SUNDAY NOTEBOOK – BARTONE'S BIG DAY, SARGE MARCHES ON AND DRAGGING THE JASON LINE
DREAMING PAYS OFF - When the Canidae All Natural Pet Food sponsored team of Jim Dunn left Bandimere Speedway last weekend after a DNQ effort at the NHRA Mopar Mile High Nationals in Denver, there wasn’t much of a sense of jubilation. In fact, there wasn’t much to talk about.
Well, maybe there was.
Their car, driven by highly successful alcohol racer Tony Bartone, had an extreme amount of trouble getting from one end of the track to the other.
This wasn’t your average can’t find the combination excuse either.
Bartone’s car blew up. Then it caught fire a couple of times.
That was just one race. Prior to those problems Bartone had six DNQs and two crashed cars.
Then Bartone delivered for Dunn and Dune delivered for Bartone.
“It’s the old adage that you never say die and you keep plugging, then days like this happen,” Bartone said with a smile, as he spoke in the post-race press conference at the NHRA Schuck’s Auto Parts Nationals in Seattle, WA.
“We were able to turn our program around.”
When a team is in turmoil, one might immediately think more runs and practice are the best elixir to heal the wounds. Not so, if you’re this team.
Bartone made less runs in two days of qualifying in Seattle than he made on race day. He qualified on Friday and since only 17 cars were in attendance for the event, opted out of Saturday’s two sessions.
“We made our passes on Friday and chose to sit out in the heat on Saturday,” Bartone admitted. “We were lucky enough to come up with a good race day tuneup. It wasn’t perfect but it went rounds.”
It is not an uncommon practice for Dunn to pull his team out of Saturday if the conditions don’t provide a sufficient chance for improvement. Simply put, they aren’t going to make runs for the sake of making them.
Bartone is no stranger to the winner’s circle having claimed 28 victories in the Top Alcohol ranks.
This was a monumental day for the veteran.
“This is what you dream about and work your whole life towards – to win in the pro ranks,” said Bartone. “Winning was special in the alcohol ranks but this was special. It’s what you try to accomplish.”
At the finish line, Bartone watched as Dunn drove up to celebrate the momentous occasion.
What did Dunn say to his driver?
“Good job kid,” Bartone said, imitating the seasoned Dunn.
The victory came in Bartone’s 119th career start.
FUNNY CAR SUMMER – Bartone has been watching Funny Car racing since the only outlet for television coverage was ABC’s Wide World of Sports. His feeling is the Funny Car class, even though 17 cars made the trek to Seattle, is very strong.
“I think the Funny Car class is as competitive as it’s ever been,” Bartone said.
“Just look at who didn’t qualify, what’s that guy’s name? [John Force]. On any given weekend, there are a number of top teams who don’t get in the show.”
1,000-FOOT = CLOSER RACING – The NHRA’s decision to temporarily shorten the race course to 1,000 feet might have unintentionally made for more side-by-side racing and tighter fields.
The Funny Car field in Seattle spanned just a tenth of a second from No. 1 to No. 16 qualifiers. Bartone entered eliminations as the fifth quickest qualifier while final round opponent Ron Capps started 15th.
BOWTIE BRAGADIER - Bartone's victory respresented Chevrolet's ninth victory of the year in Funny Car - a win that equals a mark set back in 1998 for the most by Chevy Funny Cars in a single season.
MORE THAN CAPABLE - Forget the NHRA’s famed Western Swing. Tony Schumacher might just have plans to sweep the balance of the 2008 NHRA POWERade tour. Those are our words not Schumacher’s.
Then again, his actions speak multitudes of his intentions.
The U.S. Army-sponsored driver drove to his seventh win of the season here in the 21st Annual Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals at Pacific Raceway, thus lengthening his lead in the 2008 NHRA POWERade Championship competition.
Schumacher, who competed in the eliminations from his fourth number-one qualifying position of 2008, used a 3.90-second lap at 309.98 miles per hour to defeat Brandon Bernstein (4.056 seconds at 291.19 mph) in the finals, which he also did at last year's race here. In fact, the Chicago-area resident has been to the finals here the last five years, winning four of the races.
"Yes, I like this race track, a lot," said the reigning and five-time NHRA POWERade Top Fuel Champion. "But winning here or anywhere is about having a car which can win - and (crew chief) Alan (Johnson) and the entire U.S. Army Team give me that car.
"Thanks to this great team, this car is flawless which means I don't have to think about anything but driving the car," he added. "Teamwork is crucial here, just like it is for our brave men and women soldiers. Like us, they have to work together to get their job done."
The U.S. Army Top Fuel Team has been getting the job done the entire season with seven wins and nine final rounds in 14 races. Schumacher (1,297 points) holds a 357-point lead in the championship race over Antron Brown (940 points) and is the lone Top Fuel driver who has clinched a place in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, which begins with the 19th race, the September 11-14 inaugural NHRA Carolinas Nationals in Charlotte, N.C.
