Favored Dixon, Force, Edwards collect Las Vegas jackpots

Sunday, April 18, 2010

by Phil Burgess, National DRAGSTER Editor

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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.

Each of the victors – who also all opened their seasons with wins at the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline – 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, Force was 2/1 in Funny Car, and reigning Pro Stock world champ Edwards was rated even by Fred Crespi, oddsmaker for the Palms Casino Resort, and none disappointed despite another challenging day in which race teams had to endure more high air and track temperatures, putting a premium on race car setup.


Larry Dixon

Dixon, who collected his milestone 50th 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 holds sole 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 most recent events with the Jason McCulloch-tuned Al-Anabi dragster, reached his 95th final with a series of progressively quicker passes. He wheeled his way through midtrack tire smoke in round one to beat fireballing Steve Faria with a 4.13, then drove around Shawn Langdon’s better reaction time 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, in 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, and he followed it with a pair of consistent 3.98s.


John Force

The sport’s winningest Funny Car racers faced off in the final round, where Force, with 128 victories, 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 bad luck and blowups, including a body-tossing explosion last weekend in Houston, had more of the same in Las Vegas; 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 its ride back together in time to face Force but went up in smoke. The win is Force’s third of the year, including at the season opener and the NHRA 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. “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. 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.


Mike Edwards

Edwards expanded on his points lead in his first Full Throttle title defense by going 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 Pro Stock victory. The reigning world champ 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 season-long 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 one of the event sponsor’s cars, the Summit Pontiac of Greg Anderson, which fell with a 6.75.

Stanfield, in his Nitro Fish Pontiac, reached his second final of the year – he also advanced to the four-wide finale in Charlotte, where he finished third – by upsetting lower-qualified Shane Gray on a first-round holeshot, 6.79 to 6.77, then beating Rodger Brogdon in round two with a steady 6.80. Another 6.79 ended Ron Krisher’s second straight good outing in the semifinals and pushed Stanfield into his 13th Pro Stock final and 34th overall.

In Lucas Oil action, a pair of supercharged entries battled for Top Alcohol Dragster honors, which went easily to Shawn Cowie, who scored on Joey Severance’s red-light. Jay Payne drove his FireIce Mustang to his 37th win, taking Top Alcohol Funny Car honors over Sean O’Bannon’s Monte Carlo. The win was significant to Payne because it moved him into the top 25 of all-time NHRA winners, tied with Peter Biondo.

Las Vegas resident Justin Lamb used the home-track 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, and Dick Vander Meer edged Thomas Bayer for Super Comp glory. Former world champ and class veteran Mike Ferderer collected again in Super Gas with his ’06 Grand Am, defeating Dennis Paz and his ’41 Willys.

source http://www.nhra.com/

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