Monday, April 3, 2017

Gray makes history with NHRA win at Vegas

In a slight departure (OK...a big one) from what normally gets done around these parts of the blogosphere, it's time for me to clean out my notebook from the NHRA's DENSO Nationals stop that happened Sunday at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

For starters, the hot-rod, straight-line fans got a moment to savor when Tanner Gray became the youngest winner in NHRA history.

And the crowd asked..."how young is he?"

Tanner Gray is 17 years old. He's still two weeks shy of his 18th birthday (April 15), and he went out and piloted his Pro Stock car to one of the more awesome race victories in recent memory.

I've been covering drag racing since 2006, so that gives you a bit of an idea.

Gray didn't beat just anyone along the way after qualifying fifth for the final eliminations on the warmest day of the race weekend. He got by Summit Racing teammates Greg Anderson (quarterfinals) and Jason Line (semifinals) -- who are 1-2 in the current Pro Stock standings -- to get his chance at history.

Thanks to a near-perfect reaction time off the starting line (.010), Gray denied Bo Butner his first career win on a hole shot (Gray crossed in 6.681 to Butner's 6.678 with a .088 RT) and made history as the youngest winner of the NHRA Wally trophy.

Against Anderson in Round 2, Gray's reaction time was even better at .001.

The amazing part through all the excitement: Gray still has two more months of online course work before he graduates from high school.

Such is a racer's life. When you make a dream come true at that young an age, it only gets better from here. Well done.

-As for Sunday's Monster Energy Cup race at Martinsville, the STP 500 gave NASCAR's new stage-racing format another huge boost for the excitement level.

Case in point came at the end of Stage 2. With Kyle Busch leading, he was caught in race traffic as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. battled to stay ahead and on the lead lap.

When Stenhouse nudged Busch up the track -- not enough to cause a problem other than the one that blew up in Busch's brain -- it was the gift Chase Elliott ran with to take the Stage 2 win and the playoff point that goes with it.

Afterward, Busch sounded off. We shouldn't have expected anything less.

Busch claimed he was trying to be nice to Stenhouse.

“I actually was rolling into Turn 3 and was kind of going higher out of my way in order to let (Stenhouse) back by and give him the lap,’’ Busch said in an story written by Dustin Long. “That was my intent. He just drove through me. Cost me my spot to (Elliott). I was hoping I could run off the corner side by side with (Stenhouse) and keep (Elliott) at bay and keep my nose in front of his and be able to score the segment. I was trying to be the nice guy but nice guys don’t finish first.’’

Stenhouse's take on the matter from the same story:

“I got sponsors, fans and a team to take care of,’’ he said. “I had to stay on the lead lap. That was a turning point in the race. If (Busch) laps (Dillon) and then we’re stuck a lap down, it could ruin our race. I drove as hard as I could, and it paid off for us.

“(It was) nothing to get him back for. Cars were hard to drive. We had a lot of laps on the tires. I saw he was going to try to get on the outside of (Dillon) and that’s where was good in (turns) 3 and 4. So I ran in there with him. I was just going to give him a nudge and make sure he didn’t get by (Dillon). I didn’t mean to give up the win there for him in that stage.’’

Thanks to his approach, Stenhouse finished 10th and earned a stage point.

Proving that the lost opportunity is already in Busch's head, he not only lost the race win to Brad Keselowski -- who became the first driver to earn a second win this season -- but isn't excited about the near future.

Joe Gibbs Racing has won three of the last 30 races in NASCAR's Chase/playoff, but this year's race to the title is still 21 races away.

Tell us how you really feel come September, Kyle. Maybe everything will be great by then.

Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @TommyZee81 or email

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