Antron Brown raced to the Top Fuel victory Sunday at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, and moved into position to become the first NHRA driver to sweep the three-race Western Swing twice.
Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event near San Francisco.
Brown, who became one of seven drivers in NHRA history to sweep the Western Swing in 2009, outran Spencer Massey in the final to claim his third win at Sonoma, his fourth victory of the season and 35th of his career. Brown’s Matco Tools dragster produced a final round performance of 3.814 seconds at 318.02 mph to hold off Massey’s charging FRAM/Prestone dragster, which finished in 3.826 at 323.50.
“The car is just running phenomenal, it’s so easy to drive,” said Brown, who defeated Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher and Brandon Bernstein to advance to the final round.
“The boys (crew chiefs Mark Oswald and Brian Corradi) made great decisions each and every round,” Brown continued. “It’s one of those weekends that worked out. It was brutal for us given the (eliminations) ladder we had. We had to take it one round at a time. We kept our head down and kept digging. We aren’t going to talk about (sweeping the Western Swing). We can talk about sweeping if we get to the final round at Seattle next weekend. First we have to qualify. Then we have to get past first round. The competition is just that good.”
We aren’t going to look into the future and we’ll just focus on the here and now.
“We’re going to take the same approach this time like we did the last time,” Brown said. “We aren’t going to look into the future and we’ll just focus on the here and now.”
Due to qualifying bonus points earned by Massey, he and Brown moved into a tie for the series lead. They are 126 in front of third place Tony Schumacher, the seven-time world champ.
“We’re just trying to shoot for it and win as many races as possible,” Brown said. “We want to go into the Countdown as the points leader and there’s an extra 20 points on the line if you can do that. That proved to be huge last year in the final race of the season. We are clawing for everything that we can get.”
In Funny Car, Gray claimed his second victory of the season by defeating defending world champ Matt Hagan in the final round. Gray posted a winning effort of 4.142 at 305.15 in his Service Central Dodge Charger, while Hagan trailed with a 5.461 at 146.67 in his Aaron’s/Mopar Charger.
“We had a great race car all weekend,” Gray said. “We struggled a little in qualifying, but I have a great crew and crew chief and they gave me a great race car today.”
Gray won from the No. 6 qualifying position, beating Tim Wilkerson, Gary Densham and Denver winner Jack Beckman en route to his third final round of the season. With the win he remained in fifth place, but now trails fourth place Mike Neff by 18 points. He’s 62 points out of third.
“I’d like to move up a little bit more and earn a few more points to start the Countdown with,” said Gray, who didn’t make the Countdown last season. “I’m ready for the Countdown, we’ve got a great race car.”
I’m ready for the Countdown, we’ve got a great race car.
“We’ve got an awesome race car and a great team making decisions,” Johnson said. “It’s a sweet feeling knowing every time you go up there you are going to be the fastest car. You just have to be consistent as a driver. I was able to do that today and hopefully I can carry that on into Seattle.”
Johnson used a consistent string of low 6.50s to beat early round opponents Matt Hartford, Jeg Coughlin and Jason Line. He also had the quicker reaction time in each round except the final.
“We’re learning how to win, round by round by round,” Johnson said. “And we’re taking it one round at a time.”
Johnson, who increased his series lead to 54 points over Anderson, feels confident that he can become the eighth driver to sweep the swing and only the second Pro Stock driver to accomplish the rare feat, joining Anderson (2004).
We are getting in the championship mind set. I’ve never thought of myself as the best out here. So I have to start thinking that way and get my confidence up so we can get ready for the Countdown.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, top qualifier Krawiec raced to his fifth victory of the season and second in a row, once again beating teammate Andrew Hines in the final round. In a battle between Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidsons, Krawiec raced to a final round performance of 6.809 at 197.74 to drive around the quicker-reacting Hines, who trailed with a 6.839 at 196.27.
To advance to the final, Krawiec defeated Angie Smith, John Hall and Hector Arana Sr. Krawiec’s bike posted the low E.T. of the weekend in the first round win with a 6.785. He then ran low 6.80s in the final three round wins.
“You can’t make mistakes out here,” Krawiec said. “We’re focusing on round wins. You get enough of them and that will equal race wins and then enough of those will win championships. I just want to see win lights.”
