Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals
Two-time former champion Scott Kalitta scored his first win in more than seven years by beating points leader Tony Schumacher in the final of the 25th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver. Funny Car racer Phil Burkart, runaway Pro Stock leader Greg Anderson, and Pro Stock Biker Shawn Gann joined him in a jam-packed winner's circle at one of the circuit's prettiest racetracks.
Kalitta used a 4.74 at 313 mph in Denver's thin air to power away from Schumacher's 4.81-second effort. Burkart had to come from behind to turn back Cruz Pedregon with a 5.33. Anderson survived a close one against Larry Morgan, winning my .02 seconds, while Gann used a 7.65 to eclipse Craig Treble's 7.71.
For the first time since the Topeka event in 1997, Kalitta tasted champagne in the winner's circle of an NHRA event. The 16-time national event winner, who took a combined four years off since the 1997 season, has been back in the trenches since last year's Indy race.
He had to work for this win as he allowed Schumacher a slight edge at the starting line, .057 to .072, but he had almost pulled even by the 330-foot timer and eased past his rival and drove away shortly thereafter, winning with a 4.74 to Schumacher's 4.81.
"I had a friend riding with me today," Kalitta said as he pulled a photo of Darrell Russell out of his pocket. "For what we went through together, running against him in his last race, and for the way I was getting to know Darrell and become his friend this year, I can't explain in words how I feel about this, but it does mean a lot to me.
"This is the first win for Jesse [James, sponsor]. You know, he's used to being on top and let's just say he's given me lots of words of encouragement lately. I'm sure he'll be happy when I talk with him.
"Consistency was key today and it's something we've been missing all season. I knew this crew was capable of getting it done, we just needed it to all fall into place. I'm glad we broke out the new tire here because you don't have much downforce coming into play at altitude. This was probably the best place we could have made the switch."
Mac Tools/Jesse James racer Kalitta earned his first shot at glory this season by taking out Bob Vandergriff Jr., Doug Herbert, and Brandon Bernstein with a steady stream of competitive passes. He got a bit of a break against Herbert, who went in the sand trap during Round 1 and had to scramble just to make it back in time for the quarterfinals. Then Kalitta showed championship form against Bernstein, winning with a .021-second holeshot despite running a slightly slower elapsed time, 4.80 to 4.79.
Schumacher got past John Smith, defending event and series champion Larry Dixon, and Rhonda Hartman-Smith even though his U.S. Army dragster wasn't running as strong as it has in the past. He beat Smith with a 5.83, Dixon with a 4.97, and Hartman-Smith with a 4.93. This was his sixth final of the year and 37th of his career.
His runner-up finish helped Schumacher regain the points lead for the second time this year. He has now held the top spot after 11 of 13 events. Currently, he leads Doug Kalitta by 28 points. Top Fuel results
After getting a slight jump at the starting line, Burkart had to catch and pass Pedregon to get his second Funny Car win of the year. Helping him along was the fact Pedregon lost traction somewhere between the 330-foot timers and halftrack. Despite a nice pedaling job by Pedregon, Burkart was too strong to catch, carding a 5.338 at 289.69 mph against Pedregon's resigned 5.715 at 225.67 mph.
The smiling New Yorker now has three career victories to his credit. He moved up one spot this weekend to seventh place but has distanced himself from the bottom-half pack.
"We had a couple of difficult rounds to start the day but we survived and were able to learn and improve," Burkart said. 'By the time we got to the semis we were cruising. For not having a lot of data, our guys did a tremendous job. I couldn't be more impressed with this team. They did one hell of a job. For us, it's all about the team. There aren't any individuals; we all work together towards the goal. We earned this win as a team.
"I saw a whole lot of Cruz the first half of that race and I didn't like what I was seeing. But then we went by him at some point and the next thing I saw was the win light. It's a great feeling and a great win for Checker, Schuck's, and Kragen."
Burkart's banner year continues with his second trophy safely on the mantle. On the day, the Checker Schuck's Kragen pro managed to take out Tim Wilkerson, reigning series champ Tony Pedregon, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Tony's brother Cruz.
Pedregon's first final-round appearance of the season for his Advance Auto Parts team came at the expense of Tony Bartone, Bob Gilbertson, and surprise semifinalist Robert Schwab, who was competing at his first NHRA event. The win over Schwab, who had already taken out low qualifier Whit Bazemore and Eric Medlen, came on a gigantic .093- to .364-second holeshot. This was Pedregon's 45th career Funny Car final. He has 22 wins. Funny Car results
Anderson moved into double digits in the wins column, closing to within two victories of the record 12 wins he posted in 2003 with his 10th of 2004. This one came against Larry Morgan, who was close, but didn't quite have enough steam to get around Anderson, who now leads the category by 456 points.
When the lights flashed, it was Anderson streaking out first with a .022 to .040-second advantage. He never looked back, posting a 7.194 at 191.62 mph to Morgan's 7.199 at 192.06 mph effort.
"We're going after wins. We're going after titles. We're going after history," Anderson said. "You don't get a lot of chances like this so you've got to get after it when you can. I've said several times you don't ever expect to do this in a class like pro Stock. I don't even really know why it's happened for us. We're way beyond our dreams.
"I don't spend a lot of time thinking about history in the making or anything like that but it does jump in your head from time to time. It's still very tough every round. No matter how easy it might look, it's not. I mean, they say I'm dominating and that means I have a hundredth or two on the field. That's nothing. You can lose that at the line every race. It's a struggle but it's so much fun."
Once again, Anderson's Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac Grand Am was clearly better then the competition all day as he posted the quickest elapsed time of each round en route to his 11th final of the year and 38th of his career. He even managed to get quicker as the day went along, posting a 7.20 against Mark Whisnant, a 7.19 opposite Ron Krisher, and a 7.18 versus teammate Jason Line.
Mopar's Morgan picked a great race to return to the money round, as his team sponsors watched him dismiss JR Carr, six-time champion Warren Johnson, and Kurt Johnson with a string of low 7.2-second passes. Morgan has now been two finals this year and 25 over the course of his career. Pro Stock results
The Pro Stock Bike trophy went to Gann, making him just the second rider with multiple wins on the season. This one was basically over on the starting line when he tattooed challenger Craig Treble with a .009- to .048-second head start. It might not have mattered, as Gann went on to post a 7.6544 at 174.23 mph to Treble's 7.715 at 172.21 mph.
The drama came before the bikes were fired up as Treble fought to recover from a semifinal top-end engine explosion. Crewmen from nine other teams helped him swap powerplants in time for his showdown with Gann.
"I told them I'd wait as long as it took for them to get ready," Gann said. "I mean, you can't do nothing about a fire. I heard they were thrashing to get done and I told [NHRA officials] they could put us at the back of the pack if they wanted. He'd do the same for me, I know it. But they got there in time. Then they had trouble at the line and just reached a point where I had to put it all out of my mind and just race.
"We made some ground up on Andrew [Hines, points leader]. I got a couple of rounds back. I'd rather take little chunks every week then try to get it all at one time. I know if we had the money we could run with them full-time all year long."
Gann rode a string of opponent red-lights to his third final of the season and 11th of his career. The Mac Tools rider got free passes against defending event champion Blaine Hale, GT Tonglet, and Antron Brown, while keeping his bike in the mid-7.6s all day.
Matco's Treble continues his recent tear, racing to his third consecutive final and 17th of his career by powering away from Mike Berry, Angelle Savoie, and points leader Andrew Hines, who posted a -.023-second red-light. Pro Stock Bike results
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