"Teflon John" Force was stewing Sunday about his first-round mistake in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., against Funny Car opponent Alexis DeJoria that ended up not costing him at all.
He red-lighted. She red-lighted. She didn't know he had fouled first. She continued trying to tame her unruly Tequila Patron Toyota, but it bucked her across the center line. The "first or worst" ruled that has saved her seconds before immediately came back and bit her. Force was reinstated in the eliminations field, and he advanced to the final round and gained a position in the standings.
Being caught up in the confusion cost DeJoria her opportunity to make the Countdown field, and it likely doomed her chances for rookie-of-the-year consideration. She called it "certainly a good learning experience for me." Every weekend she says she's "super-stoked" to be competing, but Sunday, she exited the race saying, "I super-screwed up."
Her elimination from the Countdown will be official once 10th-ranked Bob Tasca makes a qualifying run at Indianapolis.
Force was more distraught in "victory." He berated himself, saying, "These young rookie drivers are learning, and it's the old guy that screws up. My guys are going to beat the crap out of me. Somebody ought to kick me in the head." Later he said that when he got back to the pits, "My boys asked me, 'Force, what do you teach us? We are a team. We love you even when you are screwed up.' Mike Jenkins, the Traxxas president, bought my daughter a Rolex watch for winning Seattle. I don't need no watch. I just need to win."
He got some help. While Force was beating up on himself, his Don Schumacher Racing rivals were beating up on each other. In the quarterfinals, Capps beat Johnny Gray, and Matt Hagan defeated Jack Beckman. Then Capps defeated the resurgent and desperate reigning class champion Hagan, who had raced in the previous two final rounds.
Hagan sliced No. 10 Bob Tasca's 62-point advantage to just 19 and said, "We're not that far back and it is doable. We don't wish for anyone to have a bad race. We just need to have a good one. It was the same against Beckman. We race at DSR. There are no gimmies. That's how we roll."
All the drama this past weekend heightens the suspense for the Aug. 29- Sept. 3 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. That's where those vying for spots in the six-race playoff have no more chances. Only 10 drivers in each pro class will qualify.
In the Top Fuel class, No. 10 Bob Vandergriff will try to grab the final spot by holding off Clay Millican, who's three points behind him, and Khalid al Balooshi, who needs at least 79 points to challenge him. Terry McMillen is an extreme long shot to make the Countdown field.
Five Funny Car slots are waiting to be filled. Courtney Force, Cruz Pedregon, John Force, Jeff Arend, and Tasca are in the top 10 so far, but Hagan and Tim Wilkerson want to scramble the lineup. With a big show at "The Big Go," 2003 U.S. Nationals winner Tim Wilkerson could do way more than close his 28-point gap with Tasca.
Allen Johnson has conceded his "hottest Pro Stock racer" label to Erica Enders since race day at Seattle. She has won there and at Brainerd and snapped his low-qualifier streak at six. But Johnson will secure No. 1 seed for the Countdown if he qualifies.
Meanwhile at the bottom of the Pro Stock Countdown list, four berths are up for grabs. Battling for them are current top-10 drivers Ron Krisher, Shane Gray, Larry Morgan, and V Gaines. Jeg Coughlin and Ronnie Humphrey, who slipped from the top 10 at Brainerd, might have some competition from dark horses Roger Brogdon and Kurt Johnson.
Ten Pro Stock Motorcycle riders still have a chance to claim one of the five open spots. If No. 10 Shawn Gann qualifies at Indianapolis, he will eliminate Jerry Savoie and Mike Berry from Countdown consideration. Also looking for a chance are Scotty Pollacheck, 2010 race winner and champion LE Tonglet, Michael Ray, Matt Smith, John Hall, Steve Johnson, and Michael Phillips.
The following already have secured their places in the Countdown:
Top Fuel: Spencer Massey, Antron Brown, Tony Schumacher, Steve Torrence, Doug Kalitta, Morgan Lucas, Shawn Langdon, Brandon Bernstein, David Grubnic
Funny Car: Robert Hight, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Johnny Gray, Mike Neff
Pro Stock: Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Allen Johnson, Mike Edwards, Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, Hector Arana Jr., Hector Arana Sr., Karen Stoffer
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