The win was the eighth of the season for the Harley team and continues their domination dating back to last season. Hines advanced to his fourth consecutive final round appearance. The two riders are one and two in the series standings and pulling away from the pack.
“Hopefully we don’t peak before the Countdown,” Krawiec said. “We can dominate and be the team for the first 10 races, but we could fizzle out for the final six, and the end result is you don’t win the championship. Our main goal is to stay on top of our program and do the best we can.”
The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series continues Aug. 3-5 with the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Pacific Raceways near Seattle, the third and final leg of the Western Swing.
Cruz Pedregon raced to his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season in Funny Car Saturday at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were No. 1 qualifiers and will lead their respective categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
No one was able to improve on Pedregon’s track record time of 4.028 seconds at 307.30 mph from Friday’s evening session. It was the 49th No. 1 of Pedregon’s career and his first No. 1 at Sonoma. More importantly, it puts the two-time world champion in a position to grab his first victory of the season. He hasn’t won since Dallas last September.
“I feel good about our chances tomorrow,” Pedregon said. “That’s a great accomplishment to get 49 No. 1s. I am proud of that. What I am not proud of is our record this season on race day. I am hoping we can get that turned around. I feel like tomorrow is going to be a crucial day to continue our march to lock up a spot in the Countdown. That’s really our goal at this point.”
A two-time winner at Sonoma, the driver of the Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry will face Jeff Diehl in the first round.
“The Snap-on Tools Toyota is fast, but we have to make sure we are smart and don’t beat ourselves like we have in the past,” Pedregon said. “That is going to be the challenge for us. When you are the No. 1 qualifier, I am sure guys are going to take some pokes at you. I’d like to get to the final and then whatever happens from there would be gravy.”
Kalitta’s track record performance of 3.785 at 321.65 from Friday also held, giving the veteran Top Fuel driver his first No. 1 qualifying position since Brainerd 2010 and the 31st of his career. He will face Scott Palmer in the opening round as the driver of the Technicoat dragster goes for a category-best sixth victory at the Northern California track.
“I am real proud of Jim (Oberhofer, crew chief) and the guys,” Kalitta said. “They’re all working real hard. This Western Swing is something we all look forward to every year so we’ll hope for the best.”
Kalitta’s teammate, David Grubnic, is second overall with a 3.790 at 318.02 in the Optima Batteries dragster. The last time the pair were one-two in qualifying at Sonoma was 2004 and they eventually met in the final round.
“That’s pretty cool seeing Dave and I toward the front of the pack here,” said Kalitta, who hasn’t won a race since Denver 2010. “There’s definitely some tough competition out here this weekend with a lot of good times. We are going to have to be on our game tomorrow to get the win. Hopefully we’ll have a bunch of 3.80s for them tomorrow. The car is running good. It’s been a while (since we’ve won) and it looks like a pretty good opportunity for us tomorrow, so we’ll see how it goes.”
In Pro Stock, Johnson powered his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to a track record time of 6.517 seconds at 212.09 to earn his fifth No. 1 qualifying position in a row and his third consecutive top qualifying effort at Sonoma. Johnson, who will face Matt Hartford in the first round, has a category-best eight No. 1s this season and 26 in his career.
“This feels awesome,” Johnson said. “I think we dialed it in better today. The Mopar Dodge Avenger ran great and to qualify No. 1 for the fifth straight time is unbelievable. This morning’s run we hit it pretty good but we still may have a left a little bit out there. We are so strong right now that we can make a mediocre run and still be right there at the top. When we make a really good run we’ve got a little bit of an advantage. That really gives us confidence going into tomorrow.”
Krawiec set both ends of the Pro Stock Motorcycle track record to claim his third No. 1 of the season and 12th of his career. His run of 6.801 at 198.35 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson from Friday put him into position to earn his fifth win of the season. He will race Angie Smith in the opening round.
“I am glad we got it done on that first lap (on Friday),” Krawiec said. “We were too aggressive on that first session today and we shook. We were trying to go fast. We had a tailwind and everything was right to go fast. We had great conditions. Overall it was probably the best of the weekend. Unfortunately we missed the tune-up just a smidge. Our last run we just focused on race day tune-up.”
Top Fuel drivers Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher, Funny Car driver Ron Capps and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr. all qualified for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs by qualifying for this race.