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Force’s 120th Win Closes Points Gap; Kalitta, K.J., Schnitz Also Take Wins

By Rob Geiger,

Drag racing legend John Force won his record 120th Funny Car race Sunday at Route 66 Raceway to close to within 48 points of the championship lead. Doug Kalitta, Kurt Johnson, and Ryan Schnitz joined the 13-time series titlist in the Route 66 Raceway winner's circle of the ninth annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, the 10th of 23 races in the $50 million POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Force's beat teammate Robert Hight in the money round with an off-pace 4.930-second pass at 233 mph after both men encountered engine trouble. Kalitta chipped away Melanie Troxel's lead in Top Fuel by dismissing her in the final round with a 4.503 at 330 mph. Johnson denied King Demon Crown winner Greg Anderson a second trophy this weekend when he recorded a 6.646-second holeshot victory in Pro Stock, while Schnitz threw his hat in the Pro Stock Motorcycle title chase with 7.064-second win over red-lighting first-time finalist Matt Guidera.

With a career-best four wins in his last five races, Kalitta is unquestionably the hottest driver on tour. He may have only gained one round on Troxel at this event but his recent run has trimmed her once daunting lead from 174 to 71 points.

Both drivers left with nearly identical reaction times in the final but Troxel soon got sideways when her tires started spinning, which eventually forced her to cross the centerline. Kalitta had no trouble in the left lane and posted a winning 4.503 at 330.23 mph in his Mac Tools rail.

"It's been a very nice stretch," Kalitta said. "We've been fortunate and Rahn [Tobler], my crew chief, has this car running strong. We're trying to catch up and we've been making up ground. Of course there's still a long way to go but we're sure hoping this will be our year.

"Rahn has a very aggressive tune-up but it's also very safe. We were able to stay in the same lane all day and the car was perfect. [Team owner Connie Kalitta] has pulled back a little and let Rahn and Jim-O [Oberhofer, Hillary Will's crew chief] run the cars the way they want to run them. It's great to see him develop that confidence in what they're doing."

This was Kalitta's 28th win in 51 final-round appearances, while Troxel fell to 2-7 when there is a trophy up for grabs. The duo has now opened up a 130-point cushion on the chase pack.

It took Force five tries to get his 120th win after winning No. 119 at last year's Dallas event. He has now won an NHRA national event in 20 consecutive years, a record for the nitro classes. This was also the 26th final involving two cars from the John Force Racing stable. Force has won 14 of those races.

He was certainly up for this race as he left with a .052-second reaction time to Hight's .109-second launch. Both Mustangs were steaming down the track from the start until Force's engine expired followed almost immediately by Hight's own engine problem. Force had just enough momentum to win with a 4930 at 233.60 mph to Hight's 4.890 at 244.56 mph.

"It's a lot of wins," Force said, "but no one cares what you did in the past. We've won one race this year and we gained some big points today so that's important. We've had a good car all year but [Ron] Capps has been very consistent and we haven't been able to gain on him.

"You get older and you start to wonder what it's going to take. I've had to monitor how I sleep the night before and what I eat. I used to coffee-up. I did oxygen, but it didn't do nothing. I took [Gary] Scelzi out for some drinks at Hooters the other night. Maybe that's the key. You can drink too much coffee and POWERade and cross your mind up. You gotta watch your medication. You can take Viagra and you end up looking in the stands instead of at the Tree."

Force's Sunday run in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang moved him to within 48 points of POWERade points leader Ron Capps, who lost in the quarterfinals to Hight. Capps started the race with a 109-point lead.

Good friends Johnson and Anderson had another great Pro Stock final with Johnson scoring his 34th victory and second of the year by .03-second. K.J. used a great .012- to .050-second reaction time advantage to steal this one away as Anderson's quicker 6.641 at 208.10 mph lost to Johnson's 6.646 at 207.46 mph.

Two finals in a row since an uncharacteristic DNQ in Columbus has lifted Johnson from 10th to fourth place, 161 out of the top slot.

"Everyone keep telling me to get my new car out but this old one is working pretty good," Johnson said. "It's all about getting all the pegs in the right holes. If you do that it runs right, just like last year.

"I was a bonehead in Topeka [in the final] and had a terrible light and just gave away the win. I didn't want to do that today and I ended up good on the Tree (.028 average). It was fun to race Greg in the final. It's all-star boxing when the helmets are on but we're friends again at the other end. Everyone has an opponent that brings out the very best in you. For me that person is Greg."

The Route 66 jinx continues for Anderson as the 40-time national event winner couldn't scratch this racetrack off his list of places where he's won. He did score in Saturday's King Demon Crown special event, but Chicago and Richmond, Va., remain the two places where he hasn't scored a victory. Even so, Anderson expanded his POWERade points lead to 110 with his 21st career runner-up finish.

Schnitz collected his first win of the season and the fourth of his brief 34-race career at the starting line when first-time finalist Matt Guidera got a little too excited and jumped the Christmas Tree by .004-second. It might have been a moot point as Schnitz zoomed to a 7.064 at 182.03 mph to Guidera's 7.105 at 185.08 mph.

The win moved Schnitz from ninth to fifth place, while Guidera's career day lifted him from 15th to eighth place overall.

"It was Matt's first final and that probably played in my favor," Schnitz said. "He ended up pushing the Tree just a little too hard. I'm sure his pulse was up. He's a good rider and he has a great bike. He'll win one real soon. I just hope it's not against me.

"I try not to look at points. I focus on the next round; that's my mindset. But, sure, we think about getting in the championship race and making a run at it. That's why we're here. It's all about going rounds. I always feel like if I get to the semi's I'm going to the finals and I'm gonna have a good chance to win. By the time you get to the semi's you've had two successful runs down the track. You're pretty dialed in."

Schnitz's Trim-Tex Buell V-Twin carried him from the bottom half of the elimination field past Craig Treble, Matt Smith, and back-to-back champion Andrew Hines. Guidera's Rocklin V-Twin helped him beat Chris Rivas, points leader Angelle Sampey, and low qualifier Chip Ellis.

Sampey had her 36-point lead over Andrew Hines in the championship race cut down to 14.