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Aug 19, 2013 - 07:09 AM
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2013 NHRA: Johnny Gray Secures Spot in Championship Chase, Tied for Third after Brainerd
Posted by: newsla on Aug 19, 2013 - 07:09 AM
2013 NHRA: Johnny Gray Secures Spot in Championship Chase, Tied for Third after Brainerd

Pitch Energy Funny Car driver Johnny Gray wasn't the guy hoisting the trophy at the conclusion of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend at Brainerd International Raceway, but the four-time season winner and his solid team ticked off a couple of major accomplishments.


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Gray, of Artesia, N.M., secured a position in NHRA's Countdown to the Championship and regained his footing in the points chase, moving up from fifth place in the Funny Car standings to a tie for third with Cruz Pedregon. Starting from the No. 6 position after a non-stellar outing at the last event just two weeks ago in Seattle, Gray settled in and wheeled his Pitch Energy Dodge to a strong 4.097 in the opening act on raceday to keep the points battle interesting as he halted a troubled Pedregon.

With the win, Gray's right to race for the trophy in the Countdown to the Championship was officially locked in.

"Sure, it felt good to qualify for the Countdown," said Gray, who has toyed with the No. 1 spot this year and held it briefly for the first time in his career on the basis of his accumulation of victories. "We knew we had a really good shot of making it, and it was going to take something really big to knock us out. But to get that done was an accomplishment for this whole team. Now we're working on making our program as good as we can before the Countdown starts in Charlotte after Indy. That's the focus."

In the second round in Brainerd and with his position in the standings on the line once again, Gray made another important move to oust veteran driver John Force and skirted around him in the points. Gray was a quick .066-second at the tree and paired it with a consistent 4.099 at 308.57 mph to top Force's quicker 4.061 and score a holeshot win.

Although Gray looked to be on a path to repeat his 2011 win in Brainerd, the first nitro Funny Car victory of his career, a dropped cylinder down-track ended his day in the semifinals, and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan got the win light and the ticket to the final round, 4.097 to 4.119.

"There is no disappointment for this team today," said Gray. "I'm very pleased that we were able to turn this thing around and make progress here in Brainerd. Heading into Indy, we feel like the Pitch Energy Dodge is a racecar that has a real good chance of upsetting the guy in the other lane, no matter who it is. To say that we're excited is probably an understatement. We're going to finish the year strong, and I'm real proud of this team."

"It's so nice to have the car repeating what we're putting into it," said crew chief Rob Wendland. "We came here with the thought process that we're racing like the Countdown has already started. We aren't trying new things – our testing is done. Now is the time to fine-line any little quirks in our car, and it's responding. It was a good weekend."

Qualifying position: No. 6
First round: JOHNNY GRAY (4.097-second at 295.85 mph) def. Cruz Pedregon (6.079, 111.15)
Second round: GRAY (4.099, 308.57) def. John Force (4.061, 314.24)
Semifinals: Matt Hagan (4.097, 311.34) def. GRAY (4.119, 305.08)
Session 1: 4.130-second, 304.12 mph
Session 2: 4.074, 312.06
Session 1: 5.032, 149.66
Session 2: 4.093, 306.74

NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Points Standings
(Unofficial after 17 of 24 events)
1. MATT HAGAN, 1,253
2. RON CAPPS, 1,129
3t. JOHNNY GRAY, 1,066
3t. Cruz Pedregon, 1,066
5. John Force, 1,054
6. Courtney Force, 1,039
7. JACK BECKMAN, 1,015
8. Tim Wilkerson, 952
9. Bob Tasca III, 906
10. Robert Hight, 902

Sunday: Eliminations, 9 p.m. (ET), delayed

59th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals, Aug. 30-Sept. 2, Clermont, Ind.

The NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootouts, which are races within U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway near over Labor Day Weekend, showcases Top Fuel on Aug. 31 (Saturday) and Funny Car on Sept. 1 (Sunday). Each Nitro Shootout champ will receive $100,000 for their teams.
The following drivers have qualified by winning Mello Yello Series titles this season:
1. Courtney Force (Pomona 1 winner)
4. Cruz Pedregon (Las Vegas 1)
6. John Force (Bristol)
7. JACK BECKMAN (highest in points without a 2013 title)
8. Fan vote

The top-10 drivers in points after the Aug. 28-Sept. 2 U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis qualify for the six-event NHRA Countdown to the Championship that begins Sept. 13 near Charlotte to determine the 2013 season champs in NHRA pro categories.

The following are drivers who are qualified through the past weekend's Mello Yello event at Brainerd, Minn.:
1. Matt Hagan
2. Ron Capps
3. Cruz Pedregon
4. John Force
6. Courtney Force
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

DSR teams and many others from the Mello Yello Series will test Wednesday and Thursday at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis in preparation for the 59th annual U.S. Nationals Aug. 28-Sept. 2 at the track.

Fans and friends of Don Schumacher Racing are invited to join the biggest team in professional racing on Aug. 30 at the 8th annual Don Schumacher Racing Open House to benefit Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health and Camp Riley.

The festive, free event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on that Friday will feature a giant car show, entertainment and appearances by each of DSR's seven professional drivers along with owner Don Schumacher at DSR headquarters at 1681 E. Northfield Drive in Brownsburg, Ind.

The event kicks off the NHRA U.S. Nationals Labor Day Weekend, which opens with professional qualifying later that day at Lucas Oil Raceway located about 3 miles from DSR headquarters.

The Open House, which attracted a record-crowd of more than 4,000 fans last year and boosted DSR's contributions to Riley past the $200,000 mark, invites all to celebrate DSR's 200th NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series title.

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