He walked into the media tower with his yellow hat turned backward to reveal the words WINNER and LAS VEGAS above and on the adjustable band.
But J.R. Todd said he won’t be bringing the cap back in the fall to save Las Vegas Motor Speedway money after holding off Tommy Johnson Jr. to win his third consecutive Funny Car race at LVMS’ Strip.
“With as many fans as they had this weekend, they can afford way more hats,” said the defending series and Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals winner who, at his current success rate, could probably have his name permanently embroidered on the winner’s cap.
But it’s not just Las Vegas where Todd has been setting a torrid pace.
Since earning his first category victory, the 37-year-old Indianapolis native has won nine of his past 38 starts. When he returns in the fall, he’ll attempt to join Pro Stock drivers Greg Anderson and Erica Enders as LVMS’ only four consecutive race winners.
“It’s all Kalitta Motorsports,” Todd said of car owner Connie Kalitta’s team, which has produced four of the last six Las Vegas spring winners and six of the past 11 overall. “It seems the more we come here, the better of a grip we get on this place.”
After vaulting from eighth to fourth in season points with a winning pass of 3.970 seconds at 319.07 mph, Todd said Las Vegas was the perfect place for the DHL Toyota team to regain its footing after literally spinning its wheels in the first three races.
“We struggled earlier this year with a cold track, but I knew it wasn’t going to be cold everywhere we go,” he said. “Sure enough, it was hot and nasty here today. That’s kind of the equalizer for us.”
Salinas breaks through
It didn’t take drag racing guru Alan Johnson long to turn Mike Salinas into a Top Fuel winner.
In just his fourth race after picking up the 16-time champion crew chief to head his second full-time campaign, the 57-year-old Salinas went 3.801 at 330.39 mph to hold off Johnson’s former protegé Brittany Force and notch his first NHRA victory.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life,” said the late bloomer from San Jose, California, about a putting together a program with Johnson that was five years in the making. “This is my first win ever in anything motor sports. Now we can go racing.”
Johnson, who guided Force to the 2017 Top Fuel title, said he takes pride in helping determined drivers reach the pinnacle of the sport.
“Any time somebody has the desire to race Top Fuel and fund it on his own, you know that guy’s got some passion and some drive to be good,” Johnson said of Salinas, who has four daughters he is trying to move through the NHRA ranks.
Butner wins in Pro Stock
In the Pro Stock final, Bo Butner won his second consecutive race at The Strip on a rare triple holeshot — his car was the slowest of the four in the final quad, but he had the quickest reaction time.
“Yeah, it’s a stat that’s cool. But I’m just happy the win light came on,” said Butner, who became the first driver since 2010 to win three of the season’s first four races.
After getting the jump off the line in one of Las Vegas businessman Ken Black’s dominant Camaros, Butner edged runner-up Matt Hartford with a 6.677 at 206.67.