Dixon, Pedregon, Anderson, Tonglet Score
It was feast or famine in the second event in the Countdown for the Championship, with the top contenders in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle gaining ground, while the points leaders in Funny Car and Pro Stock fell in the first round.
Top Fuel points leader Larry Dixon inched closer towards his third title with a victory over Doug Kalitta, running a 3.858 at 316.60 mph to move his final-round win streak to 11 races and take a commanding lead in the Countdown standings.
Dixon qualified fourth for Sunday’s finals and beat out David Grubnic in the opening round to face defending Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher.
Both drivers smoked the tires off the line and began pedaling, with Dixon managing to get to the throttle and make it to the finish. Dixon then faced no. 1 qualifier Cory McClenathan, beating the second-place Top Fuel points driver to face Kalitta for the 60th-career time.
In the final run, Kalitta stayed even with Dixon right off the line, but Dixon easily pulled away to record his third-straight victory and his first at zMax and move out to an 85 point lead over McClenathan.
“I can’t believe the amount of wins we’ve had and the amount of finals we’ve been in without losing,” said Dixon. “It’s hard to imagine when you think about all the great cars that are out here. It’s a credit to the team. They are an unbelievable bunch of guys.
“I guess we win ‘em every different way. The race against Tony [Schumacher] was amazing. There is a period of about two-tenths of a second when I was off the throttle and it was quiet that I could tell it was quiet in the other lane, too. I had a 50-percent chance of hitting it right. Tony is still wearing No. 1, and he’ll continue to do so until someone takes it away from him.”
In the Funny Car final, birthday boy Cruz Pedregon faced Beckman for the 13th time in his career and beat former zMax winner with a time of 4.171 at 299.13 mph for his first win since 2008 and the 27th of his career.
Pedregon, who missed out on the Countdown field this season, came into this weekends event looking to steal some thunder from the points leaders, entering the day as the no. 1 qualifier.
After dispatching John Smith in the opening round, Pedregon moved on to face his brother Tony in the quarter-final for the 40th time in their careers, with Cruz passing his little brother as Tony smoked the tires off the line.
Pedregon then knocked off Jeff Arend to advance to his first final round of the season and the 61st of his career.
In the final, Beckman was faster at the light but Pedregon quickly made up the difference to score his first zMax victory in his second final round appearance here, losing out to Beckman in the inaugural event in 2008.
“I’ve had some great cars in my career when I drove for guys like Larry Minor and Joe Gibbs, but I don’t think I’ve been in a better car than I had this weekend,” said an emotional Pedregon. “We worked real hard to get to this point. It took us awhile to get going, and there were times when I thought, ‘What the heck are we doing this for?’ but we stayed at it.
Points leader John Force didn’t make it past the first round, losing out to Paul Lee after spinning his tires right off the line. He managed to retain the points lead by four points over Beckman.
Hometown driver Greg Anderson made a quick comeback to win over Greg Stanfield in the Pro Stock final, pulling a run of 6.604 to collect his third Wally of the season.
Anderson, the no. 2 qualifier, won out over Larry Morgan, Rodger Brogdon and Kurt Johnson for his third-career final round meeting with Stanfield, who tallied two straight holeshot victories to advance to the finals.
In the final, Stanfield was quicker off the line but Anderson ran him down by the 300-foot mark and pulled away for the victory.
“Today I had the best hot rod on the grounds, by far. I’m a lucky man,” said Stanfield. “This is my home track, and I have struggled here but zMax Dragway is now officially my favorite track. Heck, I didn’t even know where the press room was until this weekend but now I want to race here ten times a year.”
Anderson jumped from fifth to second in the standings - 27 points behind Mike Edwards, who lost to Jeg Coughlin in a holeshot in the first round.
Surprise up-start and rookie-of-the-year contender LE Tonglet continued his remarkable post-season run with his second straight victory in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, beating out Andrew Hines for the second week in a row with a 6.921 for his third victory.
One week from his improbable with at Indianapolis, and making his first start for the Nitrofish stable, Tonglet took the no. 1 qualifier spot and beat out Mike Berry, Matt Smith and Michael Phillips to face Hines in his fourth career final round appearance.
In a rematch of the US Nationals final, Hines hit the start with a .012 and led early, but Tonglet was back in front at the 1000-foot mark to beat out the points leader by .0281 at the line.
“We’re not even thinking about rookie of the year anymore, we got a bigger thing on our minds – the championship,” said Tonglet. “Now, with Nitrofish behind us I think we have a really good shot at this championship and we need to keep winning rounds and hopefully run as good as we did here.
“I never thought in a million years I would be this close to a championship and this competitive. We started the season just hoping to be no.16 and now we came into (zMax) hoping to be no. 1 and we did it, and I just can’t believe it.”
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