Tony Schumacher always expects to be the best in the Top Fuel class every time he straps into the U.S. Army Dragster.
He didn't disappoint himself or let his crew down Friday night in the opening round of qualifying for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. But he didn't see the results he expected, either.
He clocked the quickest elapsed time and speed -- 3.814 seconds at 324.67 mph -- on the 1,000-foot course at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis to claim the provisional No. 1 qualifier honor.
However, he said he was surprised no one dipped into the 3.7-second range.
"I kind of expected to see five or six (3.)7s, because cars were running good at testing," Schumacher said. "Probably because of the weather conditions and forecast of rain, more cars are more conservative. They want to play it smart and get down the track."
He said many of the teams took their cues from the NHRA officials at the midday drivers meeting before the pro session began.
"We heard at the drivers meeting, 'We're not sure what we're going to do. We're going to do our best to get the race in.' To me, that means 'Get the car to the finish line.' "
He did, edging No. 2 Khalid al Balooshi, in the Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster, by three-thousandths of a second.
Earning a bonus point as third-quickest of the evening was Doug Kalitta, who ran a 3.824 seconds, a thousandth better than fourth-place Shawn Langdon.
Schumacher is going for his fourth No. 1 start of the season and 71st of his career. And the eight-time U.S. Nationals winner knows -- though he might not be able to explain why -- this is a special track for him.
"We've won the thing eight times. But I've won only one race in two years, so I'm past that," he said, referring to the so-called mystique of Indianapolis. "Right now we're just getting back to where we used to be. We're starting to run good.
"But I’d rather race here than anywhere else, because of the amount of success we've had," Schumacher said. "There's been other tracks where we've been successful. But this one's been so special, from '96, when I first started driving Top Fuel cars [and] as a kid who had never been in a Top Fuel car in his life and going to the finals.
"I don't know how many years I've been racing here -- 16 years? And we've been to 10 finals. That's just incredible," he said. "It's an awful great place to win."
And Friday night it was an awful good place, in the face of an uncertain weather forecast, to be No. 1.
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