JOLIET, IL – July 7, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – It has taken a little longer than he expected and Shane Gray still isn’t all the way there, but the Pro Stock standout finally feels good about the direction his team is headed.
After struggling out of the gates in the new look Pro Stock class to open the 2016 season, Gray has taken major strides over the last five races in his Valvoline/Nova Services Chevy Camaro, advancing to three semifinals.
With no final round appearances and no victories yet in 2016, Gray knows there is still work to be done to catch the dominant duo of Jason Line and Greg Anderson, who have combined to win the first 12 races in Pro Stock. But his prospects for doing so are at an all-time high in 2016 and Gray is eager to complete the task at this weekend’s K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
“I think we’re on a little bit of a roll,” said Gray, who is currently eighth in Pro Stock points. “We picked up some power in our engine shop, and the car’s getting better, and I seem to be getting a little bit better behind the wheel. Dave (Connolly), the crew chief, is doing an awesome job. I wouldn’t trade anybody I’ve got for nothing.”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will for the first time be televised nationally on FOX Sports 1. The fan-favorite event at the state-of-the-art motorsports facility located just south of Chicago will mark the official start of the second half of 2016 and is the 13th of 24 races this season.
Gray wouldn’t mind being the first to break up the stranglehold Line, the points leader with seven victories, and Anderson, who has five wins, have had in the new era of Pro Stock. The class now features fuel injected engines, 10,500 RPM rev-limiters, flat hoods and shortened wheelie bars, and it’s been an adjustment for most, with past multi-time champs Line and Anderson holding a dominant edge through the first half of 2016.
But Gray and his team have made considerable strides, posting semifinal berths in Topeka, Epping and the most recent event in Norwalk. Gray believes he is on the right track after plenty of trial and error with the new Camaro, but there isn’t any secret as to what has been the key for the turnaround.
“It’s been a process of a lot of hard work and a little bit different insight, especially from Connolly,” said Gray, whose last win came at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis in 2014.
“It’s just a combination of a group of good guys we’ve got put together now,” he continued. “We’ve also got some good team cars, too. The Skillmans and the Laughlins are the greatest group of people to race with there is.”
Gray Motorsports has a technical alliance with Pro Stock drivers Drew Skillman, who was named the NHRA’s top rookie in 2015, and Alex Laughlin, who has been solid in his rookie campaign in 2016. That alliance has paid major dividends in recent weeks, making it a far cry from Gray’s early-season struggles that included five straight first-round losses.
It wasn’t an ideal scenario for Gray, who has four career wins, but the veteran believes he will be at his best when the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins. Only five races follow the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals before the NHRA’s six-race playoffs, but Gray is confident his team will be performing at a high level when it arrives. The recent improvement has also increased Gray’s own enjoyment at the track.
“I don’t really want to peak just yet,” Gray said. I’d kind of like to be at our best when the Countdown starts and see if we can work ourselves up in the points. It’s actually starting to be fun to go to the race track again.”
Gray could make a big dent in the points standings with a victory at Route 66 Raceway. Standing in his way are a host of top challengers, including Line and Anderson, as well as defending event winner Allen Johnson, back-to-back world champ Erica Enders, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., Vincent Nobile, Chris McGaha and Bo Butner. But Gray will lean on Connolly’s expertise and track record at Route 66 Raceway in hopes of reaching the winner’s circle for the first time since 2014.
“I like Chicago,” Gray said. “I really like the race track there. We’ve had some decent success at Chicago, but Dave Connolly’s always run good at Chicago, so we’re looking forward to that.”
In Top Fuel, Chicago native and defending event winner Schumacher, an eight-time world champion, will try to win for the first time in 2016. He’ll face off against a host of stars in the loaded Top Fuel class, including points leader Doug Kalitta, who has three wins in 2016 and three victories at Chicago, two-time 2016 winner Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, who also has two wins this year, J.R. Todd, Richie Crampton, defending world champion Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon, who has posted back-to-back victories, Terry McMillen and Clay Millican.
