Favored Dixon, Force, Edwards collect Las Vegas jackpots
The Las Vegas oddsmakers certainly got it right as favored Larry Dixon, John Force, and Mike Edwards did the expected, grabbing wins at the 11th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The trio of victors – who also all opened their seasons with wins at the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals – all left Las Vegas with the points lead after the sixth of 23 events on the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule. Dixon was a 5/2 favorite in Top Fuel, John Force was 2/1 in Funny Car, and reigning Pro Stock champ Mike Edwards was rated even by Fred Crespi, oddsmaker for The Palms Resort Casino, and none disappointed despite another challenging day in which race teams had to endure more high air and track temperatures, putting a premium on racecar setup.
Dixon, who collected his milestone 50th career win in Top Fuel last weekend in Houston, didn’t wait long to get started on his second 50 as he won again in Las Vegas, defeating Cory McClenathan in a final-round battle with the points lead in the balance. Dixon took the win, his third of the season, and the points lead – by a single marker -- easily with a 4.01 after McClenathan smoked the tires. With 51 wins, Dixon now holds pole possession of 13th place on NHRA’s list of all-time winners.
“We had a great car all weekend,” said Dixon. “The car was unbelievable all through qualifying, just very strong. We qualified second and made up a bunch of points on Cory in qualifying. Then, we knew that if we could make it to the final round, if we beat him we’d get the points lead, and we got both. It’s just a great, great weekend all around for everyone on the Al-Anabi team.
“I like racing Cory, and Cory likes racing me — he’s told me that. Nobody plays any games. We just go up there and do our thing. We both try our best on the line and, hopefully, let the cars do the talking. It’s just nice to race somebody like that. We both have respect for each other. He’s one of the guys I looked at when I started driving, so to be able to race him and hopefully have both of us run for the championship, it’s fun to be part of that.”
Dixon, winner of the season’s first and its most recent events, in Pomona and Houston, respectively, with the Jason McCulloch-tuned Al-Anabi dragster reached his 95th career final with a series of progressively quicker passes. Dixon, the No. 2 qualifier, wheeled his way through some mid-track tire smoke in round one to beat fireballing Steve Faria with a 4.13 then drove around Shawn Langdon’s holeshot in round two, 3.97 to 4.01. Dixon and company turned up the wick in the semifinals with a 3.91 to defeat Doug Kalitta’s 3.98 to reach their third final of the year.
McClenathan and his Fram dragster reached the final, the 60th of his Top Fuel career by sitting down Terry Haddock, teammate Tony Schumacher, and resurgent Brandon Bernstein with a trio of 3.9-second passes. McClenathan’s 3.90 opening blast against Haddock was the best run of the first three rounds by any driver, and he followed it up with a pair of consistent 3.98s to trailer “the Sarge” and Bernstein.
The sport’s two winningest Funny Car racers faced off in the final round where Force, with 128 wins to his tally, and former hired driver Tony Pedregon, a 43-time winner, went at it for the flopper jackpot. Pedregon, who has had a terrific string of back luck and blowups, including a body-tossing explosion last weekend in Houston, had more of the same in Las Vegas as his 4.41 to 4.61 semifinal victory over traction-hampered low qualifier Del Worsham was punctuated by a nasty top-end fire that severely damaged his Impala body. The team got their ride back together in time to face Force, but went up in smoke. The win is Force’s third of the year, including victories at the season-opening Winternationals and the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte. He has a 120-point edge over second-place Matt Hagan.
“We all want a championship in the end, but what I’ve worked for now is to be able to compete and to show my kids that I can still do it,” said Force, who won from the bottom half of the field for just the third time in his career. “My Mustang knows how to run at night. It doesn’t like the heat. We started at Pomona, and everywhere it ran good, and we ran good at Houston and then the sun came out, and we were just toast. So we came in here with the attitude of start slow and make it go A to B, and you notice that we were fumbling just to get in the show. We got ‘er in, but [Mike] Neff learned a lot.
