Lucas Oil Nationals results at Brainerd border on wacky

Pro Stock racer Erica Enders earned her third victory in six events Sunday, ending Allen Johnson's run of six consecutive top-qualifying positions, then beating him in the final round of the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn. (Photo by Ron Lewis)


The debut of Tony Schumacher's Top Fuel cockpit canopy on the U.S. Army Dragster seemed to dominate the NHRA buzz during the early stages of the qualifying at the Lucas Oil Nationals at Minnesota's Brainerd International Speedway this past weekend. But Schumacher's enigmatic canopy (Is it a safety feature? Is it an aerodynamic enhancement? Is it both? Is it neither?) soon gave way to other noteworthy, somewhat crazier happenings. A woman -- Erica Enders -- won again, but news of another Eddie Krawiec and Harley-Davidson triumph were a yawner. Top Fuel winner Morgan Lucas got the trophy from his mother, and Ron Capps at the top of the order and Don Schumacher Racing mate Matt Hagan toward the bottom are coming on strong as the playoffs near.

Two drivers were disqualified in unlikely scenarios. Two points leaders were replaced. Top Fuel's Khalid al Balooshi, who had 13 first-round defeats and just two elimination round-wins, set low elasped time of the meet. Some significant movement jumbled the Countdown to the Championship fields with one race left to finalize the top 10 in each class. And somebody ate some lucky potatoes.

What in the world are we talking about? Read on to find out . . .

Destination: Winners Circle - Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Box Score:

Top Fuel - Morgan Lucas, GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster, 3.818 seconds, 316.90 mph def. Anton Brown, Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster, 3.831, 313.80.


Funny Car - Ron Capps, NAPA Dodge Charger, 4.134 seconds, 304.05 mph def. John Force, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, 6.633, 116.35.

Pro Stock - Erica Enders, GK Motorsports/KLR Group Chevy Cobalt, 6.569 seconds, 210.05 mph def. Allen Johnson, Team Mopar/J&J Dodge Avenger, 14.495, 58.43.

Pro Stock Motorcycle - Eddie Krawiec, Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson 6.896-second, 192.47 mph def. Hector Arana Jr., Lucas Oil Buell, 6.904, 192.52.

p>Biggest Winner of the Weekend - John Force. The 11-time Brainerd winner didn't extend his mark to 12, but he came closer to doing so than he probably deserved. In the opening round, against Alexis DeJoria, he committed a rare red-light foul, handing DeJoria the round-win. But she reacted to his lurch off the line and had a foul start, too. By the NHRA's "first or worst" rule, official declared her the winner. But she didn't know that and continued to try to slam her car down the track, thinking she was battling Force. Before she got word through her two-way radio that she could ease off the gas and coast to the victory, she was pedaling the car as it was losing traction and it fishtailed across the center line. So that same "first or worst" rule ultimately bit her, because crossing the center line is considered worse than red-lighting. Force was reinstated, and he defeated Cruz Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson to advance to the final round.

Biggest Loser of the Weekend - Alexis DeJoria takes the dubious distinction for the convergence of confusing sceanrios that cost her the opportunity to make the Countdown field (see above). It also likely doomed her chances for rookie-of-the-year consideration. DeJoria took it in stride, calling the incident "certainly a good learning experience for me."

Up-Down Index - Besides Force and DeJoria, the top three making improvements and three headed the wrong direction/having bad weekend were:

Up:

(1) Larry Morgan, for not only climbing into the top 10 with one race remaining until the Countdown fields are finalized but for vaulting from 12th to ninth -- thanks in part to quarterfinal opponent Mark Martino's disqualification at the tech scales following their race. Morgan had his crew had "worked like maniacs" to prepare for this event.

(2) Matt Hagan, for slicing No. 10 Bob Tasca's 62-point advantage to just 19 and for keeping up his encouragement for crew chief Tommy DeLago and the Aaron's Dodge Charger team as the reigning Funny Car championship outfit couldn't seem to find the competitive formula until the Sonoma race. They have been to two finals and a semifinal in the past three races to make a realistic all-out assault on a Countdown spot at the upcoming U.S. Nationals.

(3) Ron Capps, for winning the Funny Car trophy and overtaking Robert Hight for the points lead. It's the first time Capps has led the standings since July 2009.

Down:

(1) Spencer Massey. The Top Fuel points leader lost his status, as Antron Brown took over for the fifth separate time this season. Massey lost in the first round to fellow IHRA Top Fuel champion Bruce Litton.

(2) Robert Hight. Like Massey in Top Fuel, the John Force Racing standout lost his virtual season-long Funny Car points lead after losing to teammate Mike Neff in the first round Sunday.

(3) Ronnie Humphrey. He had been tied with Jeg Coughlin for 10th place, but teammate Jason Line opened Pro Stock eliminations by knocking him below the cutoff line. Humphrey will enter the last-chance U.S. Nationals in 12th place.

Most Notable Qualifying Occurrence - Erica Enders snapped Allen Johnson's streak of six consecutive No. 1 qualifying positions. She did it with a track-record elapsed time that she eclipsed in eliminations Sunday. She ended up scoring her second straight victory and third in the past six races.

Most Notable Elimination Occurrence - So many deserving incidents make it hard to choose. The two wacky disqualifications that helped John Force in Funny Car and Larry Morgan in Pro Stock have to take the prize.

Hard Luck Award Winner - Scott Palmer. The journeyman Top Fuel racer clocked his career-best elapsed time (3.923 seconds) and speed (310.20 mph) to make the cut in the third overall qualifying session. Then Keith Murt bumped him from the grid and he couldn't get back in with his final run. However, Palmer qualified 12th in Top Alcohol Dragster and within an hour of making the Top Fuel field Saturday knocked off top-seeded Jared Dreher in the first round of sportsman eliminations. Palmer was timed out in the second round Sunday against Chase Copeland as he couldn’t get the car staged.

Biggest Controversy - It might not be classified as "controversy," but the cockpit canopy affixed to Tony Schumacher's U.S. Army Dragster certainly has generated mixed opinions. Here's what various Top Fuel leaders had to say:

Morgan Lucas: "We think there are some potential fire hazard issues that have not been addressed and that the added weight will make the cars more difficult to stop. Given those questions, I cannot see Morgan Lucas Racing pursuing a canopy any time soon. . . . The NHRA's tech department doesn't always have the best timing when it comes to some of its rulings. I believe that a change this significant needs time -- like the off-season -- for teams to research the equipment themselves before it becomes accepted for competition use." Quizzed again about it after his Top Fuel victory Sunday, Lucas said, "To be honest with you, personally, I don't like it. I feel like I've had enough fires. I know it's sealed around the cage, but it's not sealed off everywhere. And I feel like there's potential for there to be a dead-air space -- not that I know. That's why I'm not a crew chief. I just get in the car and drive, but in my opinion, I like the open cockpit." (He also finished his response with a coy statement: "I might have T-shirts coming out.")

Bob Vandergriff: "Currently we are not ordering it. As a bigger driver we can't afford the weight increase to our car. If NHRA raised the weight limit to allow for the increase in weight the canopy and it related components add to the cars, then we would seriously consider adding one. I'm all for safety improvements, and at face value this appears to be one. We haven't seen it in competition and that could change the initial opinion, for the better or the worse, depending on what we see from the implementation of it on the DSR cars. I'm not sure anything should be allowed two-thirds of the way thru the season due to the unknown effect it could provide for the DSR teams. I'd probably have preferred it be allowed starting with the 2013 season, but with it being allowed now we will see the results before next year starts. So pluses and minuses on the timing of the approval."

Jim Oberhofer (Kalitta Motorsports VP): "From what I understand, the whole system adds a little over 30 pounds. I would have to leave that up to Doug [Kalitta] whether he would want something like that on the car. Doug Kalitta is not Doug Herbert size, but he's also not Antron Brown size, either. I want the car safe. And if there is a safety advantage of having it, then OK. But right now I don't see that with that thing. I feel our cars we have right now [including Dave Grubnic's] are pretty safe. Doug feels safe driving the car. That's the most important thing. . . . I asked Connie [Kalitta], because he's obviously made a lot of laps down the racetrack himself and has been around the sport racing continuously probably longer than anybody, 'Have you ever seen anybody get hit with something driving a Top Fuel car, whether it's a bird or whatever?' He said he inquired about "the things that Tony Schumacher was saying that either happened to him or came close to happening to him." He said Kalitta's reply was that "in all my years of racing, I've only known of two people and they drove Comp dragsters back in the '70s." Said Oberhofer, "He said as far as a Top Fuel car he doesn't recall anybody getting hit with anything making a lap down the track."

Most Memorable Quotes of the Weekend - Tony Schumacher, defending the merit of the cockpit canopy: ""What the advantage is is life expectancy. I want to live longer, and that's what we're doing it for. There's no one out there who can dispute it. If you don't own one, if you like it and think there's an advantage, put it on your car. I recommend it highly. Simple as that. Wally Parks founded the NHRA to keep people safe: get 'em off the street, put 'em in race cars with roll cages and safety people. And that's what we're doing. All of us working together are going to make that happen. We're trying to make this car go out and be the future so other people put it on their car and we don't have to see any more tragedies."

Down the Road - Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Aug. 29-Sept. 3

At The Back Gate - Matt Krebs, hospitality chef in the Lucas Oil pits, makes a mean dish of cheese-laced hash browns. But Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan wasn't planning to have any for breakfast Sunday morning. While he was standing in line, though, somebody gave him a hot tip: When Melanie Troxel ate them, she always won rounds.

"So I grab the spoon and scoop out: 'One round, two rounds,' " Morgan said. Now he wished he had been a little more piggish and helped himself to a couple more.

Morgan entered the race a single point behind Jeg Coughlin and Ronnie Humphrey, who were tied for 10th place. That's where he wanted to be -- in the Countdown field. And this Brainerd race and the Labor Day weekend classic U.S. Nationals offered the final two chances to make it before the playoff-eligible list is sealed.

He went out and helped his cause by upsetting higher-qualified Vincent Nobile on a holeshot. With Humphrey's loss, Morgan moved into the top 10. But he lost to Mark Martino in the quarterfinal.

Morgan went back to his pit area, changed clothes, and was preparing to leave to catch a flight back to Ohio.

"I was ready to go home. We were in put-it-all-away mode," Morgan said. "Then an NHRA official comes up and tells us, we've got to get ready for another round."

Martino was disqualified because officials said his car was too light on the scales at post-race tech inspection.

"I was shocked but the happiest guy on the property," Morgan said. "We went right to work and got our Mustang ready for the next round."

He couldn't stop No. 1 (and eventual winner) Erica Enders in their semifinal match-up, but he did jump from No. 12 to No. 9. As the tour heads to Indianapolis for the final race of the so-called "regular season," Morgan trails No. 8 Shane Gray by only three points and No. 7 Ron Krisher by 14. He has a 16-point edge on No. 10 V Gaines.

"That was a huge break for us," Morgan said. "I want to get into that Countdown so bad for Forrest and Charlotte Lucas. Where we are now lets us control our own destiny in Indy."

A few extra spoonfuls of cheesy hash browns might not hurt, either.

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