In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. sprinted to victory in Chicago by outlasting Matt Hagan in last year’s final and has plenty of momentum by picking up his first victory this season in Bristol. Hagan, a three-time Chicago winner, has two victories this season, while everyone is chasing red-hot points leader Ron Capps, who has won three of the last four events and has four wins in 2016. The rest of the star-studded field includes 16-time world champion John Force, three-time event winner and defending world champ Del Worsham, two-time season winner Tim Wilkerson, Jack Beckman, Courtney Force, Robert Hight and Alexis DeJoria.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. raced to first victory of the season and second consecutive Route 66 Raceway victory by defeating Matt Smith in the final round at the track last year. Standing in his way of a three-peat at the track is points leader Eddie Krawiec, who already has three victories, and his teammate and defending world champion Andrew Hines. Others to watch in the two-wheeled category include Jerry Savoie, three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, who won in Englishtown, LE Tonglet, Pomona runner-up Hector Arana Sr. and Karen Stoffer.
The Route 66 NHRA Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, including the popular and highly-competitive JEGS Allstars bonus event.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. on Friday, July 8, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 9, at 3:15 and 6 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 10.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 888-629-RACE (7223) or 815-722-5500. Tickets also are available online at www.route66raceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
K&N FILTERS ROUTE 66 NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 19th annual K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals, the 13th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event, including the popular JEGS Allstars.
WHERE: Route 66 Raceway, Joliet, Ill. The track is located 30 miles southwest of Chicago on Route 53 (historic Route 66), approximately three miles south of I-80 in Joliet. Take I-80 to exit #132A (Route 53 south) to the track.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 632 feet above sea level; Track direction is west to east.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, July 7-10
THURSDAY, July 7 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, July 8 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 5:15 and 7:45p.m.
SATURDAY, July 9 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 3:15 and 6 p.m.
SUNDAY, July 10 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, July 9, FS1 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, July 10, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 2 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel; Tommy Johnson Jr., Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock, Hector Arana Jr., Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Jeg Coughlin, 5, PS; Tony Schumacher, 5, TF; Kenny Bernstein, 4, TF; Tony Pedregon, 4, FC; Whit Bazemore, 3, FC; Larry Dixon, 3, TF; John Force, 3, FC; Matt Hagan, 3, FC; Doug Kalitta, 3, TF; Kurt Johnson, 3, PS; Jason Line, 3, PS; Del Worsham, 3, FC.
Top Fuel – 3.729 sec. by Anton Brown, July ’15; 328.78 mph by Dave Connolly, July ’15.
Funny Car – 3.966 sec. by Cruz Pedregon, July ’15; 322.50 mph by Courtney Force, June ’14.
Pro Stock – 6.528 sec. by Drew Skillman, July ’15; 211.83 mph by Greg Anderson, July ’15.
PS Motorcycle – 6.856 sec. by Chip Ellis, July ’15; 196.82 mph by Hector Arana Jr., July ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.676 sec. by Brittany Force, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.862 sec. and 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: For tickets, call (888) 629-RACE (7223) or purchase online at www.route66raceway.com.
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, CA — Point standings (top 10) following the 12th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
1. Doug Kalitta, 1,009; 2. Antron Brown, 940; 3. Steve Torrence, 846; 4. Brittany Force, 832; 5. Tony Schumacher, 729; 6. Shawn Langdon, 711; 7. J.R. Todd, 645; 8. Clay Millican, 572; 9. Richie Crampton, 570; 10. Leah Pritchett, 463.
1. Ron Capps, 966; 2. Courtney Force, 836; 3. Jack Beckman, 823; 4. Del Worsham, 762; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 750; 6. Matt Hagan, 747; 7. Tim Wilkerson, 723; 8. Robert Hight, 722; 9. John Force, 668; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 640.
1. Jason Line, 1,389 *; 2. Greg Anderson, 1,274 *; 3. Bo Butner, 796; 4. Allen Johnson, 719; 5. Drew Skillman, 683; 6. Vincent Nobile, 613; 7. Chris McGaha, 557; 8. Shane Gray, 532; 9. Jeg Coughlin, 528; 10. Alex Laughlin, 498.
Pro Stock Motorcycle:
1. Eddie Krawiec, 557; 2. (tie) Andrew Hines, 391; Jerry Savoie, 391; 4. Angelle Sampey, 372; 5. Chip Ellis, 300; 6. Hector Arana, 291; 7. LE Tonglet, 253; 8. Matt Smith, 192; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, 183; 10. Steve Johnson, 179.
* Clinched playoff berth in NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship