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2014 NHRA Sonoma Nationals: Who to watch

Drivers to watch at Sonoma this weekend
Drivers to watch at Sonoma this weekend
NHRA Media

The second race in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Western Swing takes place Friday through Sunday, July 25th through 27th at Sonoma Raceway in California. All four NHRA pro categories – Top Fuel Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – will be competing at Sonoma, as the “regular season” winds down and the teams prepare for the 2014 Countdown to the Championship.

Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending race winners at Sonoma. Located just north of San Francisco, Sonoma Raceway also hosts NASCAR and the Verizon IndyCar Series on its road course.

Eight of the top Pro Stock Motorcycle riders will be competing in Saturday’s MiraMonte Records NHRA Pro Bike Battle, with the winner receiving $25,000. The runner-up earns $10,000, the two semifinalists $6,000 each and the first-round finishers $3,500 each.

Eddie Krawiec is the No. 1 seed in the battle and faces Scotty Pollacheck in the first round. In other first-round match-ups, the Aranas, Hector and Hector Jr., will face each other, while Andrew Hines faces John Hall and Matt Smith faces Michael Ray.

While she’s not in the battle, Angie Smith is in a battle to stay in the top 10 in PSM points. The wife of reigning PSM champ Matt Smith won her first-career Wally this season, defeating her husband in the finals at New England Dragway in June. She’s currently eighth in points.

“Sonoma is one of my favorite tracks and I love it there,” said Smith. “It’s a beautiful place and it reminds me a lot of home. The entire facility is just great. It’s such a different race than Denver and everything is a lot faster in Sonoma. Hopefully we can keep this pace and momentum going and I can stay in the top 10.”

In Pro Stock, rookie Jonathan Gray is also trying to hang on to a Countdown to the Championship spot, currently sitting 10th – just 23 points ahead of veteran Greg Anderson.

“The pressure is building, there is no question about it,” said Gray. “You just have to deal with it accordingly and just try to keep things going. For us, we have start qualifying better. This weekend we'll be working on eliminating the things that have been holding us back with that and hopefully we'll do better.”

Defending Top Fuel winner Langdon is anxious to get back on track and put last week’s disappointments at Denver behind him. There’s no place better than Sonoma for Langdon, a track he grew up racing at.

“Some tracks you just feel better going to,” said Langdon, currently third in points. “But once you’re in the car it doesn’t matter where you’re at. I’m automatically in race mode, so it’s more about the excitement leading up to the event. There’s a lot of excitement for me and, of course, you’ll have lots of friends and family there.”

Qualifying for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals begins on Friday with two sessions at 4:15 and 6:15 p.m. PT, and concludes on Saturday with sessions at 12:55 and 3:20 p.m. PT. The Miramonte Records Pro Bike Battle for PSM takes place Saturday at 12:45, 3:15 and 4:40 p.m. PT. Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. PT on Sunday. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.

Quotes in this piece provided by the NHRA.

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