Khalid alBalooshi First-Time NHRA Winner at Reading
The Pro Stock final saw veteran V.Gaines return to victory lane, but the Pro Stock Motorcycle final was won by Mother Nature as rain postponed the final.
Drivers continued to re-write the record books on Monday following record-setting runs in Top Fuel and Funny Car during the weekend qualifying sessions, with cooler-than-normal temperatures leading to excellent track conditions and drivers looking to be the next new record holder and the bonus point that come with it with just two races left in the Countdown to the Championship.
In Top Fuel, alBalooshi - a native of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and a rookie in the Top Fuel division this year - was eyeing his first career win rather than a new national record, having never advanced past the quarter-finals in 20 previous career starts and going up against series points leader Antron Brown in the final.
Following a ninth-place qualifying effort on Saturday, alBalooshi squared off against Spencer Massey, Ike Maier and Shawn Langdon to advance to face Brown, who had already set a mark to beat earlier in the day.
After taking down Steve Torrence and Morgan Lucas, Brown went up against Brandon Bernstein in the semi-final and pulled off a stunning run of 3.701 seconds, easily eclipsing the mark of 3.728 set on Saturday by David Grubnic to set a new National ET Record and advance to his 73rd-career final round.
In the final, it looked like Brown used up his best stuff in the record-breaking effort, smoking the tires right off the line to hand the victory to alBalooshi, who went 3.910 at 312.42 mph.
“I give my team owner, the crew guys and all the people who work with us thanks for making this win,” alBalooshi said. “I try my best, and I know that everybody on the team is trying their best, and finally, I won my first race.”
Brown gained 20 bonus points for the National Record and leaves Reading with a 104 point advantage over Massey.
Sitting third in points and trailing leader Jack Beckman by 99 points coming into this weekend’s event, Neff faced an uphill challenge after Beckman solidified a new National Record in qualifying and earned a 20-point bonus.
Neff easily cruised to the finals with round wins over Tony Pedregon, Jim Head and his car-owner John Force to advance to the finals against Gray, who beat out Bob Tasca III, Matt Hagan and Beckman to reach the money round, but Gray’s final performance was over almost as soon as he hit the throttle, the rear tires going up in smoke as Neff completed the run with a 4.030 at 317.94 mph.
With the victory, Neff easily made up the ground lost to Beckman, although still third in points but now 54 points back, while Ron Capps sits second just 23 points behind.
“You have to have it all right to get a win any more,” said Neff. “The biggest thing is it will be exciting. I want to be able to head out west with a chance. It would be a downer if we were out of it at this point. It is nice to be alive for the championship.”
Gaines, who last went to victory lane at Phoenix in 2008, reached the finals for just the second time this season with victories against Warren Johnson, Greg Anderson and defending race winner Jason Line to face Connolly for their first final round meeting since 2007.
In the final, Connolly tripped the red light by .016 seconds, while Gaines went 6.515 at 212.26 mph to collect the Wally.
“We didn’t qualify for five of the first of seven races, but then we started making improvements and began to run better and better,” Gaines said. “We were a bit worried about running in cold weather conditions because you know that we’re from Denver where it is 5,000 feet high. We were really uncertain. But we showed this weekend that we can compete in the cold weather, and we’re just ecstatic.”
Points leader Allen Johnson was eliminated in the quarter-final by managed to hang onto an 82-point advantage over Line.
Pro Stock Motorcycle saw the records fall in that division as Andrew Hines set a new National Record with a low ET of 6.742 seconds against Wesley Wells in the opening round, going on to back it up with a quarter-final victory over Chip Ellis. Hines then went on to beat Matt Smith for his second-straight final round matchup against teammate and points leader Eddie Krawiec, who outran Craig Treble, Karen Stoffer and Hector Arana, Jr.
Before the finals could begin, rain moved in forcing officials to postpone the final until the event at Las Vegas in two weeks, where Hines will hope to hold onto the National Record and the 20-point bonus to close the gap on Krawiec, trailing by just 17 points.
“That 6.72 was the best run of my career,” Hines said. “I had my best 60-foot time, but if I had run the back half like Eddie, it would have been a 6.70. I’m glad to get the record because this is probably the last time we’ll see it set this year. It’s not going to happen in Las Vegas and it would take some extraordinary conditions for it to happen in Pomona. Those 20 points could come in handy at the last two races.”
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