Jason Line’s mood changed an awful lot over the course of the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. The incoming points leader was pummeled by emotions that ran from high, to low, and back to high again in the matter of just a few days, but the end result was a fourth consecutive win for Team Summit and the second victory of the season for Line with a final-round defeat of KB Racing teammate Bo Butner.
Line, driving the blue Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro out of Las Vegas-based team owner Ken Black’s KB Racing stable, came into the event as the points leader. The two-time Pro Stock champ claimed the 43rd low qualifier award of his career, and his Summit Racing-branded hot rod was consistently tripping the timers with 206+ mph passes down the quarter-mile drag strip. But on Saturday at the racetrack nestled on the outskirts of Sin City, Line was robbed of something he really wanted.
The prestigious K&N Horsepower Challenge, a bonus race that pits the top Pro Stock drivers against one another for a $50,000 payout and some serious bragging rights, is a long-standing event that has so far been unwinnable for the horsepower-savvy Line. This time, though, it truly looked as if he had the right combination to get it done. His car was the quickest, and he was driving well, but when it came down to it, Line was stopped in the final round when fluid leaking from the engine compartment grounded him and sent Summit Racing counterpart Greg Anderson ahead for the automatic win. Trading heartache for utter heartbreak, Line watched as Anderson’s car shuddered with tire shake on the single and slowly rolled towards victory.
“I really had my heart set on winning that K&N trophy,” said Line of his fourth K&N Horsepower Challenge final. “I was a little bit devastated, to be honest, but it took 24 hours for that to get fixed. I really expected Greg [Anderson, Summit Racing teammate] to win today, and I actually feel bad that Bo didn’t. He had the best car, and it’s fun to help somebody get their first win. I really felt like today was his day, for sure. But it was a big day for the KB Racing team. We were happy to have DENSO on board for the first time with us, and to do this for them at the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals.”
In the first round, Line clocked a 6.708, 206.04 to defeat Total Seal Piston Rings Chevrolet Camaro campaigner Matt Hartford, who was a blazing .009 at the starting line and then made his best run of the weekend, a 6.793, 202.97, in a losing effort. On the other side of the ladder, Bo Butner made the quickest run of the round in his Jim Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro, a 6.691, 205.13, to shut down V. Gaines and a 6.831, 204.20.
Round two pitted Line against Harlow Sammons Racing Chevrolet Camaro pilot Chris McGaha, who was a finalist in Phoenix earlier this season. The two were nearly identical in terms of reaction time, but at the top end, Line kept ahead for a narrow win. The margin of victory was just .005-second. Butner, again with low elapsed time of the round with a 6.706, 205.22, scored an easy win over American Ethanol Dodge Dart driver Deric Kramer, who fell into tire shake after getting the jump at the starting line with a cool .019 reaction time to Butner’s .050.
The semifinals set Line up for a head-to-head meeting with reigning Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders, the driver who denied Line the class title in the closing moments of the 2014 season. Here, Line was out of the gate first and didn’t look back, launching on a .013 to his opponent’s 6.801, 204.82.
Butner scored the second ticket to the Pro Stock final round of his career by recovering from Anderson’s very-quick .006 reaction time – Butner was .043 at the tree – and slapping a 6.703, 205.47 on the scoreboard to send his teammate back to camp on a 6.755, 205.88 that was top speed of the round.
The final round was decided at the starting line when Butner shockingly left .052-second too soon and illuminated the red light. Line went on ahead to clock a 6.712, 206.32 pass to Butner’s 6.709, 205.35. Notably, Butner had low elapsed time of each round of eliminations for the first time in his career.
The Las Vegas final was familiar territory for second-year Pro Stock competitor Butner, whose only previous final in the category came at the fall race at The Strip last season. Butner, an avid and accomplished NHRA Sportsman racer, earned his first win in Comp Eliminator at the facility in 2001, and he earned a double-up win there in 2012 with trophies scored in both Comp and Stock Eliminator. In all, Butner has now raced in seven Vegas finals.
Line was racing in a final at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the sixth time in his career. He had one previous win there, in 2008 at the spring event where he beat Greg Stanfield for the trophy.
“This win is a big deal for us,” said Line. “Anytime you win in Las Vegas with Ken Black and his family here, it’s a great day. To be able to win here, where another of our sponsors is based – Findlay Chevrolet – is really a good thing. They’ve been a major player for us for many years, and there really isn’t any better way to show them how much we appreciate them. For Summit Racing, DENSO, and everyone who supports us, we’re very grateful to be able to share this.”
Line was also able to share the victory with friends from his home town of Wright, Minn., and his parents, Sportsman racers Lawrence and Maxine Line.
“I think my parents have been avoiding me all weekend – especially after yesterday,” joked Line. “But I think they’ll be a little happier now after this. Any time you can share this win with your family and your friends, it’s great. It’s really been fun to have everyone on this ride with me.”
Summit Racing drivers Line and Anderson have won every race so far in 2016, and the only non-KB Racing driver to reach a final round this year has been McGaha. Anderson defeated Line at the season-opener in Pomona, Line took out McGaha in Phoenix, and Anderson bested Line in Gainesville ahead of the all-KB Racing Las Vegas final.
According to NHRA statistician Lewis Bloom, the last time a Pro Stock team won four races in a row was in the mid-1990s when the notorious “Dodge Boys,” Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion, were demolishing the competition.
As the Pro Stock teams work to fine-tune their programs in accordance with the new rules this year, specifically electronic fuel injection, the tides may turn – the Elite Motorsports team stood out during qualifying with the quickest passes outside of KB Racing, and in typical fashion, Enders is making up the difference with excellent driving at every available opportunity – but for now, KB Racing is a very powerful force. Racing continues April 22-24 at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte.
On a somber note, the NHRA family mourns the very recent loss of beloved NHRA Chief Starter, Mark Lyle. The warm-hearted, personable Lyle was a friend to all, and his presence was always a comforting sight to drivers who knew he had their best interests at heart.
“It was strange to go up there [to the starting line] this weekend,” said Line. “Mark always gave me a little gesture before I staged, and I’m really going to miss that. We’ll all miss him, and his family will certainly be in our thoughts for a very long time.”