When NHRA officials Monday morning made the decision to postpone the U.S. Nationals, it was a second lease to get into the Countdown to the Championship for some drivers.
The race was postponed until next Saturday and Sunday because rubber had been washed off the track because of the heavy rainfall Sunday.
No driver was happier than veteran Pro Stock competitor Larry Morgan.
Morgan arrived at Indy ninth in the season points at 620, but he was going to be knocked out of the Countdown to the Championship if the U.S. Nationals would have been raced Monday because Morgan failed to qualify. His best run was 6.696-seconds and that left him No. 17 in the 16-car field.
“I get two more chances (Saturday) and I’m happy,” said Morgan, who drives the Lucas Oil Ford. “I didn’t know how they were going to run (Monday) because there were pumps all over the place and nowhere to park. There was too much water. I wouldn’t have been pumped up about it if I wasn’t in, but I was lucky enough to get another chance, and I have to take advantage of that.”
Ron Krisher (634), and Shane Gray (623), who were seventh and eighth in the points, and V. Gaines (604) and Jeg Coughlin (602) who were 10th and 11th in the points all qualified for the U.S. Nationals if they would have been run Monday.
“I just thought it wasn’t going to happen (Monday),” Morgan said. “It means a lot for us to get a chance to get into the Countdown. If you are not in the top 10, I’m not saying you are bad, but that’s what we work all year for.”
The top 10 drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle in the points after Indy qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship which begins Sept. 14-16 at Charlotte, N.C.
In Funny Car, John Force, Cruz Pedregon, Jeff Arend, Bob Tasca III, Matt Hagan and Tim Wilkerson were all in a tough battle to secure one of the four remaining spots in the Countdown to the Championship. Of the six, Pedregon was unqualified.
After three qualifying runs, Pedregon’s best run was 4.731 seconds, which left him No. 20 in the field. Pedregron’s problems magnified when Sunday at Lucas Oil Raceway qualifying was washed out.
Just when it appeared Pedregon was going to miss the biggest race of the year and even worse possibly get knocked out of the Countdown to the Championship, Mother Nature threw him a life preserver. On Monday morning, because rain washed the rubber off the track, NHRA officials postponed the U.S. National until Saturday and Sunday at Lucas Oil Raceway.
“It’s feels incredible, I can’t even think of words (to say),” said Pedregon about the fact that he has a second chance to qualify at Indy. “It was a tough night (Sunday night). I talked to my team and I told them we misfired on some runs there. It would have been nice to get all the (qualifying) runs in, but we didn’t. We were already gearing up for Charlotte and then I got the news (Monday morning). I was just so happy. You would have thought I just won the race.”
Bob Vandergriff Jr. (664) and Clay Millican (661), who are 10th and 11th in the Top Fuel standings realize, what is at stake at Indy next weekend. Khalid alBalooshi (585) and Terry McMillen (546) have outside shots to sneak into the top 10.
Vandergriff is qualified No. 8 so far at Indy, while Millican and alBalooshi are No. 14 and No. 6 on the ladder. McMillen isn’t qualified as he is No. 20.
“From a team standpoint, the race track is a wild card because the rubber is all peeled off of it,” Vandergriff said about the condition of Lucas Oil Raceway Monday. “To send racers out there who have so much at stake on a race track that could be a wild card I do not really think that is the right choice either. To run us in conditions that are less than favorable would have been the wrong move I think. And for the fans, it is a quagmire here. There is no parking and mud everywhere, and we do not want to run the U.S. Nationals in front of 38 people sitting in the stands either. This is the biggest race of the season for us and it needs to be given that kind of respect.”
Millican is keeping things in perspective as he prepares to resume Indy.
“We will come back here next Saturday and hopefully we can get ourselves in the show,” Millican said. “Then we have to take care of business. Vandergriff has a few points more than us and that’s just one run. We have to make up a round on Vandergriff. The bottom line is we are going to do everything we can do to make the best laps we can.”
Millican also admitted whether his team makes the Countdown to the Championship or not, Indy will not be to blame.
“No matter what happens, this race is really not the reason we are in this spot,” Millican said. “We put ourselves in this spot with oil downs. I think we have lost 70 points in oil downs throughout the year. We have given points back and more. Our car has run pretty good and we have won a few more rounds than Vandergriff has, but we have given it away in oil downs. That sounds a little worse than it really is because a lot of those oil downs were not from throwing the rods out of the motor. We were having issues with keeping the pistons sealed up and it was making a lot of oil pan pressure. I think we have figured out that problem. We are not giving up. This thing is not over with.”
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