Tommy Johnson Jr. raced to the Funny Car victory at the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway on Sunday.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also victorious in their respective categories at the 21st event of 24 on the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. The Dodge NHRA Nationals is the third race of the six-race NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Johnson Jr. powered his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T to a 3.895-second pass at 330.63 mph in the final round to defeat teammate and points leader Ron Capps’ 3.911 at 324.12 at the controls of his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T. Johnson Jr., who has raced to the final round in all three NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship events, claimed his 14th career victory, second of the season and first at Maple Grove Raceway. He is second in the points trailing Capps by only 24. Johnson Jr. beat Cruz Pedregon, Mike Smith and Jack Beckman en route to his fifth final round of the season.
“You want to have a strong start in the Countdown; we knew that going into it,” said Johnson Jr., who was runner-up at this event in 2014. “We went from seventh to fourth in Charlotte – a runner-up is good – then we went to St. Louis and got a another runner-up and went to second, and I said I’d be happy with four more runner-ups, but when you look in the other lane and it’s Capps, who’s leading the points, it’s a must-win. You’ve got to gain some ground.”
Capps outlasted Vegas-winner Alexis DeJoria, two-time 2016 winner Tim Wilkerson and No. 1 qualifier Matt Hagan in the earlier rounds.
Jack Beckman is third in points and is followed by Hagan in fourth, reigning world champ Del Worsham in fifth and 16-time Funny Car world champ John Force in sixth.
In Top Fuel, Brown raced his Matco Tools dragster to a 3.721 at 317.34 to beat Brittany Force’s 3.721 at 324.67 in her Monster Energy dragster. Brown had a better reaction time and won on a holeshot. The defending and two-time world champion tallied his 60th career win, sixth of the season and second consecutive at Maple Grove. Brown held on to his first-place standing in Top Fuel with the win. He raced past Sonoma winner J.R. Todd, Clay Millican and three-time 2016 event winner Shawn Langdon in the earlier rounds.
“St. Louis didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, and there’s still plenty of time left in this championship race,” said Brown, who was knocked out in the first round last weekend. “There’s three more races left and we’re going to have to fight hard. Ain’t nobody going to give you the championship.”
Force, who won in Gainesville, Fla., and Brainerd, Minn., outlasted Larry Dixon, who was making his first appearance of the season, three-time 2016 winner Doug Kalitta and Phoenix winner Leah Pritchett en route to the final round.
Kalitta, in second place, trails Brown by 77 points, while Force is in third, Langdon is in fourth and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher is fifth.
Nobile earned his first victory of 2016 by posting a 6.575 at 209.85 in his Mountain View Tire Chevy Camaro to defeat seven-time 2016 event winner Greg Anderson’s 6.582 at 210.37 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro. Nobile entered the event with two-runner up finishes on the season and ended a 56-race drought with the win. It marks the 10th victory of his career and first at Reading. Nobile, who qualified No. 1, moved to third in the Pro Stock points standings behind Jason Line and Anderson, respectively. He beat 2015 top rookie Drew Skillman, back-to-back and reigning world champion Erica Enders and Shane Gray before meeting Anderson in the final.
“It was a big day for Mountain View Racing and NAPA Auto Parts,” said Nobile. “We got the Chevrolet in the winner’s circle, and I’m semi-speechless. We turned it around right at the right time. Don’t get me wrong, at the beginning of the year we were like, ‘Give us our carburetors back.’ It certainly was a pain in the butt, not necessarily for me as a driver but for the crew chiefs and the guys working on the car.”
Anderson qualified second and knocked down five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin, John Gaydosh and teammate Line in the earlier rounds.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to a 6.818 at 193.88 to outlast rookie Cory Reed’s 6.958 at 186.43 on his Precision Service Equipment / Star Racing Buell in the final round. This is Krawiec’s 35th career victory, fourth of 2016 and fourth at Maple Grove Raceway. The three-time world champion started the weekend fifth in points and moved up to second behind teammate Andrew Hines. Krawiec rode past Englishtown, N.J., winner Angelle Sampey, Karen Stoffer and Sonoma, Calif., winner LE Tonglet to make it to the final round.
“My main goal this weekend here was to come win,” Krawiec said. “If you win races in the Countdown, you’re going to be fighting for the championship when you get to Pomona. This was a big day for all of our team actually, Andrew and myself getting past the first round. When you draw Angelle and Chip Ellis in round one, you don’t say, ‘Well, this should be easy. This should be no problem this weekend.’ For me, I was on a mission first round because I knew if I went past first round I could keep the momentum and keep it rolling.”
Reed beat fellow rookie Melissa Surber, Hector Arana and reigning world champ Hines in the earlier rounds.
Sampey is third in points and followed by Chip Ellis and alligator farmer Jerry Savoie in fourth and fifth, respectively.
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Champion continues Oct. 13-16 with the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas.