Factory Super Cars runner Stephen Bell, from Shreveport, Louisiana, went for a ride in the opening round of eliminations yesterday when fluid got under the rear tires of his 2015 COPO Camaro, sending him careening into the wall nose-first near the half-track marker. Bell slid t a stop and kept the car upright, restricting the damage to the front end of the car. Bell had qualified No. 2 with a 8.108 at 167.70 mph. After a brief delay to gather his senses, Bell climbed from the car unhurt and surveyed the damage. His opponent, Kevin Skinner, advanced on with an 8.15.
Later in the round, with the season championship on the line, Chuck Watson fouled out to Pennsylvania’s David Barton, handing the title to Barton.
John Force recorded a career-best 3.832 during qualifying to position himself second on the ladder for today’s eliminations. Force, who fell in the opening round last weekend at Reading, is trying to remain within reach of a 17th title — two points during Friday evening’s session and two more in Saturday’s third session helping his cause.
Lacking the consistency seen by teammates Robert Hight and daughter Courtney Force, Force’s crew chief Mike Neff and co-crew chief Jon Schaffer have been working with Jimmy Prock and Hight co-crew chief Chris Cunningham to turn the program around in the season’s final four races.
In what has become a title bout for the ages, Troy Coughlin claimed the points lead in Pro Modified with a final round victory over Khalid al Balooshi, 5.79 to a 5.85. Coughlin, in his Steve Petty-tuned JEGS.com twin-turbo C7 Corvette, gained the advantage out of the gate on Balooshi’s Rickie Smith-owned and tuned Camaro and never looked back, in the process taking the points lead away from Mike Castellana, who has been on top of the standings since the season opener in Gainesville, Florida. Coughlin now leads the championship chase by 26 points, with one race remaining next month in Las Vegas.
Coughlin defeated Rickie Smith, Steven Whiteley, and Pete Farber to outlast what may have been the toughest field of Pro Modified cars ever assembled.
Steve Torrence drove to his 16th career Top Fuel victory and increased his lead in the Countdown with a final round defeat of Doug Kalitta, who trails him in the standings. With just .006-seconds separating them at the tree, Torrence drove his CAPCO dragster past Kalitta in a close race, 3.684 to 3.698. This was Torrence’s eighth win in 2017 and second final round in a row. He last won at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis last month. Torrence now leads Kalitta by 42 points.
“We got here by doing what we do all year long and doing it ourselves,” Torrence said. “We went out and we just took those guys out and put them back in the trailer. We’re leaving here with a bigger points lead and a trophy. You’re going to have to come in here and do everything you can to get every possible point because this thing could come down to one or two points at the end of the season.”
In Funny Car, Ron Capps took a solid step toward a second consecutive championship, earning his eighth victory on the season after edging out Jonnie Lindberg in the final, 3.87 to 3.90, after nearly identical reaction times. Capps defeated Jim Campbell, teammate Jack Beckman, and John Force en route to the money round.
Greg Anderson defeated teammate Jason Line for his 89th victory and third of 2017 and did it on a holeshot, his 6.57 defeating a quicker-but-losing 6.54. Anderson was .030 to .059 on the tree. With the win, Anderson overtook teammate Bo Butner for the points lead by a mere three points. Anderson, Line, and Butner are all separated by just 76 points, or less than four rounds of racing.
It was just a dream weekend, and we gained a lot of points against some tough competition.
“It’s hard to win out here, but my racecar worked great all weekend,” said Anderson, who earned his second Gateway Motorsports Park trophy in his fifth final at the St. Louis-area facility. “I had a little issue – I was just a bit off, speed-wise – so even though the car was working great, I was getting passed by my teammates. I knew I was in deep in the final, and it would take a stroke of luck to win it. Everything just fell into place. I refused to look over all the way down the track. I couldn’t believe it when my win light came on.
“Jason had a great racecar all weekend, and I’ve got three runner-ups and a win in the last four finals. I’ve been telling people all year that you need to peak at the right time, and I believe I have. It’s all you can ask. It’s going to take finishes like that the rest of the way out to have a chance to win this thing, but this was a great day. We executed at the highest level. There are so many cars that can win it, and that’s what’s so great about NHRA Pro Stock racing. That’s why I love it.”
LE Tonglet also helped his cause in the Countdown standings in Pro Stock Motorcycle as he closed the gap to leader Eddie Krawiec with a final round victory over Vance & Hines rider Andrew Hines on what announcer Alan Reinhart would call “a little baby holeshot”, 6.792 to 6.790. Tonglet had earlier disposed of Krawiec himself and then ousted Matt Smith in the semis to advance to his seventh final round of the season (he’s won six of them). The 2010 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, this was Tonglet’s 16th career win and first here at Gateway.
“You’ve just got to stay calm and go rounds,” Tonglet said. “This is make or break for us. We felt that if we lost this race that our Championship hunt was over. We just haven’t been qualifying that great, but Tim (Kulungian, crew chief) figures it out by Sunday and it just hauls butt and we’re able to get round wins.”