In addition, Schumacher, should he win next week's 21st Annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., would be the fourth Top Fuel driver to win the three-race-in-three-week (Denver, Seattle and Sonoma) "Western Swing." He would join the select company of Joe Amato (1991), Gary Scelzi (1997) and Larry Dixon (2003).
He is also getting closer to Amato in terms of total Top Fuel victories with today's win giving Schumacher 48, just four behind the former champion.
"I don't think about records or streaks when I am in the race car," Schumacher, 38, said. "You can't be thinking of anything but the job at hand, which is winning the round. If you worry about anything else, if you don't stay focused, you won't win."
He maintained focus throughout the weekend, beginning with a number-one qualifying run of 3.802-seconds at 316.90 mph, both the quickest and fastest lap of the event (and at the new 1,000-foot race distance). It marked the 51st time in his career Schumacher has started from the top of the eliminations ladder.
"This 1,000-foot racing is just great," commented Schumacher. "The races are tighter, more competitive, which the fans like and there are much fewer oil downs and delays, again, which the fans and the racers and the teams really like."
DRAGGING THE LINE - When Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson becomes your crew chief on Sunday, that’s usually an indication of how tough your day is going to be.
Anderson was eliminated in the first round during the NHRA Schuck’s Auto Parts Nationals in Seattle, WA.
Jason Line used the key personnel addition to his advantage. Starting from the No. 3 qualifying position, Line marched through a tough Pro Stock field to capture his second national-event victory of the season - his first ever at Pacific Raceways during the NHRA Schuck’s Nationals.
"It feels great to win, especially here in Seattle," Line said. "I've been out here, I don't know how many times, and never had any success whatsoever even when I raced in Stock eliminator. It feels really good to win here and it felt really good to drive well today. We didn't have the greatest car in qualifying - we had some issues. We tested some parts along the way, which is kind of cool, although you don't want to be testing at national events. But it all worked out and the guys did a great job, especially getting down that left lane, which was a little bit tricky.”
Line's Pontiac set top speed of the meet during Friday time trials at 210.14 mph, and on race day, he defeated Warren Johnson in the opening round with a 6.652 e.t. at 207.11 mph, Kurt Johnson in the quarterfinals with a 6.639 second run at 208.04 mph and Greg Stanfield in the semifinals with a 6.657 e.t. at 208.04 mph.
After giving up lane choice to Allen Johnson for their final-round matchup, Line's Pontiac GXP jumped out in front of Johnson's Dodge at the starting line with a solid .026 light, and then never relinquished the lead, crossing the finish line with a winning 6.659 second run at 208.10 mph. Johnson's Dodge followed with a 6.664 e.t. at 207.78 mph. The margin of victory for Line's Pontiac GXP was .056 of a second or approximately 17 feet at the stripe.
“I was nervous about racing Allen Johnson. He's been pretty good these last two weeks, but I felt like we had a chance. Before the race I asked Greg (Anderson) if he thought we could get down that left lane and he just said, 'I don't know.' Whenever he says that it usually means that we can, and fortunately it worked. I looked over in high gear and didn't see Allen's Dodge there. I knew he wasn't going to catch this Pontiac."
The Seattle triumph marked the 15th career victory for the 2006 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion and his fifth final-round appearance this season. It was also the fourth straight win by the Summit Racing Pontiac tandem of Line and teammate Greg Anderson dating back to the Lucas Oil SuperNationals last month in Englishtown, N.J.
"Any time you win, it's perfect," Line said. "We didn't run as good as we wanted to this weekend. We ended up swapping motors a couple of times and that created some situations we don't usually go through. We felt like we were having trouble getting a hold of the race track and we wanted to change engines because of the different power curves. So we swapped, and it was a gamble but it worked."
BY THE MOPAR NUMBERS - Mopar Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson recorded his second consecutive runner-up appearance and 14th career final round appearance. His performance represented his third straight at the Pacific Raceways..
The Greeneville, Tenn. native defeated HEMI®-powered driver Larry Morgan, Dave Connolly and Team Mopar teammate V. Gaines before losing to Jason Line in the finals.
"I felt really good this weekend. I love Seattle," said Johnson, who won the 2006 Seattle race and finished runner-up in 2007. "I would have liked to have gone all the way, of course, but overall we're really on a roll now with Mopar and with this team. We're going to aim for the finals at Sonoma. I think only two other Pro Stock drivers have ever been to the finals at all three events on the Western Swing in the same year. We're going to try to seal the deal there."
BLOWN SAVE - Dave Connolly blew an opportunity to leap into the Pro Stock Top 10 with a second round loss to Allen Johnson. That wasn’t all he blew.
“We blew the engine on the burnout,” said Connolly, who nevertheless lined up against Johnson. “The motor was running on seven cylinders and we were at the mercy of him going red (a foul start, which he didn’t). We just can’t catch a break.” Johnson won with a 6.637-second time at 208.20 mph to Connolly’s coasting 9.731 at 88.85 mph.