‘I dedicated the trophy at this race to Mike Neff because, as [Austin] Coil said, two old dogs were on the couch and couldn’t get it right, and this puppy came in here and ran around crazy and gave us a fresh start of energy. Coil and Bernie [Fedderly], they’re the best, but they needed something to get change.”
The final-round meeting with Pedregon capped Force’s day of seeing familiar faces in the other lane as he opened eliminations by eking out a tight 4.24 to 4.26 win over his top gun teammate, world champ Robert Hight, and, after besting Houston champ Hagan in the second round, squared off against his daughter, Ashley Force Hood in the semifinals. The warm track definitely limited performance in the class as Force’s trio of passes – 4.24, 4.33, and 4.28 – probably would not have won the weekend before in Houston, but the 14-time champ also left on all three of his opponents.
Prior to his fiery semifinal win, Pedregon had beaten former John Force Racing teammate Gary Densham and Phoenix winner Jack Beckman with passes of 4.24 and 4.31 to help him reach his first final of the year and the 76th of his great career.
Edwards expanded on his points lead in his first Professional title defense as the reigning world champ went wire to wire from the No. 1 spot to claim the win, his fourth of the season, capping it with a 6.75 to 6.81 victory over Greg Stanfield for his 24th career Pro Stock victory. Edwards now owns a substantial 216-point edge on second-place Allen Johnson.
“My team, as the Interstate logo says, is outrageously dependable,” said Edwards. “These guys are awesome. To come here and run in conditions that were 180 degrees different than Houston and make the adjustments and make the car do what it did here, those guys are awesome, so hats off to all my guys.
“If you look back last year and we got in these conditions and summer came around, we felt like we could get back to our form, and we really ran good in the summertime. The tracks get worse, and we feel like we’ve got a really good handle on those conditions, so hopefully it can stay hot, maybe not this hot but start getting hot. It feels good to come out here and win at Vegas. I’ve been coming here a long time and ran really, really well but just could never close the deal. It feels good.”
After having his seasonlong streak of final-round appearances stopped last weekend in Houston, Edwards worked his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Pontiac right back to the money round in Las Vegas, the 44th of his Pro Stock career and his fifth this season. As usual, Edwards, the low qualifier, also had the quickest run of each round, running 6.72 to beat Rickie Jones, 6.74 to trailer Warren Johnson, and 6.73 to defeat the event’s sponsor’s car, the Summit Pontiac of Greg Anderson, which fell with a 6.75.
Stanfield and his NitroFish Pontiac reached their second final of the year – counting the four-wide finale in Charlotte, where he finished third – upset lower-qualified Shane Gray on a first-round holeshot, 6.79 to 6.77, then beat Rodger Brogdon in round two with a steady 6.80. Another 6.79 then ended Ron Krisher’s second straight good outing in the semifinals and pushed Stanfield into his 13th career Pro Stock final and 34th overall.
In Lucas Oil action, a pair of supercharged entries battled for Alcohol Dragster honors with Shawn Cowie scoring an easy win on Joey Severance’s red-light. Jay Payne drove his FireIce Mustang to his 37th career win, taking Top Alcohol Funny Car honors over Sean O’Bannon’s Monte Carlo. The win was significant to Payne as it moved him into the top 25 of all-time NHRA winners, tied with Peter Biondo
Las Vegas resident Justin Lamb used the hometrack advantage to his credit, wheeling his SS/DM '09 Cobalt to victory against Brad Plourd’s SS/AM '05 Cavalier by just .005-second. In other action, Larry Gilley was .001 on the Tree in the Stock final with his E/SA '69 Dart to defeat Mick Alley and his AA/SA '69 Camaro while Dick Vander Meer edged Thomas Bayer for Super Comp glory, and former world champ and class veteran Mike Ferderer collected again in Super Gas with his '06 Grand Am, defeating Dennis Paz and '41 Willys.