One driver came to Las Vegas hoping to continue her hot start, and another came here hoping to ignite something in his season.
Both will leave having achieved their goals in the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip.
Alexis DeJoria won in Funny Car for the second time this season to move into third place in the standings, and Tony Schumacher captured the Top Fuel title for his record-setting eighth victory Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
DeJoria lives in Austin, Texas, and Schumacher plans to move there from Chicago. Because DeJoria’s primary sponsor is Las Vegas-based Patron Tequila, Schumacher wasn’t at all disappointed to share the victory podium with her.
“The Patron car, with all the Patron, the party’s going to be really good,” Schumacher said. “One of the thoughts that crossed my mind was this was going to be a pretty epic party.”
In Pro Stock, which was delayed by at least 3½ hours because of high winds, Erica Enders-Stevens won in 6.612 seconds (208.78 mph) to beat Jason Line (6.633, 208.23).
Enders-Stevens also was a big winner Saturday, taking the K&N Horsepower Challenge, earning $100,000 for finishing first in both events.
DeJoria, 36, added to her victory in Phoenix on Feb. 23, which was her first career win. She is in her third full season in the NHRA Mello Yello Series, placing 13th in 2013 and 12th last year.
But DeJoria believed she was getting closer to breaking through as last season ended, and that certainly proved to be the case in Phoenix and here. She ran the two fastest times Sunday, including 4.026 seconds (309.98 mph) to win by a razor-thin margin in the final against Robert Hight (4.083, 315.42).
This victory further validated what was accomplished in Phoenix.
“It’s not just a fluke,” DeJoria said. “It wasn’t just dumb luck. We earned a spot on that podium in Phoenix, and we definitely earned it up there today.”
DeJoria could be a star NHRA successfully promotes. She is the daughter of Paul Mitchell co-founder John Paul DeJoria, and she is married to Jesse James, whose previous wife was actress Sandra Bullock.
But DeJoria believes in earning her way and chose to work her way up the drag-racing ladder. Winning twice in three events showed her commitment to excel at her sport, and perhaps it was appropriate she won in Las Vegas after qualifying 12th.
“I just needed to get past that first round,” DeJoria said. “To get that was huge.”
Schumacher, 44, long has been one of Top Fuel’s top performers, winning the season series seven times, including six in a row from 2004 to 2009. He came into this event, however, looking for a way to put life into his season after going without a victory since winning at Chicago on June 30, 2013.
“I’m not angry that we hadn’t won in a long time,” said Schumacher, who sits fourth in the points standings. “I’m disappointed that we don’t win like everybody else, but I understand what the outcome has to be. We have to take leaps and bounds over these guys.
“We’ve got to keep forcing the issue to make this car work.”
Schumacher, who qualified fifth, beat the leader in the standings, Doug Kalitta, in the final round, going 3.797 seconds (326.16 mph). Kalitta went in 3.814 seconds (321.12 mph).
Las Vegas has been a friendly track for Schumacher, who has won more professional titles here than any other driver and took home the spring title last year. Sunday’s victory broke the tie with Greg Anderson in Pro Stock.
Enders-Stevens, a 30-year-old who lives in New Orleans, also finds Las Vegas a favorable place after going back to back this weekend. Winning the Pro Stock race from the third qualifying position also placed her atop the season standings.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Enders-Stevens said. “I struggled putting into words when we won the challenge last night. This is storybook. It’s unbelievable. I have the best team in the business, and I couldn’t be more proud. I’m honored to be their driver.”
Las Vegan Nicholas Januik won in Top Alcohol Funny Car, running 5.631 seconds (256.65 mph). It was his first national title.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter @markanderson65.