Losing in the first round of the season-opening NHRA Winternationals can sometimes send a team into a tailspin.
Johnny Gray, however, has bounced back quite nicely in his Don Schumacher Racing Service Central Dodge Funny Car following his first-round defeat to Tim Wilkerson at Pomona.
On Friday night, Gray grabbed the provisional pole position at the NHRA Arizona Nationals with a 4.074-second elapsed time at 298.93 mph.
And, no one could top him after Saturday’s two qualifying session at Firebird International Raceway.
“I do not think the track was there (Saturday),” said Gray about the fact he couldn’t beat his Friday night elapsed time. “By the time we got up in the first round, they had some problems and stuff and it was nearly 2 (p.m) before we got a shot at the track. I think we were trying to run a little better and it didn’t work out too good. So, Rob (Wendland, Gray’s crew chief) backed the thing down and got it ready for (Sunday) to kind of see what to do. He said we would run about a (4.)12 and that is what we ran.”
Gray faces Grant Downing in round one today and he is upbeat about what his team can accomplish.
“We are real confident going into (Sunday) that the Service Central Dodge is a really good car to go out there and compete with (Sunday),” Gray said.
Gray returned to driving a Funny Car last season after spending the last several seasons in the Pro Stock ranks. Gray finished 10th in the Pro Stock standings in 2010 and he was 11th in the Funny Car points chase last season.
Gray is no stranger to the nitro Funny Car scene. He raced a nitro Funny Car off and on from 1999 to 2006. Back in 2002, Gray placed a career-best 10th in the nitro Funny Car world standings.
“The car really ran good at the end of last year and we were a runner-up here and we just missed it a hair in the final, so hopefully we can learn from the mistake we made here last year and go ahead and win this thing,” Gray said.
Although Gray is in the No. 1 qualifying spot, he isn’t taking anything for granted Sunday.
“There are no ducks in this field anymore, everyone of them can send you home in a heartbeat,” Gray said. “You have to go out and run hard. Tim Wilkerson is a really good racer and he didn’t make the field. You got to understand that you have to go out there and go for the throat every run because these (Funny Cars) are so competitive anymore that if you do not make a good run, you are not going to be in the show. It’s going to be that way all year. There are going to be some times when some really good cars do not get in the show.”
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