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Sunday May 29th, 2016 5:36AM

John Force powers to seventh Winternationals Funny Car win at Pomona

By Pete McCole
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POMONA, CA - Defending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion John Force set another new Nation Record en route to his record 139th-career NHRA victory in Sunday's season-opening NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Khalid alBalooshi claimed the victory in the Top Fuel division, while Jason Line powered to the winners circle in Pro Stock.

Force outdistanced Matt Hagan in the final round with a record-beating run of 3.965 seconds at 323.58 mph, topping the National Record of 3.966 he himself set in qualifying on Friday as well as setting a new national speed record.

Force came in to Sunday's eliminations as the no. 1 qualifier and got a first-round bye after Paul Lee broke in staging, then bested Tommy Johnson, Jr. and Bob Tasca to reach his eighth-consecutive final round.

In the final, Hagan was into the tire shake right off the line and had to pedal it, giving Force an easy run to the finish, becoming just the third driver in Winternationals history to set a national record and take home the win, joining Don Prudhomme in 1976 and Kenny Bernstein 1987.

The new national record also earned Force a 20-point bonus, giving him a 50-point edge over Hagan in the Funny Car standings.

"We had a good race car. It's amazing," said Force, of his 16th win at his home track and his seventh Winternationals trophy. "We're trying to build our sport and come out here and run good for you all and the fans, and it's hard sometimes. Jimmy Prock (crew chief) and that whole brain trust did a great job. We're back in the game. Everything's just going right. I don't get it. I ain't that good of a guy. I'm just excited. There's a lot going on (with sponsors), and man, what a good time to flex your muscles."

In Top Fuel, alBalooshi took down top qualifier Doug Kalitta in the final, running a 3.974 at 324.36 mph for his third-career NHRA victory after Kalitta went up in smoke right at the tree.

"We had a strong day today," said alBalooshi, who defeated Tony Schumacher, teammate Shawn Langdon and Steve Torrence to advance to the finals. "It's a good win, especially when you have Tony Schumacher first round, Shawn Langdon second round, and 'Steve-O' (Torrence), who's been doing a good job. Doug's car was the best car all weekend, so it made it a very big day for us to take him down in the final and get the trophy."

Pro Stock driver Jason Line scored his third Winternationals victory with a win over V. Gaines in the final, pushing his Chevy Camaro to a run 6.526 at 212.06 over Gaines, who ran a 6.533 at 212.56 in his Dodge Avenger.

Coming into Sunday's event as the third qualifier, Line picked up round victories over Matt Hartford, Dave Connolly and Shane Gray to face Gaines for just their third head-to-head finals match up.

At the start, Line was just .003 at the line and held on to win by just three feet at the finish to post his 32nd-career NHRA win.

"My day was great," Line said. "It's a huge deal to start the season off with a win. It's a big deal. The last few years we've struggled and wasn't what we had hoped for. We worked really hard over the winter and I think we improved. This sport is just crazy hard right now. It's tough to separate yourself out here it's so competitive."

Line dedicated his Winternationals trophy to his teammate Greg Anderson, who is sitting out the opening months of the season after undergoing surgery.

"I'm forever indebted to him," Line said. "He gave me an opportunity that nobody else would."

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