Connolly defeated Watson in the first round from the No. 1 qualifying position.
“We had a great car all weekend and we could’ve made up some ground (in points) and moved into the top 10, but, unfortunately, engine failure held us up,” Connolly continued. “All we can do is throw another bullet (motor) in it and go to Sonoma (Calif.) and hopefully pick up where we left off. It was just an unfortunate deal.”
Connolly remains 11th with 570 points, 26 behind No. 10, going into Sonoma for the Fram Nationals – Friday through Sunday at Infineon Raceway.
ROOKIE SHOWDOWN - One of the most anticipated first round match-ups was a head to head race between the two most visible rookie of the year candidates and Ford backed Funny Cars, Old Spice sponsored Mike Neff and Motorcraft backed Bob Tasca III. Neff used a starting line reaction time advantage to snatch the win away from a quicker Tasca performance. The magnitude of the win was not lost on Neff.
“Tasca is a good leaver and I knew I had to be ready,” Neff said. “I tried to get in there a little bit to not give him any advantage. That was a big race for the Old Spice Ford which is running good.”
“There’s no excuses,” said Tasca of his holeshot loss. “We had a car that could win, and I didn’t do my job. It’s beyond a reasonable doubt, the toughest loss that I’ve had in my driving career. Mike had a great light and his car ran well.”
John Force Racing has accounted for three Rookie of the Year awards, including last year’s earned by Ashley Force.
MATTER OF INCHES - The closest race of Sunday's opening round of professional eliminations at Pacific Raceways ended with reigning series Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. coming up three inches short of victory.
Coughlin managed to leave ahead of opponent Mike Edwards by two-thousandths of a second at the starting line, but Edwards' was able to out-run Coughlin and his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt by three-thousandths of a second on the quarter-mile, making the final margin of victory one-thousandths of a second, or about three inches.
Officially, Edwards won with a 6.638 at 207.98 mph to Coughlin's 6.641 at 208.14 mph.
"We made a good run at it," Coughlin said. "Coming from the bottom half of the field we didn't have lane choice and perhaps that was the difference. I guess we'll never know. Certainly, we could have been more aggressive with the tune-up in that other lane, but that's drag racing. No complaints here.
"We're really all setting up for the Countdown to the Championship and we need to work out all the little things we want to figure out with the car and the tune-up right now. It's hard to complain when you look at the sheets and we're right there with the top cars every time, as we were again after that session. We're just not getting the breaks right now, but that stuff tends to even out over time."
BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS - The good news for Coughlin is that points leader Greg Anderson also lost in Round 1, meaning Coughlin won’t lose any ground to the top-ranked driver. He'll try to close the gap again next weekend, July 25-27, during the Fram-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in California's Sonoma Valley.
"Greg clinched his spot in the Countdown this weekend and I'm sure some more will fall into place soon, hopefully including our JEGS team," Coughlin said. "Those last six races are the time to shine and go after the championship. We need to be ready to go once we get to Charlotte and that final run of races kicks off."
FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME - Ron Capps drove to his first final round of the season, the 53rd of his career, the fifth at Pacific Raceways (the most at any track in his career), and the first in 16 national events (Richmond 2007 was his last final-round appearance) in the 14th national event of 24 this season in Kent, Wash., just outside of Seattle.
That’s a lot of stats for one man.
Capps’ runner-up finish to first-time Funny Car winner Tony Bartone moved him into sixth place in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series point standings.
He’s disappointed his first national event victory of 2008 didn’t come this weekend.
"Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) was surprised it [struck the tires], I was surprised and Tony Bartone was surprised his pulled them loose. Our crew chiefs and our track guy Lanny (Miglizzi) kept saying the sun will take it's turn at this track at 5 o'clock. That's the hottest part of the day here. So, the track temperature was at its warmest [and] it was a little bit of poker, more than anything. Ace was probably thinking [he] could maybe get away with running an .18 or a .20 and Jim Dunn was probably thinking the same thing.
"One bad thing about the 1000-foot (finish line) is I started pedaling and I was catching him and then I thought, man, I don't have a full track anymore and that was the one downside. Had I had a full track, maybe, but it doesn't matter. It was fun.”
HE’S THE MAN - Rich Marsula, 58, from Mt. Vernon, Wash., was selected today as the 14th NAPA AUTO PARTS Honorary Crew Member of the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season at the NHRA Nationals at Pacific Raceways, just outside of Seattle.
Marsula, who has been connected with NAPA AUTO PARTS for almost 30 years, was selected as the NAPA AUTO PARTS Honorary Crew Member when he arrived at the track on race day. "I was blown away when I was asked to be the honorary crew member today and it's very exciting," said Marsula, who owns five NAPA stores in the Mt. Vernon area, located about 60 miles north of Seattle. "I used to come down and watch the drag races when I was younger, but I've never had an opportunity like this. It's been a lot of fun and a memory that is going to last me forever, I'm sure."
