By Lee Elder
CLERMONT, Ind. (Sept. 3, 2018) – JR Todd won his second straight Chevrolet Performance US Nationals when he beat Matt Hagan in the Funny Car finals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
It was the first time a Mello Yello Drag Racing Series driver has gone back-to-back at Indy since Mike Neff did the trick in 2011-12.
Terry McMillen won in Top Fuel, Tanner Gray won in Pro Stock and LE Tonglet was the Pro Stock Motorcycle winner.
“It felt like we had a car that could come in here and win,” Todd said. “Last year we didn’t have that confidence.”
Todd collected the 99th win for Kalitta Motorsports when he beat Matt Hagan in Funny Car. Todd left the starting line with a .056 reaction time and Hagan’s was .052 reaction time but Todd’s car was quicker at 4.06 seconds, compared to Hagan’s 4.14. He was just the seventh driver to win back-to-back Indy titles.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy for a week of a national event,” Todd said. “I really felt like we had a chance to win.”
Todd ended the weekend fifth in the Countdown standings, which he said was a goal for the weekend. He said he feels he has a better chance to win the Funny Car title than he did when he left Indy a year ago.
McMillen became the 11th Top Fuel driver to win a race this season, a record for the number of different winners in a season. He beat Doug Kalitta in the final round.
“All I can say,” McMillen said, “is we won Indy. Holy cow.”
It was McMillen’s first victory at the US Nationals. He beat Doug Kalitta in the final round. Kalitta had the quicker reaction time by McMillen out-ran Kalitta for the win.
“He (Kalitta) has more on me than I do on him,” McMillen said. “He drilled me on the light. We were fortunate to get by him. Looking at the time slip, I got by him at 60 feet.”
McMillen’s reaction time was .071 of a second, to Kalitta’s .047. But McMillen’s elapsed time was 4.037, to 4.067 for Kalitta.
Gray beat Jeg Coughlin with a hole shot victory. Coughlin was quicker but Gray left first with a .003 reaction time, compared to Coughlin’s .023. Coughlin is among the most decorated racers in Pro Stock history and he is among the best line-leavers in the sport’s history, but Gray left first and won at Indy. It was four years after Gray watched his father win the same race.
“I think every driver’s dream is to win Indy once,” Tanner Gray said. “To have my Dad be one of those winners, he was very emotional today.”
LE Tonglet beat Eddie Krawiec to win the Pro Stock Motorcycle final. Tonglet evened his record against Krawiec in final rounds. They are now 1-1 against each other.
“It went toward the left,” Tonglet said of his bike in the final round. I just sort of tried to keep it in the left tire track after that.”
It worked. Tonglet 6.864-second pass beat Krawiec’s 6.884.
The hot, sticky weather conditions made for a decidedly un-sticky race track. The track temperature was over 120 degrees most of the day. The sunshine and heat bring the oils up to the top of the track surface, making the track slick. When Mike Salinas clinched his Countdown berth in the first round of Top Fuel, he beat Wayne Newby in a pedal fest.
The weather conditions were fairly standard for the Labor Day classic, as was the unpredictable results. Cruz Pedregon was racing for a chance to snag a Countdown berth in Funny Car. Pedregon started the day 12th in the standings and needed to reach 10th place to make the Countdown field, but his car did little more than leave the starting line in the first round against Shawn Langdon due to a mechanical problem.
The fields for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship were set by the end of the second round of eliminations. The wildest move came in Pro Stock Motorcycle where Steve Johnson started the day 12th and leapfrogged his way to eighth place. Johnson knocked Hector Arana Sr. out of the field.
Mike Salinas won his first-round race to solidify his berth in Top Fuel.
Tim Wilkerson started 10th in the Funny Car field and won his first-round match. The five drivers behind Wilkerson in the standings all lost in the first round. Wilkerson lost in the second round, but he had locked himself in by that time.
Pro Stock’s Countdown field was formed earlier in the weekend.
The Countdown fields:
Top Fuel Steve Torrence, Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher, Leah Pritchett, Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, Terry McMillen, Brittany Force, Mike Salinas, Scott Palmer.
Funny Car Courtney Force, Matt Hagan, Robert Hight, Ron Capps, JR Todd, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Shawn Langdon, John Force, Tim Wilkerson.
Pro Stock Tanner Gray, Greg Anderson, Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin, Vincent Nobile, Derick Kramer, Drew Skillman, Jason Line, Bo Butner, Chris McGaha.
Pro Stock Motorcycle Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, L.E. Tonglet, Hector Arana Jr., Jerry Savoie, Matt Smith, Scotty Pollacheck, Steve Johnson, Angie Smith and Angelle Sampey.
NOTES: Shawn Langdon, after winning his second-round race in Funny Car, then seeing a fire in his engine compartment: “I see enough fire and not enough marshmallows.” … The 64th US Nationals included 5,036 passes down track.