Top Fuel's Morgan Lucas was right on several counts.
He said Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa., is notorious for dazzling performance numbers, the racing surface is "dynamite" and would get only quicker in Saturday's qualifying sessions for the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals, and his GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster crew chief Aaron Brooks has the guts to be aggressive.
Lucas, who set the national elapsed-time record Saturday at 3.733 seconds (with yesterday's provisional No. 1 run of 3.760 as back-up). Provided no one trumps that Sunday, Lucas will gain 20 bonus points. After erasing the 3.735-second mark from Del Worsham in his runner-up finish here last October, Lucas is the No. 2 qualifier in this fourth of six Countdown races.
However, Lucas provided only one element of the high-performance high drama on the 1,000-foot course.
Dave Grubnic drove Kalitta Motorsports' Optima Batteries Dragster to the top spot with a 3.728-second, 327.11-mph pass that tied the quickest pass in the history of Top Fuel. It matched Spencer Massey's 3.728-second run this June at Englishtown, N.J. Grubnic's time is the Maple Grove Raceway record.
Furthermore, Doug Kalitta, Grubnic's teammate, clocked a 3.739-second E.T. at 331.45 mph in the Kalitta Air Dragster to record the sixth quickest and second fastest in the history of Top Fuel in qualifying No. 4. Only Massey, with his 332.18-mph blast at this year's Four-Wide race at Charlotte, has gone faster.
"It's great to be back in the No. 1 position. Not only that, but Doug Kalitta running side by side with me, running 331 miles an hour, it’s great for the team . . . for Connie [team owner Kalitta] . . . for all our guys who work on the car . . . for all our sponsors," Grubnic said.
"It's great day. We need to carry that momentum into tomorrow," he said, adding that Connie Kalitta will evaluate the data from that spectacular fourth qualifying session and determine the tune-up for race day.
"Believe me," Grubnic said, "if there's anything else that can be achieved, Conrad WILL go after it tomorrow. If it’s good conditions tomorrow, if there's more he can go after, he will go after it. But by the same token, tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow we have to race the car. That's the primary goal: going rounds and winning the event."
Meanwhile, Lucas said, "Even if it's just for a night, we're the national record holders," Lucas said. "All Grubnic has to do is make a run similar to what he did today, but right now that record is ours. I never fathomed actually holding the national record at this level of the sport. I can't tell you how proud of the team I am. This is too cool and a testament to the work the guys are putting into the GEICO car.
"If the car gets past the Tree, we'll feel good about our chances against anybody," Lucas said. "Our confidence is as good as it's been all year. The move we made today is a great start. We just have to keep working at it."
As Grubnic completed his historic run, he said he got a glimpse of the scoreboards and saw the numbers light up. He also said he knew something special was happening with his teammate's dragster.
"I saw the front of Doug's car right next to me," he said. "So I figured he must have run good. When we got to the end, I heard them cheering about Doug running 331.
"It's drag racing. We're always moving forward," Grubnic said after earning his first No. 1 spot of the seasona nd the ninth of his career (and first since May 3, 2008, at St. Louis). "The sport's very dynamic, and I'm thrilled that it was both Kalitta cars that did that."
Describing the run, he said, "In the car it felt good. When [dragsters are] on the edge, they get that tire chatter and you can feel it's on the edge. That felt good and smooth. And it felt stuck."
No. 3 qualifier Tony Schumacher also flirted with the national E.T. record in his U.S. Army Dragster in Saturday's first and third overall session, as he raced to the top of the pack and displaced Friday leader Lucas. Schumacher's 3.736 seconds was one-thousandth of a second short of tying the national E.T. record at the time.
The Nos. 5-7 qualifiers -- Shawn Langdon, Brandon Bernstein, and Antron Brown, respectively -- posted 3.75-second E.T.s. Bernstein and Brown had identical 3.758s.
In a first-round match-up with some international flair, Australian Grubnic will meet Canadian Ike Maier. Lucas will face Dom Lagana, and Schumacher will race Terry McMillen.
The other opening-round pairings in this 28th annual visit to the storied track will see Kalitta vs. Clay Millican, Langdon vs. Bob Vandergriff, Bernstein vs. Larry Dixon, Brown vs. Steve Torrence, and Massey vs. Khalid al Balooshi.
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