HINES WINS NHRA PRO BIKE BATTLE; MILLICAN, HIGHT, LAUGHLIN AND M. SMITH CLINCH NO. 1 QUALIFIERS AT NHRA SONOMA NATIONALS
Andrew Hines added another impressive achievement to his dominant 2019 season, racing to his third NHRA Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle win during the 32nd annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday. Hines earned a $25,000 payday in the all-star bonus race that featured eight top riders in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
In other racing, Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) qualified No. 1 in their respective categories at the 15th of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The event is also the second of three races during the NHRA's famed Western Swing.
Hines, the current points leader and winner of six races this season, knocked off teammate Eddie Krawiec in the final round with a run of 6.912-seconds at 193.24 mph on his new Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson FXDR the team debuted a week ago in Denver. Hines, who also won last weekend, beat Hector Arana Jr. and Smith to reach the finals against Krawiec, and will now look to win in Sonoma for the third time.
"Racing through this year and racing here at the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle, I had my focus," Hines said. "We had a tune-up we could rely on. I've always been the guy to put too much pressure on myself, and you take the points out of the equation (for a bonus race), and it always seemed to work out for me and today was no different. Mickey Thompson supporting this for the past three years has been phenomenal. They're a great partner for the entire class and do so much great promotion for us."
Top Fuel's Millican scored his third No. 1 qualifier of 2019, 23rd in his career and second straight at Sonoma Raceway, as his season-best pass of 3.698 at 330.96 from Friday held up held up in his Parts Plus/Laris Motorsports dragster. Points leader and defending world champ Steve Torrence, who has won eight of the past nine races in the 2019 season, is earned the second spot with a 3.717 at 325.85, while his father, Billy, qualified third after going 3.718 at 325.85.
"Today was more like what we're going to race in," Millican said. "It is awesome to be the No. 1 qualifier and I was really excited we made a good run in the final qualifying session. I am so proud of everybody on this team. They work their tails off and, to me, qualifying is just fun. I feel good about our chances tomorrow, I'm ready and I know we can do more."
In Funny Car, points leader and defending event winner Hight secured his eighth No. 1 qualifier of 2019 and 68th career top spot thanks to his run of 3.858 at 334.65 on Friday in his Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS. Hight will look for his 50th career win and third at Sonoma on Sunday. Shawn Langdon's 3.875 at 329.99 put him in second, and Jack Beckman will start eliminations from third after his run of 3.879 at 333.41.
"Being No. 1 is big," Hight said. "It gives you some confidence and it shows we're consistent. We've been in a lot of different conditions all year and to have eight No. 1 (qualifiers), it shows we have a combination for all different conditions. It was big for me today to make it down two runs because we're going to be faced with the same conditions tomorrow. I've done well here, set a couple records and that all gives you confidence, and that's big."
Pro Stock's Laughlin grabbed his second career top qualifier and first this season as his 6.520 at 210.80 from Friday in his Havoline Chevrolet Camaro stood up. Laughlin, whose NHRA Pro Stock career started at Sonoma in 2015, will face Val Smeland in the opening round of elimination. Deric Kramer qualified second with a 6.523 at 210.93 and Jeg Coughlin Jr. will start raceday from the third position after his 6.533 at 210.41.
"This is just a huge confidence-booster, not just for me but our whole team, especially coming back from Denver where we had our worst race of the season," said Laughlin, who is looking for his first win of 2019. "All in all, the car is running great and I'm driving (well), and we really have a good shot at winning the whole thing tomorrow."
Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion M. Smith raced to the No. 1 position for the second straight race on his Denso/Stockseth/MSR EBR thanks to the 6.779 at a track record speed of 200.83 from Friday. It is his 34th career No. 1 qualifier and third this year, and he will take on Jianna Salinas in the first round on Sunday. Jerry Savoie qualified second with a 6.801 at 198.20, while Hines took third in qualifying thanks to his 6.829 at 197.74.
"We're going to try to get two hats this weekend," M. Smith said. "We got the green one (for qualifying No. 1), now we want to get the yellow one (for winning the race). We just have to go back and reset, and we'll go back out there and see what we can do tomorrow. We'll be ready."
Eliminations at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals begin at 11 a.m. PT on Sunday. Live finals action starts at 2:30 p.m. ET on FS1 on Sunday before moving to a live, two-hour broadcast on the FOX national broadcast network starting at 5 p.m. There will also be a special hour-long Pro Stock episode at 10 p.m. ET on FS1 on Sunday.