Each NHRA pro class already has established targets

The John Force Racing team has taken center stage in the NHRA Funny Car class. Likewise, the Don Schumacher Racing trio of dragsters are strongest in the Top Fuel division, and the KB / Summit team has set the bar again for Pro Stockers. (Photo by Ron Lewis)

Morgan Lucas, with his performance of one victory and three No. 1 qualifying positions in the first four National Hot Rod Association races, is trying to break up the Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel power bloc. No matter how hard he is trying, though -- no matter that Clay Millican, Steve Torrence, and Shawn Langdon, and others have had their shining moments -- the DSR dragsters are ruling the class right now.

And the John Force Racing Ford Mustangs have a similar stranglehold on the Funny Car class, while Greg Anderson and Jason Line continue to stay ahead of the Pro Sock pack with the fifth race of the season approaching.

FRAM Dragster driver Spencer Massey was a nightmare for Antron Brown and the Aaron's Dream Machine entry in Sunday's all-DSR final round at the SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It marked the third final in four races this NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season and the 20th overall in which both finalists represented DSR.

In a rematch of the final round at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Massey won with a 3.830-second, 323.89-mph performance on the 1,000-foot course to become Top Fuel's first repeat winner. Brown, the Phoenix victor, dogged him all the way (even with a rear tire that cracked and peeled), running a 3.849-second elapsed time at 315.86 mph.

No. 2 qualifier Massey, who earned the $50,000 winner's share of the purse, joined Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) in the winners circle.

(The all-DSR final had to salve some of the team owner's wounds from the abrupt departure late Saturday of Tim and Kim Richards, Ron Capps' crew chiefs for the NAPA Dodge Funny Car. Details of their split with DSR after Capps' DNQ Saturday are unclear, but at least for awhile last Sunday, this success with the dragsters deflected some of the attention and tension.)

"We go up there, not thinking who we're going to run. We go up there trying to win our round, trying to not to beat ourselves," Massey said. "That was our game plan all day long. And we stuck to it."

Massey is third in the standings, behind leader Brown as the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour heads to Charlotte's zMAx Dagway for the April 13-15 4-Wide Nationals.

Lucas has wedged himself into second place, a mere four points off the pace. Maybe more significant (not that Lucas' accomplishments haven't been monumental for him and his team -- and fun to watch, at that) is that Tony Schumacher is winless but still is fourth in the standings, only 13 points shy of the leader.

Brown cut though some especially tough competition (beating overdue Langdon, seven-time champion Schumacher, and top qualifier Lucas to advance).

And he was particularly eager to atone for losing to Massey at Pomona. He had beaten Massey the following week at Phoenix en route to that victory. But regaining the points lead was not enough to satisfy him totally. He wanted to convert this third final round appearance in four races to another victory.

Sponsor Aaron's corporate mascot is the "Lucky Dog," but Brown hardly felt like one through qualifying. He started 12th, his worst qualifying spot in 43 events, since the 2010 St. Louis race.

But in eliminations, he used the improvements in this new dragster that crew chiefs Mark Oswald and Brian Corradi gave him to offer Massey a serious challenge. In the quarterfinals, Brown rewrote both ends of the track record with a 3.779-second E.T. at 326.08 mph in beating Schumacher for the 10th time in their past 13 meetings.

"It was incredible that we went over 321 miles-per-hour and have it decided by thousandths of a second in that (round one) win over Shawn Langdon. We brought out a brand-new car this weekend, so it was great to make it to the finals," Brown said. "We were just going after it today. With all the cars running at a high-level in this series, you have to just keep working it and working it."

Massey agreed, saying, "This year, it seems like everybody has really stepped up tremendously. It's like Pro Stock. It's like a bracket race. You have to have a good reaction time and do flawless on a run. You have to count every second. About 10 years ago, it was about a hundredth of a second or a tenth of a second. Now it’s that close, and it makes it that much better a race for everybody."

As impressive as the DSR dragsters have been, maybe even more unstoppable have been John Force Racing's Ford Mustang Funny Cars. They have commandeered all four victories. And Force, Mike Neff, and Robert Hight have shared the points lead all season. Twice already JFR cars have met in the final round.

Hight earned his third consecutive victory Sunday at Las Vegas. It was the second time in his career he has won three straight races. He has led the Funny Car standings each year since he began driving in 2005 -- a distinction no other Funny Car driver has achieved. The Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang driver also was the first to win from the No. 1 qualifying position at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He kept his person achievement and his team's achievement in perspective, though.

"There are no underdogs. Anybody can win in this class," Hight said after claiming the $50,000 victory with a 4.154-second elapsed time at 312.93 mph on the 1,000-foot course to beat Bob Tasca III. (Tasca ran a 4.213 / 292.14 in the Motorcraft / Quick Lane Shelby Ford Mustang.)

"This class and the parity, it has never been this close," Hight said. "It is exciting and it makes winning three in a row that much more special."

As proof, Cruz Pedregon shined with low E.T. of the meet (4.082 seconds) and Johnny Gray recorded top speed of the weekend (314.75 mph).

Still, Hight said, "We were almost flawless.

"We have made a lot of test runs here. We have a lot of experience on this racetrack," Hight said. "The conditions here are a little tricky. It is a little harder to make power. You are halfway to Denver in elevation. We have a lot of data and a lot of good crew chiefs. Those crew chiefs definitely earn their money on a day like today. We have [track specialist] Lanny Miglizzi out there. We really are stacked top to bottom on our team with talent."

In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson did his part at Las Vegas to keep the KB / Summit Racing duo of Greg Anderson and Jason Line from stealing the entire show. (Runner-up Vincent Nobile did his part, too, for that mater, taking out top qualifier Line in the quarterfinals while Johnson eliminated Anderson.)

The all-Dodge Avenger Pro Stock final pitted veteran Allen Johnson against 20-year-old Adelphi University student Nobile (who gets his power from Johnson's engine shop) in the Mountain View Tire entry. In his Team Mopar / J&J Racing Dodge, Johnson ran down Nobile, who had a nearly perfect .008-second reaction time, and won with a 6.648-second, 207.30-mph effort. Nobile countered with a 6.738 / 207.53.

After hitting the $25,000 jackpot, Johnson said, "We took advantage of all that we have been given," Johnson said. "We have a fast race car and great Mopar HEMI engines. I've said again and again, our team motto is 'Be Consistent,' and that is what we were today [Sunday]. I knew we had a race car that had a chance to go all the way.

"It was a testament to our entire team. [Crew chief] Mark Ingersoll, [team engineer] Jim Yates, Dad [Roy Johnson], all the crew and the guys in the engine shop, we're just focused on being consistent, and it's paying dividends. We’ve gotten so much from the folks at Mopar, all the great parts and the moral support from those at Chrysler Group headquarters. It's a great feeling to give them a win."

Mike Edwards also has one of the four Pro Stock victories this year.

Just the same, Anderson and Line are 1-2 in the standings, 38 points apart. They own half of the four victories. Line was No. 1 qualifier at Las Vegas, and Anderson recorded low E.T. and top speed of the meet with a first-round blast (on a freebie pass with Chris McGaha's red-light foul, no less) of 6.612 seconds, 208.30 mph on the quarter-mile.

Drag racers will get out of their traditional two-lane format at this next race, at Charlotte. They'll race four-wide for just three rounds of eliminations at Bruton Smith's uniquely and exquisitely designed speed palace he calls the "Bellagio of Dragways."

However, the big question is if the challengers will start to break the cycles of DSR, JFR, and KB / Summit dominance.

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