Art Fischer, General Manager of the Seattle NAPA AUTO PARTS distribution center, chose the Honorary Crew Member at the track this morning. "Rich is a partner and one of the largest customers that we have," said Fischer. "He's also president of the ad council that ran the advertising for this event, so he was a natural choice for this honor. It was good that he was here today."
Marsula had the rare opportunity of escorting the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to the staging lanes in the team's Dodge Durango tow vehicle for the first round of eliminations on Sunday and also helped retrieve the car at the end of the track following Ron Capps' run. Marsula also received a NAPA team jersey and met the entire NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car crew. He also enjoyed a tour of the team transporter and pit area and had an up-close-and-personal view of the NAPA crew as they worked on the car.
NAPA AUTO PARTS distribution centers at each NHRA event during the season have different criteria for choosing the people who are potential NAPA AUTO PARTS Honorary Crew Members.
NOTHING BUT ATTITUDE - Although he struggled in qualifying, Greg Stanfield still managed to place the Attitude Apparel Pontiac GXP in the No. 15 spot for race day. During today's eliminator the Bossier City, La., native defeated Greg Anderson in round one, and Mike Edwards in round two before losing to Line in the semifinals. It marked the fourth time this season that Stanfield has advance to no less than a semifinal-round appearance.
"All things considered it wasn't a bad day," Stanfield said. "When you make four qualifying runs, and you have four engines in your car, it's usually not a very good race. We came out today, though, went a couple of rounds and kind of turned things around. We probably got a little too aggressive against Jason (Line) in the semifinals because our performance was down, but all in all, it was a good race, especially when you consider what we went through to get here. Now we'll fly home tonight, and work 24 hours-a-day for three days to try and put something back together for Sonoma. We're getting everything boxed up and over-nighting it back to the shop. We're getting on a plane and we'll be at the shop in the morning. We hurt our two best motors - we killed them. We were down to our No. 4 engine, but hey, it got us to the semis."
BLOWN OPPORTUNITY – Funny car racer Robert Hight took out points leader Tim Wilkerson with a stellar 4.13 run and was in position to close the gap on the critical number on points position. From the top end Hight’s reaction was one of relief and enthusiasm to get an important win.
“I feel like it is already final round I am so worn out. The stress of having to race Tim Wilkerson first round, we have to capitalize on this. The guy is way out ahead of us and our only chance is to go and win this race,” said the No. 1 qualifier. “That is what we intend to do with this Auto Club Ford. I will say this that first run was all messed up. The throttle stop came off on the burn out. I felt the thing over rev and I was on and off it and luckily I didn’t blow it up. “
In the second round Hight dropped his race to reigning Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon when his blower let go.
“I said it before the day started if we don’t capitalize on Wilkerson qualifying bad and beat him first round we would be in trouble. By not going past the second round we really didn’t accomplish anything. We needed this. My goal is to be No. 1 when the points switch. We failed today. We had low ET first round. We made a good run against Wilkerson. We did what we had to do there but then the next round Tony Pedregon beat us,” said a dejected Hight.
NO REASON AT ALL - Hight and his team were surprised to examine his motor and see no noticeable cause for the explosion.
“Our car blew up. We don’t know what caused it. It pushed a head gasket out but nothing looked wrong. The head was put on properly. Nothing was burned up or hot. It wasn’t like it was eating itself up. (John Force crew chief Austin) Coil always calls that ‘an event.’ It blew up,” said the former John Force crew member. “Tony went down the track. I thought when he beat us he was going to march through and win the race but then Tony Bartone beats him. Tony (Pedregon) went around us by a point to push us to third. We can make that up in qualifying next week. I’m glad there is another race next week rather than have to wait a couple of weeks to do this again. Friday can’t come quick enough.”
TIMING IS EVERYTHING - Tony Pedregon should know as well as anyone that timing means everything in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.
"We got off to a rough start this year but I always knew and felt that we were underachieving for the first several races until Gainesville," Pedregon said. "I think it's important for us to start to peak when it really counts, and with four races to go is when it really is starting to count. If we can gain on Wilkerson - I don't know if we can realistically catch him before Indy unless he hits a few hiccups, but right now we're shooting to stay in front of Robert (Hight). We've kind of switched positions the last couple of races - they're going to be tough. We know that when we're on our game we're pretty tough to beat. Our goal is to be second and at least in the top three and it's going to take some more work, but hey, two Chevrolets in the top three that's pretty impressive."
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK – NOCHANGES AT THE TOP; SURPRISES AT THE BOTTOM
SARGE IN CHARGE – Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher captured his fourth pole position of the 2008 season and 51st in his career. He recorded the quickest elapsed time in three of the four qualifying runs, with his 3.802-second lap at 316.9 miles per hour in Friday's second round earning the top starting spot.
"But being number one doesn't mean anything tomorrow on race day, because there are no easy cars out there, no easy rounds," he said. "Like our soldiers around the world protecting our freedoms, we always have to stay focused, to stay on our game. We, like those brave men and women, cannot take anything for granted.
"Even that last run (4.927 seconds at 141.25 mph), where we smoked the tires, has a purpose," he explained. "The weather for that run was probably closer to what we will have tomorrow, so (crew chief) Alan (Johnson) wanted to find out what the track could take. He'll use the data from that round and figure out the best setup for Sunday."
Schumacher added a 3.809-second lap at 315.86 mph in Saturday's first round under much more favorable weather conditions and a 3.821-second e.t. at 314.97 mph in Friday's initial lap during the two days of qualifying.
SEATTLE SLEW - Schumacher's goal is to maintain his season-long strong performance and repeat his success at this event. He has won six of the first 13 races in 2008, including eight final rounds. In addition, he has been to the finals here the last four years, winning three of those races.
"I have no idea why we are so successful here," said the reigning and five-time NHRA POWERade Top Fuel Champion. "I'll just go to bed early tonight, take my vitamins when I get up tomorrow morning and then go racing!"
STILL AT THE TOP - Robert Hight who has qualified No. 1 the last three years in a row at Pacific Raceway is hoping to make his efforts on Friday and Saturday mean something on Sunday in his first round match-up with points leader and juggernaut Tim Wilkerson.
“Honestly being No. 1 qualifier again isn’t that big of a deal when you haven’t gone on to win on Sunday. You have four shots at qualifying and sometimes you can throw one down and get at the top. That doesn’t mean you can win on Sunday. That is what this whole game is about. Luckily, this week we have a pretty big chance here,” said the two-time POWERade championship runner-up. “It is no secret that Tim Wilkerson is way out in front with the points lead. If we could capitalize on how he qualified today. We can’t really rely on other guys to take him out. He took me out last week so I didn’t do my job either. If we could get him tomorrow first round and win this race it is actually a little more realistic to catch him before the countdown.”
Hight knows that there is much more than twenty points on the line in their first round match-up. Moving up in the POWERade point standings and gaining the top spot for the Countdown is still in the middle of Hight’s crosshairs.
“It is a big plus to be number one (in the Countdown). You have almost a two round lead going into the last six races and you add that with a good running car you can really be on a roll. That is really the goal,” said the former world-class trapshooter.
His strong qualifying effort moved Hight back into the top position for the US Smokeless Showdown at the Mac Tools US Nationals Labor Day weekend. Currently he is joined by teammate Ashley Force in the eight car field that will vie for $100,000 at the race within the race.
CONNOLLY TOP LOCKED - Dave Connolly drove the Charter Communications/Lifelock Chevy Cobalt to a Pro Stock track-record and career-best elapsed time of 6.573 seconds at 209.49 mph, and captured the race day pole for the 21st annual Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals.
"What a difference a weekend makes, from last week to this one," Connolly said. "Our performance is a lot better and our team morale is at a high right now. For GM and Chevrolet, we got to keep this Cobalt in the No. 1 spot, and we'll see what tomorrow brings."
It marks the second straight year that the 25-year-old Charlotte, N.C., has captured the No. 1 qualifying position at Pacific Raceways and his seventh career race day pole.
"This morning I was hoping to stay in the No. 1 spot, and we managed to do that even though Greg (Anderson) and some other cars made some pretty nice runs," Connolly said. "Basically this was about race day setup. It looks like the weather might be a little warm for us tomorrow, so for us to go out there, and make a nice run down the track, I think we were second in that final session to Allen Johnson, that points us in the right direction. We'll make some adjustments and see what Tommy Utt can do on a hot track - he's usually pretty tough. Hopefully it's a beautiful sunny day and we can go four rounds."
Connolly missed the first five races of the season and then suffered a round-one loss at his first contest back on the circuit at Atlanta. He has still managed to climb the POWERade points ladder all the way up to 11th place in the standings with only five races remaining before the final 10 positions for the Countdown to One are determined following the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
"We're trying to get into the top 10 of the Countdown and every point is critical to us," Connolly said. "There are only five races before they make the first cut to 10 and we're hoping to be a part of that. For us to be able to pick up the No. 1 spot, and those extra eight points, that means a lot to us. We'll see what happens tomorrow. Sunday is the most important day out here, each round counts for 20 points and we we're playing catch-up right now. We have our work cut out for us, but with the way things are going this weekend, we just hope to keep making good runs like we have since we hit the ground here."
CLINCHED - Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) became the first in the respective categories to clinch a top ten berth. Headed into this event, Tony Schumacher was the only driver to clinch a berth.
LOOKED GOOD ON PAPER - Del Worsham qualified the Checker Schuck's Kragen car in the No. 2 spot with a 4.073 e.t. at 300.40 mph. Worsham won this race in 1999.
"I said after Denver that we have to start qualifying higher so that we don't race guys like Robert Hight, Ron Capps, or Tim Wilkerson in round one," Worsham said. "Well, we accomplished the first part of the equation, getting the 2-spot here, but there's nothing you can do about who lands where on the rest of the sheet. We ran great and earned our best starting spot of the year, and still get Capps in round one.
"All we can do now is race the track, and try to put the best and cleanest lap on the board that the conditions will allow. If we went out there and thought we had to do any kind of crazy stuff to win the first round, we'd just be doing them a favor and beating ourselves. We're the ones who got the 2-spot, and we went right down there today when a lot of cars were smoking the tires, so we'll just try to stay consistent and win some big rounds tomorrow. Ron always seems to have something for us, so there's no doubt it's going to be tough, but it always is."
IN THE SHOW - Tim Wilkerson learned just how stressful a Countdown to the Championship berth can be.. He put his beautiful Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevrolet Funny Car in the 16th qualifying spot at the Schuck’s Auto Supply Nationals on his first attempt and held onto the bump spot with all his might throughout the day.
Wilkerson ran 4.156 at 288.83 mph early in the day which put him in the No. 16 spot. With 17 cars vying to be in the program, there was only one car behind Wilkerson, but it was the top dog himself, John Force. To add to the drama in the last qualifying session, Wilkerson was the first one out to make a pass, a single, while Force sat right behind him, watching. Wilkerson made his slowest pass of the weekend, a 4.175 at 294.43 mph. Even though it was Wilk’s slowest it was good for the third quickest run of the session. Wilkerson waited on the top end of the track and held his breath as he watched Force. To his relief, Force smoked the tires, leaving Wilkerson sitting on the bump.
Wilkerson knew he could make it down the track in the heat of the day but didn’t know how quick. By going out first, Wilkerson put the pressure on Force and his crew chief, Austin Coil and everyone knew Coil had to go for it.
“Wow, it was tough waiting and watching John run,” expressed Wilkerson, “there was so much on the line. I do feel bad for John but good for the points leader, me. It would have been nice to qualify better, but all that matters is that we did qualify because you can’t do any good on race day if you’re not in the show.
“We have a new associate sponsor, Transformer Disposal Specialists that just joined us and I’m certainly glad we were able to start our relationship with them on a good note. Now, we would like to have a good day tomorrow for all of our sponsors and fans.”
Wilkerson faces the No. 1 qualifier, Robert Hight in the first-round of eliminations. The two met in the semifinal round last week in Denver and Wilkerson got the win light. He’s hoping the same will happen again tomorrow.
“I certainly hope we can come out on top again tomorrow when we face Robert,” said Wilkerson. “Those guys are tough and did a great job qualifying. But we’re not going to worry about who is in the other lane. We’re just going to do the very best we can and just worry about getting down the race track. If our driver and crew chief do their job, everything should be good tomorrow. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
SHOCK AND AWWWWW! - The final day of qualifying was bittersweet for John Force. As temperatures continued to rise throughout the day tricky track conditions hampered John Force and his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang’s chances of getting into one of the tightest Funny Car fields in recent memory.
A decent but not spectacular run in the first session was not enough to move Force into the Top sixteen and in his final attempt his Ford Mustang lost traction just past the halfway point and his hopes of racing on Sunday went up in smoke. From the top end Force was motivated to improve and fire-up his teammates.
“We need to focus on winning but right now we have to evaluate our car with Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly and myself. It just isn’t running like it should be running. I just want to be positive and I really want to thank the fans that came by our pit hundreds and hundreds of them. They were telling me ‘You will get in. You will get in.’ It had me mentally positive and I thought it was going to go but it didn’t,” said the winningest driver in NHRA history. “We have three hot rods in the show and we’ll come out here tomorrow and win this race. I’m in this Countdown for the championship so far. I think I’ll probably get hurt here. We will fix this heap.”
Force’s Last Seattle DNQ came 29 years ago but since 2007 the 14-time champion has four DNQ’s.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR BATTLE – Sunday’s first round will feature a match between Rookie vs. rookie, Ford vs. Ford first round tilt between Mike Neff and Bob Tasca III. Neff, the only rookie driver to reach a final round this season, will have lane choice and is not focusing on who he is racing just the end result.
“I just want to win first round, move onto second round and try to get my first win. It doesn’t matter really who is in the other lane. We made three good runs here. I think we have as good a chance as anybody.”
This will be Neff’s seventh Ford versus Ford match-up in nine races. Previously he has squared off against either teammate John Force or Robert Hight. The former off-road truck racer and world champion crew chief has a 4-2 record in his previous six all Blue Oval races.
“It’s exciting,” added Tasca. “This is what NHRA racing is all about. This is the type of win that we’re going to need to get to move up into the top 10 and hold our position.”
