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2014 O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals: Who to watch

Courtney Force has moved from 10th to fourth in points
NHRA Media

The third race in the NHRA’s 2014 Western Swing is this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, taking place Friday through Sunday, August 1st through 3rd at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington, near Seattle.

Three of the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series classes – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – will be in action in Seattle, where Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) took home Wallys in 2013. Several categories of the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series will also be in competition in Seattle.

JR Todd hasn’t raced at Pacific Raceways in five years, but the Top Fuel driver is coming off a win in Denver to start the Western Swing, his first since 2008.

“I've been No. 1 qualifier in Seattle before and have gone to the semis a couple of times there as well,” said Todd. “To do well there is no different than any other event. You need to get qualified well on Friday and then go to work on your race day setup. I'm looking forward to racing there with the Kalitta team. Our Optima Batteries team has done well there in the past so I'm hoping we can continue to do well.”

In Funny Car, Courtney Force is making up for a slow start to the season with two wins – Topeka and last week at Sonoma – and the young driver has vaulted from 10th to fourth in points. Her recent win gave her five for her career, breaking the tie she shared with sister Ashley Force-Hood, among others.

“I’ve had my eyes set on Ashley for a while,” said Force. “There was a big cluster of people who had four wins and I kind of became obsessed with going for number five. Ashley did a great job and I looked up to her. I knew she had four wins and I looked to see where I was at and compare. I looked up to her and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job if I can do half as well as she did. It’s cool to reach number five, but I’m very proud of my team because obviously I wouldn’t be here without them and the hard work that they put in.”

Gray Motorsports is one of the hottest teams in Pro Stock, with all three drivers – Shane and Jonathan Gray and Dave Connolly – sitting in the top 10 in points. Shane Gray has been the No. 1 or No. 2 qualifier in four of the last six races, and would like to enter the Countdown to the Championship with a win.

“I've never really had any success in Seattle, but my dad (Johnny Gray) has been to the final round there before in a Pro Stock car and maybe that has kind of paved the way a little bit for us,” said Gray. “The track can be good, but it can also be a challenge. Either way, I feel like the Gray Motorsports team has a lot of momentum right now, and it should be a good race for us. We’re a work in progress, but we’re better than we’ve ever been."

Qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries begins Friday at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. PT, and concludes Saturday with two sessions at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. PT. Eliminations get underway on Sunday at 11 a.m. PT. Keep up with the action at

Quotes in this piece provided by the NHRA.

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