mph.

“We’ve been No. 1 qualifier, we’ve qualified well, but we’ve just stumbled over our two feet trying to get through the first round,” said Force, whose first-round matchup will be her 250th. “I think it’s just our own fault of pushing the car too hard instead of giving it a solid race day setup. Coming from the No. 1 qualifying spot, we should play it a little more safe in the first round. 

“I feel like we’ve been just so excited about how our car is running that we’re expecting a lot more out of it. We’ve got a great race car but we need to be a little more consistent, and seeing what we’ve done makes me feel a lot better going into tomorrow.” 

Clay Millican (Top Fuel) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) also were No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth event of 24 on the 2017 schedule near Houston.

Force, driver of the Chevrolet Camaro SS fielded by John Force Racing, turned in a time of 3.897-seconds at 323.89 mph in her final qualifying attempt Saturday afternoon in the heat of the day. Conditions for Sunday’s elimination rounds are expected to be cooler than Saturday’s attempts. 

“We made a killer run like we did in Q2, when the conditions were prime, but I was more concerned with what we would do today based on what we expect for tomorrow,” said Force, whose No. 1 qualifying spot is her second consecutive and 12th of her career. “I feel good that we’re able to get down in the heat _ we’re just not sure what it’s going to do tomorrow. I heard it might cool off, that there may be a cold front coming. But overall, it’s great. I feel like we’ve got a consistent race car.” 

Last year’s race victory at RPR was her most recent, and having set both ends of the track record Friday, Force has added confidence heading into Sunday’s race.  FOX Sports 1 will re-air one-hour of Saturday’s qualifying on Sunday at 5 p.m. (EDT), followed by three hours of finals coverage starting at 6 p.m.

“It definitely feels good to come back to a track that we were able to win at last year,” Force said. “I feel like we’ve got a more consistent race car which was a goal coming off of Las Vegas testing. I feel like we’re heading in the right direction.”

Reigning world champion Ron Capps of Don Schumacher Racing qualified second at 3.884-seconds and 326.56 mph in his Dodge Charger R/T and will race Todd Simpson. Sixteen-time world champ John Force and his Chevy Camaro SS sits third and will line up against Del Worsham and his Worsham Racing Inc. Toyota Camry.

Millican piloted his Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster to the fifth pole of his career via a 1,000-foot track elapsed time record of 3.722-seconds at 328.22 mph. He will face Steve Chrisman in the first round.

“It’s really cool for me to qualify No. 1 by a thousandth,” Millican said. “Since we did qualify No. 1, my plan is to go out there and stomp on that ‘loud pedal’ four times and turn on that win light four times. These races are getting harder and harder, but we have a good car.”

Three-time/reigning world champion Antron Brown of DSR is second with a 3.723-second pass at 322.50 mph in the Matco Tools dragster, and will face Texas resident Terry Haddock in his Lone Star Aluminum Block Repair dragster. Doug Kalitta qualified third in the Mac Tools dragster.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin’s quarter-mile pass in 6.557-seconds at 210.70 mph in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevy Camaro held up from Friday to clinch his first pole since 2014. Coughlin won his first race here in the fall of 1997 after only two starts in Pro Stock.

“Car feels great and the track is really holding up nicely,” said Coughlin, a five-time world champion. “This is the site where I started my Pro Stock career 20 years ago. To get my first professional win here was extremely special. This was like the Disneyland of racetracks for Pro Stock as I was coming into the class.”

Bo Butner of Ken Black Racing is second at 6.560-seconds at 210.80 mph in his Jim Butner’s Auto Camaro. Butner will face Alan Prusiensky and his ARC Race Engines Dodge Dart in the first round. Four-time world champion Greg Anderson and his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro qualified third. Anderson, also of KBR, will face Richie Stevens, husband of two-time world champion Erica Enders, in Round 1.

Sunday’s first-round eliminations pairings for the 30th annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas, fifth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _ 1. Clay Millican, 3.722-seconds, 325.69 mph  vs. 16. Steven Chrisman, 5.767, 119.17; 2. Antron Brown, 3.723, 322.50  vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 3.980, 301.74; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.731, 327.03 vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 3.891, 316.97; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.743, 321.58  vs. 13. Shawn Reed, 3.869, 320.43; 5. Brittany Force, 3.745, 327.27  vs. 12. Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.862, 316.82; 6. Leah Pritchett, 3.747, 326.87  vs. 11. Scott Palmer, 3.832, 316.52; 7. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.781, 320.43 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, 3.825, 314.53; 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.783, 321.50  vs. 9. Troy Buff, 3.810, 289.01.


Funny Car _ 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.851, 330.23  vs. 16. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 11.833, 68.24; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.884, 326.56  vs. 15. Todd Simpson, Camaro, 8.421, 85.90; 3. John Force, Camaro, 3.890, 325.53  vs. 14. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.139, 267.00; 4. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.894, 329.67  vs. 13. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.126, 299.73; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.897, 324.98  vs. 12. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.016, 322.65; 6. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.907, 327.90  vs. 11. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.974, 322.19; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.934, 321.12  vs. 10. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.961, 323.50; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.946, 322.34  vs. 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.946, 323.43.

Pro Stock _ 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Chevy Camaro, 6.557, 210.70  vs. Bye; 2. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.560, 211.03  vs. 13. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.645, 208.84; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.563, 211.10 vs. 12. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.625, 209.01; 4. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.573, 210.44  vs. 11. Richie Stevens, Dart, 6.615, 208.52; 5. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.575, 210.57  vs. 10. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.611, 209.36; 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.576, 211.20  vs. 9. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.604, 209.59; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.587, 210.87  vs. 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.598, 210.14.

Mike Castellana maintained the qualifying lead _ and ran the quickest elapsed time in NHRA Pro Mod history _ during eliminations Saturday at the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway. This weekend’s Pro Mod racing, presented by Real Pro Mod Association, is the second of 12 events this season.

Castellana’s 5.759-second pass at 250.46 mph in his Al Anabi Racing 2017 Chevrolet Camaro during Friday’s qualifying sessions secured pole position. During eliminations, Castellana defeated Michael Biehle II with a national elapsed time record run of 5.722-seconds at 251.77 mph.

“It’s great,” said Castellana, a resident of Oyster Bay, N.Y. “First I’ve got to thank Khalid Hamad for giving me the opportunity to drive this car this year. I’ve got to thank Frank Manzo and my crew. It’s unbelievable what they do. Right now, I feel like I’m in wonderland or something.”

Jonathon Gray, who is driving Rickie Smith’s second car while Smith recovers from back surgery, qualified second and went on to defeat Shannon Jenkins in the first round. Gray ran 5.815-seconds at 223.17 mph to defeat Jenkins on a hole shot.  Shane Molinari, who qualified third, defeated Chuck Little and No. 4 qualifier Danny Rowe bettered Larry Morgan. Eliminations continue Sunday afternoon. 

First-round Pro Modified results from the 30th annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway:

Bob Rahaim, Chevy Corvette, DQ vs. Sidnei Frigo, Corvette, DQ; Troy Coughlin, Corvette, 5.789, 251.77 def. Khalid alBalooshi, Chevy Camaro, 10.699, 82.60; Steve Matusek, Camaro, 5.817, 250.18 def. Steven Whiteley, Cadillac CTS-V, 6.273, 175.11; Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.825, 246.53 def. Eric Latino, Camaro, 5.934, 224.06; Danny Rowe, Corvette, 5.811, 250.00 def. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.707, 161.83; Shane Molinari, Pontiac Firebird, 5.815, 254.76 def. Chuck Little, Corvette, 5.816, 247.34; Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 5.815, 223.17 def. Shannon Jenkins, Ford Mustang, 5.809, 240.68; Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.722, 251.77 def. Michael Biehle, Mustang, 5.845, 254.66.

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, April 23 2017
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