TROXEL'S CHANGES - The sun, absent from Friday's opening qualifying rounds, returned to Pacific Raceways Saturday and slowed elapsed times. But it didn't make any difference to Melanie Troxel and the Gotham City Racing Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car team. They stayed eighth over all and she races Tony Pedregon in Sunday's opening round of the Schuck's Auto Supply.
Troxel's Friday times were 4.109 and 4.096 seconds and she added runs of 5.846 and 4.182 seconds on Saturday. Pedregon qualified ninth, 4.098 seconds.
The good opening-day performance enabled crew chief Brian Corradi to use the third qualifying run to test.
"I've had a blower and some clutch parts I wanted try and that was the perfect time to do it," Corradi said of the weekend's slowest run. "We came real close to making a good run and we did learn some things. Making the top 10 is our ultimate goal and being able to test parts will help us get there."
Troxel, meanwhile, was happy to make laps in both conditions.
"I think when we come out for first round tomorrow we are going to have the cloudy conditions in the morning and then it's going to burn off and be like it was for both passes today. We've had some experience in each of those situations. We tried something on the first pass this morning. That's the benefit of making two good runs on Friday. You feel comfortable trying something different.
"We put everything back where it was and we feel fairly confident about our last run. It was a good one on a pretty hot race track in the same kind of conditions we're probably going to see tomorrow."
Starting in the top half of the field is a good thing, too, added Troxel, "because you get lane choice. But, at the same time, being at the top of the field hasn't really been that good to me. Even going back to my dragster days, I've tended to do better from the bottom half of the field."
"I know the crew chiefs like to have lane choice and to be a little bit higher in the qualifying position but, as a driver, I'm good from wherever we race. Everybody has a shot on Sunday."
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – WELCOME BACK TO SEA LEVEL
HE'S BAACK - Robert “Top Gun” Hight has a good feeling about the performance of his Auto Club Ford Mustang after two
Hight has been seeing steady improvement over the past two events and he is eager to get back to the track tomorrow.
“Leaving Englishtown and starting at Norwalk we started really running well. It is starting to come around. Denver is so different than anywhere else we race. It is hard to come out of Denver with a lot of confidence,” said last year’s No. 1 qualifier at Pacific Raceway. “We are coming back to sea level. We have had engine gremlins all year and we haven’t been making it to 1,000 feet cleanly. It (the motor) was running really good to 1,000 feet but then it was burning itself up. Honestly, this new format is really helping us. We are getting to 1,000 feet and not hurting it. We can work on our tune up.”
At the top end following his last run on Friday Hight could barely contain his excitement with how well his Jimmy Prock tuned Ford Mustang was running.
“I didn’t want to get out of this Mustang. Even at 1,000 feet it was running so good, it sounded good. It did have a little rattle leaving but maybe this Auto Club Ford is back. We have done well here in Seattle in the past and we want to keep marching,” said the fastest driver to win 100 rounds in Funny Car history.
THE ARMY ROLLS IN - Tony "the Sarge" Schumacher drove his U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster to the number one position following the first day of qualifying for the 21st Annual Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals at Pacific Raceway.
Schumacher, who came into this weekend leading the NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship race, recorded low elapsed time in both qualifying sessions as well as posting the day's top speed. He traversed the 1,000-foot course in 3.802 seconds at 316.9 miles per hour during the second round, bettering his first lap of 3.821 seconds at 314.97 mph.
"The air was great, the track was terrific and (crew chief) Alan (Johnson) really had a handle on the setup," said the Chicago-area resident. "But Alan understands this track. We have gone to the finals here the last four years - winning three, including last year."
Last year, the team had to cope with adverse weather throughout the race weekend; this year's challenge is the new race distance.
"Racing to 1,000 feet instead of a quarter mile means tighter, more competitive fields, but this U.S. Army Racing Team is up to the challenge. We succeed as a team the same way our soldiers do regardless of their challenges - by staying cool and calm in the face of adversity."
The approach has paid off through the first 13 (of 24) races of the 2008 season with Schumacher winning six, while going to eight final rounds. Tomorrow he hopes to hold onto his qualifying spot which would be his fourth pole position of the year.
"This hot rod is just running great," said the reigning and five-time NHRA POWERade Top Fuel Champion. "Last year in the first half of the season we would run great in qualifying and then have some issues on Sunday. This year everything seems to be working."
CHARTING TOP COURSE - Dave Connolly led the Pro Stock field during the first day at Pacific Raceways.
The 25-year-old Connolly, a resident of Charlotte, N.C., drove the Charter Communications/Lifelock Chevy Cobalt to a track-record and career-best elapsed time of 6.573 seconds at 209.49 mph to take the provisional pole with two rounds of qualifying remaining on Saturday.
"Last year we ended up winning this race after the rain delay and wound up setting the track record in the finals," Connolly said. "We came out today, reset the record in Q1 and then reset it again in Q2. Seattle has been excellent to us and we're on a chase to make the top 10 and hopefully that Countdown to One. We missed the first five races of the season, so we have our work cut out for us.
