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Local Sports

NHRA Route 66 Nationals: Kalitta hopes this is his year in Top Fuel

By all standards, Doug Kalitta has been one of the NHRA’s best drivers in the Top Fuel division, ranking fourth all-time in both victories (41) and finals appearances (85).

But one thing that has eluded the veteran of nearly 20 years on the NHRA circuit is a world championship and he’s hoping 2016 might finally be his year to achieve that feat.

He has had several close calls, finishing second in points in 2003, 2004 and 2006, missing out in the first year to Larry Dixon and the other two times to Tony Schumacher.

Midway through the NHRA’s 24-race Mello Yello Series, Kalitta owns a 1009-940 points lead over defending world champion Antron Brown for first place. He not only leads the division in wins this season with three, but also has the most semifinal or better showings with nine.

And based on how his year has been going, Kalitta should be optimistic that he’ll enjoy more success at this weekend’s K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.

Kalitta won titles at the track in 2006, 2004 and 2002 and won poles in 2014, 2003 and 1999. Two weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, he qualified first and set a track record, but was eliminated in the semifinals by Kalitta Motorsports teammate J.R. Todd.

After finishing second to Steve Torrence in the season opener at Pomona, California, Kaliita put together an impressive streak when he won consecutive events at Houston, Atlanta and Topeka, Kansas. He avenged his earlier finals loss to Torrence at Houston and then beat Todd in the finals at Atlanta and Brown for the title at Topeka.

“Chicago is a great place to kick off the second half of the NHRA season,” Kalitta said. “I have had some success at Route 66 in the past, but it has been awhile. I would love to be able to start the last 12 races with a win in my Mac Tools/Red Line Oil Toyota in Chicago and make a strong run into the Countdown for the Championship.”

Brown, who ranks just behind Kalitta with 40 career Top Fuel victories and has won two world titles in four years, is enjoying another successful campaign for Don Schumacher Racing.

He beat Troy Buff for the title at Las Vegas and also defeated Torrence in the finals at Epping, New Hampshire in addition to second-place finishes to Brittany Force at Charlotte, North Carolina and Kalitta at Topeka.

Torrence has won two titles and placed second twice to give him 846 points, which ranks third in the division. Beside his win over Kalitta at Pomona, he defeated Schumacher in the Englishtown, New Jersey finals. He also has finished second to both Kalitta and Brown.

Brittany Force is in fourth place with 832 points. She beat Terry McMillen in the Gainesville, Florida finals, and won over Brown at Charlotte while placing second to Leah Pritchett at Phoenix.

Schumacher, the eight-time Top Fuel world champion who leads the division with 80 wins and 140 finals, has not won any events midway through the schedule. The five-time winner and defending champion at Route 66 Raceway took second to Torrence at Englishtown in race 10 and was the runner-up to Shawn Langdon in the next event at Bristol-Tennessee.

Two weeks ago, Langdon won his second straight race and defeated Todd in the finals at Norwalk. Langdon ranks sixth in points with 711 while Todd is seventh with 645 points. Clay Millican (572), Richie Crampton (570) and Pritchett (463) round out the top 10 in Top Fuel.

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