The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series thundered into Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the 18th annual Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals over the weekend. The windy, rainy and dusty weather conditions created some ever changing track conditions. This really tested the skills of the crew chiefs and led to some interesting upsets.
In Top Fuel, Terry McMillen and his Amalie Oil dragster team upset the higher qualified Troy Coughlin Jr. and his Seal Coat dragster team, as both drivers had problems getting down the tricky track. The number one qualifier, Steve Torrence and his Capco Contractors team, was then upset in the second round by the number eight qualifier, Antron Brown. For Brown and his Matco Tools team, this was really only a minor upset win, as they stumbled in qualifying. Brown is a three-time series Top Fuel Champion, making him a very tough match up for anyone. Brown then used his “second round upset” as a spring board to the final round. He took out two-time season winner, Leah Pritchett in the semifinal round with a strong 3.822 at 318.24 mph effort to march into a final round match up with Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and the US Army team. Pritchett and her Papa John’s Pizza team had come in with lane choice following her low elapse time of the second round (3.770 at 328.06 mph) thrashing of Brittany Force and the Monster Energy Drinks dragster. Due to the weather, the track had pretty much become a one lane race track, as the right lane became very difficult to get down without losing traction. But, Brown’s crew chiefs (Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald) pulled out all of the stops and ended Pritchett’s day. Schumacher took out McMillen with a strong 3.865 at 316.45 mph to 3.916 at 311.70 mph effort and then disposed of Doug Kalitta in the Mac Tools/Kalitta racing dragster in a tight 3.775 at 332.27 mph to 3.782 at 326.87 mph battle, to advance to the final round. In another marquee matchup between teammates, Brown defeated Schumacher with a 3.747 at 321.04 mph to 3.809 at 325.14 mph punch out. The win marked the historic 300th event win for the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) organization, making them the only team in drag racing with 300 event wins.
The Funny Car category also had its fair share of upsets. The biggest came in the opening round when 16th qualifier, Gary Densham took out Courtney Force and her Advanced Auto Parts Chevy Camaro. Force had qualified number one with the low elapse time of the event for the class of 3.867 at 327.66 mph. Densham would use this upset to spring board himself into the semi-final round, as he upset Alexis DeJoria (the defending event champion from last season) along the way. His day was then ended by two-time season runner-up and rookie of the year candidate Jonnie Lindberg in the Head Construction Toyota Camry. Lindberg would then face off against Tommy Johnson Jr. for the event title. Johnson had qualified sixth, marching past Jim Campbell, Robert Hight and John Force to get into the title round. Unfortunately, Lindberg would have to stay on the waiting list for his first Funny Car event win, as Johnson motored into the winner’s circle with a 3.933 at 323.66 mph to 4.016 at 302.14 mph margin.
In Pro Stock, the Summit Racing stranglehold was finally broken, as both Greg Anderson and Jason Line were both gone by the completion of the semi-final round. The Summit Racing team still had Bo Butner left in the final round, where he would match up against possible rookie of the year candidate Tanner Gray. Neither driver had ever won a National Event title in Pro Stock, so one of them was going to get his first. Gray got away first (0.010 to 0.088) and never looked back, cruising to a (hole-shot) 6.681 at 206.61 mph to (slightly quicker) 6.678 at 206.76 mph win.
The next event on the NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing series schedule is Spring Nationals in Baytown, TX over the weekend of April 21 through 23.