TOPEKA, Kan. - John Force took another step closer to winning his ninth NHRA Winston Funny Car championship with a win at the 11th annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.
Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., blistered the quarter-mile in 4.797 seconds at 316.97 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to defeat Tommy Johnson Jr's Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird Funny Car who ran a 5.175 at 239.40. Force defeated Ron Capps, Del Worsham, Tony Pedregon and Tommy Johnson Jr. to record his ninth win this season with only four events left in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing season. Force also moves ahead of Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson to record 79 career wins.
Doug Herbert, Mike Edwards and Bob Panella were also winners of their respective categories. The $1.7 million race is the 18th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Force has failed to advance past the first round in the last two events leading up to the 11th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals. "A few month back we said we've got to quit this damage thing." Force said. "Then we got into the cylinder dropping and we couldn't win a round. I told (crew chief Austin) Coil coming into here, 'It's time to go back.' We tested in Maple Grove and we came here and we got it back. We broke some parts, but that's the nature of the beast."
"We missed the tune up a little bit in the final and dropped a cylinder as soon as I hit the throttle." Funny Car runner-up Johnson Jr. commented. "When the car took a right-hand turn, that's when I knew we were in trouble but we needed 12 cylinders to catch his (John Force) run there."
Force not only won his ninth event of the season, but increased his lead in the NHRA Winston Funny Car points. Force remains in first place with 1,665 points, 319 points ahead of teammate Tony Pedregon and 431 in front of Whit Bazemore. For Bazemore to have a mathematical chance of catching Force for the 1999 NHRA Winston points title, Force would have to not qualify for at least one of the remaining four events and then lose in the first round of the remaining three. Even if that were to happen, Bazemore would have to win all four remaining races and set a national record at all four events to over take Force.
Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C., took home his third Top Fuel victory in 1999 by running a 4.664 at 312.35 in his Snap-On Tools Dragster to defeat Joe Amato's tire smoking Tenneco Automotive Dragster's run of 7.519 at 110.14. "We wanted to get down the track and not beat ourselves." Herbert said, who has lost in the first round at every race since Columbus. "You lose first round and no matter what happened, you just weren't able to win. I know I got beat on a hole shot a couple of times, no matter what happened we just couldn't do anything right."
Herbert defeated Cory McClenathan, Eddie Hill, Tony Schumacher and Joe Amato to move up to seventh in the NHRA Winston Top Fuel points. "Things ran well all weekend, and we didn't hurt a lot of parts." Herbert said, who turns 32 October 5th. "It's just a tremendous weekend for my whole team and Snap-On tools. It's a nice birthday present too." Amato's loss in the final round kept Tony Schumacher in the Winston points lead with 1,164, only 14 points ahead of Amato.
Edwards, from Broken Arrow, Okla., secured his first victory of the season in his Dewco Chevrolet Camaro in Pro Stock, using a hole shot of 6.953 at 198.35 compared to Troy Coughlin's 6.917 at 199.11. "It's sweet to win anywhere" Edwards said. "It's special to win here at home. I've gotten close here once before and got to the finals and were beaten. It's a great victory for this team."
Edwards had to defeat both Jeg and Troy Coughlin to advance to the win in Topeka. "That team (Jeg's Mail Order) is started to get a reputation like the Johnson's." Edwards said, refering to Pro Stock drivers warren and Kurt Johnson. "Two really fast cars, two really good drivers. Those guys are tough, I take my hat to that whole team, but today was Mike Edwards' day." Edwards beat Richie Stevens, Ron Krisher, and Jeg and Troy Coughlin en route to the victory his first since the 1998 US Nationals. Edwards' win moves him into seventh in the Winston points. Warren Johnson with 1,474 points still holds a 215 advantage over his son Kurt.
Panella, from Stockton, Calif., earned his third Pro Stock Truck victory of the season driving his Panella Trucking Chevrolet S-10 to defeat Larry Kopp. Panella ran a 7.597 at 177.18 compared to Kopp's 7.655 at 175.18. "He (Kopp) has struggled the last two races." Panella said. " I knew he wouldn't flounder too long. He came here and ran well once he got here and ran good all day today. I wasn't taking him lightly, I can tell you that. He did win five races last year, and that's still always in the back of my mind." With this win, Panella moved past Mark Osborne for the Winston Pro Stock Truck points lead with wins over Chip Ippolito, Kim Smith, Scott Perin and Larry Kopp. Panella leads Osborne by 46 with 894. Panella is the only Pro Stock Truck driver to win three events this season.
The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing event is the 12th annual AutoZone
Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Memphis Motorsports Park, October 7-10,
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