April 21, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria’s Connolly wins NHRA U.S. Nationals

CLERMONT, Ind. — With four Pro Stock wins under his belt going into the weekend’s NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Elyria’s Dave Connolly knew he was having a great season.
But what was to come next put it over the top.
The 24-year-old Elyria High graduate highlighted his fifth professional season with a win Monday at O’Reilly Raceway Park in the finals of the NHRA’s premier event.
The victory, his second straight and 14th of his career, vaulted him into first place in the Countdown to Four playoff points with 2,176, 14 ahead of arch rival Greg Anderson, whom he defeated in Monday’s title round.
Anderson had been the leader through the first 17 races, but his 174-point advantage dropped to 10 when NHRA reset points after the first stage of the Countdown.
The Pro Stock final was the closest of the day as Connolly overcame a slight starting line advantage by Anderson to win  by 0.0088 seconds. Connolly had caught Anderson by the 60-foot timer and went on to post a 6.710 at 206.32 mph to Anderson’s 6.729 at 205.79 mph.
Connolly’s win avenged his loss to Anderson in the finals of the same event last year.
“I’m thrilled and I’m speechless,” said a smiling Connolly, who drives the Evan Knoll’s Torco Racing Fuels Pro Stock Chevy Cobalt.  “This is the U.S. Nationals, the biggest event of the year, and I’m standing here with the trophy. It’s incredible.
“We have been trying to win this race for the last four years, but Evan Knoll and Victor Cagnazzi have put a heck of a team together and it looks like we are starting to give Greg’s team a run for their money.”
Connolly, who began eliminations by running the quickest time of the event, 6.648 seconds at 206.39 mph in defeating Anderson teammate Jason Line (6.691 at 206.86), praised crew chief Tommy Utt.
“He did a great job with the car . . . we had the best car every round. We made pretty good runs all day until the final when the tires kind of shook and it made me a little nervous.”
The win snapped Anderson’s Raceway Park round-win streak at 19 and four consecutive race victories.
“He was going for five straight and we were hungry,” said Connolly.
In other finals Monday,  defending Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher captured his  sixth U.S. Nationals victory in eight years, defeating Larry Dixon in the final.
Mike Ashley took advantage when Robert Hight’s Mustang encountered trouble early in the final run to win Funny Car.