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2014 Route 66 NHRA Nationals: Who to watch

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The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series visits Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, coming up Thursday through Sunday, June 26th through 29th. The Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series is also on the race card at Route 66 Raceway, which is the sister track to NASCAR’s Chicagoland Speedway.

Defending winners in the event are Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle). Schumacher has four wins at his home track, while Coughlin Jr.’s 2013 win was his fifth at the track.

The Route 66 NHRA Nationals mark the third of four-straight races in this stretch of the 2014 season, and Top Fuel sophomore Brittany Force likes the consistency she can build with back-to-back races.

“With back-to-back races, I stay more focused as a driver and my routine stays sharp,” said Force. “I know it can be hard on my guys but we perform better when we’re constantly on the move and it’s that momentum that will help us keep qualifying in the top half of the field and go some rounds.”

Force’s father, Funny Car icon John Force, is looking for some luck heading to Chicago. After starting the season with a national record e.t. and a win at Pomona, the Force family patriarch found himself in a slump of five-straight first-round losses, which ended at New England Dragway last weekend. He’s hoping the better luck continues in Chicago.

“When you go to the tracks that are the super stadiums you want to do well,” said the elder Force. “Chicago has such great fans and we are excited to be headed there. One of our new sponsors PEAK will have a big group at the races so we will be racing hard. We’ll have two night sessions so the fans will see a great show. The key will be getting information for race day but the header flames will be flying on Friday and Saturday.”

Pro Stock driver Jason Line earned his first career win in Chicago in 2004, and the track is a special place for the KB Racing driver – but not only because of his winning ways there.

"I like Chicago, not just because it was the place where I got my first win with KB Racing – although that doesn't hurt the cause – but also because the track itself is great," said Line. "It's a great facility, and it's a fun place to go. They have great pizza there, too. There are a lot of good reasons to look forward to this race.

"Chicago has been a really good place for us and right now we are definitely headed in the right direction,” he continued. “There is a lot of good thinking going on in our camp, and we aren't satisfied with where we are yet, but everyone on the Summit Racing team is working hard. I feel good about where we're going."

Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr. has three semi-final appearances in five PSM races this season, and reached the semis last year at Chicago. He’s looking to get a little bit farther this season.

"We're going to dig back in our notes for the Chicago race," said Arana Jr. "All three of the bikes ran well there last year, so we will definitely want to try to recreate that scenario but hopefully with a better ending. We will have to figure out what kind of combination we want to put together for Chicago. This motor is really happy right now, and hopefully she will stay like that for a while."

Qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries gets underway Friday at 4:30 and 7:15 p.m. CT, and concludes Saturday at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. CT. Eliminations get underway Sunday at 11 a.m. CT. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.

Quotes in this piece provided by John Force Racing and the NHRA.

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