Massey, Pedregon roll at Bandimere
The topsy-turvy championship battles in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series' top two divisions enjoyed a rare week of stability at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
In Top Fuel, where the championship lead has changed hands eight times in 14 events, Shawn Langdon held onto the top spot despite losing to Mile-High winner Spencer Massey in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, in Funny Car, Cruz Pedregon's third win of the season moved him up to second in the standings, just 40 points behind category leader Matt Hagan.
Massey, who is also a three-time winner in 2013, moved up to third in the Top Fuel points by besting Bob Vandergriff Jr. in the final with a 3.974-second/309.27-mph pass.
Massey essentially saved the weekend for the powerhouse Don Schumacher Racing team, which saw five of its seven drivers fail to advance past the second round. Antron Brown lost in the first round to Langdon, while seven-time category champion Tony Schumacher bowed out in his semifinal clash with Vandergriff.
"I was very surprised to see my DSR teammates Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown not running up to their full potential this weekend," Massey said. "But that just shows you just how tough racing on the mountain is, and I'm sure that both teams will be very tough once we return to sea level at Sonoma [July 26-28].
"The key to winning here today was to tune smart and drive smart, and that's exactly what we were able to do," added the No. 9 qualifier. "We didn't have the power that we wanted during qualifying, but this isn't a horsepower race. You just have to make sure you get it down the track, and Phil [Shuler, crew chief] did a great job."
Pedregon dominated the Funny Car activity in his Snap-On Tools Toyota, setting a track record ET of 4.073 seconds on the way to the No. 1 qualifying position.
On Sunday, Pedregon took out Todd Simpson, Ron Capps and Del Worsham before besting Bob Tasca III in the final with a 4.233-second, 295.46-mph pass.
It was Pedregon's 33rd NHRA event win and his first at Bandimere in exactly 20 years.
"I got asked what the most gratifying part of the weekend was and I'd have to say that it was breaking our own track record and having low ET in three of the four rounds," Pedregon said. "We were on a three-race first-round slide so this couldn't have come at a better time.
"This was a good race to come back and run well, and it takes a little pressure off for Sonoma and Seattle."
Allen Johnson continued his mastery of Pro Stock at Bandimere, winning for the fifth time at the high-altitude venue. Johnson won the Mopar Nationals for the second year in a row and the fourth time in the past five years. Johnson has made seven consecutive final-round appearances at the Colorado dragway just outside of Denver.
In a final-round matchup of Dodge Avengers, Johnson edged local favorite V Gaines, clocking 6.989 sec/196.87 mph to Gaines' 7.015/196.67 effort.
"The Mopar Express Lane crew is the reason for this," said Johnson. "It's all the guys at the engine shop, all the guys at the chassis shop, and all the things that they put into this event. They're determined to win every year, and I have to give all the glory to them.
"We're really thrilled to come out here with a win for Mopar on their 25th anniversary [sponsoring the Mile-High event]," he continued. "For them and the Bandimere family, having that marriage for 25 years, we really wanted to win it for that marriage. We pulled it off, and we're very happy."
Shawn Gann ended a lengthy drought in Pro Stock Motorcycle, making his first final-round appearance since 2010 and scoring his first event win in nine years. It was Gann's fifth career PSM win and his first since he triumphed at Bandimere in 2004.
Hector Arana Jr. reached the final for the first time since winning the first three PSM events of the season, but a poor 0.197-second reaction time doomed his chances in the final as he lost out to Gann, who ran 7.351/181.08 to Arana's 7.376/182.11.
Arana still holds a comfortable 112-point lead in the PSM standings over Michael Ray.
"This is a big win," Gann exclaimed. "It was a long drought, but if you give up the fight you're never gonna get out of that drought. My bike has always been fast, but I've had problems that have plagued me.
"I'm the heaviest rider out here and I make my own clutches so I have that to deal with," he added. "Being up here on the mountain, with fat people like me, you can only move so much mass so hard, but we found a way."
The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues July 26-28 with the NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway. Four rounds remain prior to the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
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