"Last weekend, we let a good opportunity slip away from us at Denver. We struggled from the time we got there, but we came here, looked over everything and got it right for the first pass. Tommy Utt is doing an excellent job making good calls and today we hit the track running. It's a complete 180 from last weekend. Even though our Charter Communications Chevrolet is a great car, we still have two sessions left to try and hold onto that No. 1 spot. We'll see what happens
"That first run, I short shifted it a little bit, which was really the only thing we adjusted for during the night session. These cars are separated by only thousandths of a second and every little driver error tends to show up."
Connolly is the defending Pro Stock champion at the Schuck's Auto Supply Nationals and he was also the No. 1 qualifier at this event a year ago. He was the No. 1 qualifier in June at the NHRA Summer Nationals in Topeka, Kan., and currently has six career No. 1 qualifying awards.
"The Charter Communications Chevy Cobalt was under control and gettin' it, so I knew it was going to be a good run," Connolly said. "I was only hoping that it would be good enough to take out Jason's (Line) 6.58 in front of us, and fortunately for us, it was."
THAT'S WICKED MAN -
WORSHAM'S GOOD DAY - Del Worsham made a fine lap during today's first qualifying session, posting a 4.131 which lefthim in the 8th spot. As Q2 progressed, and the E.T.s began dipping lower and lower, Worsham had slid to the 12th spot by the time he finally made his attempt. Having made a conscious decision to be aggressive on this pass, Worsham then drove the Techron Impala to a stout 4.073, at 300.40 mph, jumping temporarily into the No. 1 spot. Robert Hight ran one pair later, and his sterling 4.056 took over the provisional pole, while Worsham's time held on for the No. 2 position after one full day of qualifying.
"Our first run was nice, but the best part of it was that we knew there was a lot more on the table to go get, and we decided to go for it," Worsham said. "It was not a decision made without risk, I promise you that. As far as we were concerned, we were jumping on it pretty hard and when you do that you can blow the tires off right at the hit, or anywhere down the track. We knew there was a chance we might be outside the top 12 by the time we ran, and if we did overpower the track we might be putting ourselves in a tougher spot, but we were all in agreement on what to do and we turned just about all the knobs up.
"Once it got off the line and started pulling, I was pretty sure it was going to make it and it sure felt like a strong lap. I kept my foot down right through the finish line, to get every ounce of E.T. out of it, and we were all happy with what it ran. It feels good to go for a home run and hit one, and even though Robert's run was huge, we're still very happy to be No. 2 overnight."
NOW THAT'S A COMBINATION!
BEEN A LONG TIME - It’s been a long time since this happened but Tim Wilkerson will head into Saturday not qualified. Eventhough Wilkerson’s Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevrolet Impala SS made two consistent runs which put him in the No. 13 spot tonight at the Schuck’s Auto Supply Nationals; he fell under the new qualifying ruling where only the top 12 cars qualify on Friday. Wilkerson and the other non-qualifiers will have their Friday runs thrown out and must start from scratch on Saturday.
Wilkerson ran 4.118 at 299.06 mph on his first qualifying pass and even though he tuned it up, it slowed slightly to a 4.125 on the evening run.
“We don’t like not being in,” said Wilkerson, “but I feel that we’ll be okay tomorrow. We made good runs today, but just not quite good enough. The track is so good and the air is so good and we just didn’t get our clutch right. We tuned it up for our second pass, but it just blew through the clutch.
“We’ve already made some changes our clutch and if we can get it to cooperate tomorrow, we should be good.”
KJ WANTS BETTER - Less than five days after fighting to find horsepower in the thin air in Denver, Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Cobalt Racing team returned to more normal conditions at the Schuck’s Auto Supply Nationals in Seattle, WA with the cool temperatures and near sea level air producing record times and speeds during the first day of qualifying.
After opening with a solid 6.623-second pass, Johnson came back on his second attempt with a 6.605-second run, which came with a career-best top speed of 209.82 mph, good enough for eighth midway through qualifying. However, having experienced issues in each session, KJ focused his attention on making a clean run on Saturday to further improve his standing for Sunday.
“To be honest, we made two terrible runs today, giving us plenty of room for improvement tomorrow. We had a couple issues, with it pulling left on the first run, and then having a problem shifting in the second session. Although it was good enough to place us eighth, we want to be number one.
“On the positive side, our ACDelco Cobalt was smooth in the first two gears on both runs, so we know the car is set-up right. It’s also going straight, taking care of one problem we’d been having. Now all we have to do is address the other issue and make a good run in the morning.”
FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH -
NOT QUITE THERE - Bob Tasca III posted the 14th quickest time in Funny Car qualifying today at Pacific Raceways nearSeattle, but with only the top 12 times on Friday carrying over into Saturday, the rookie driver will have two more qualifying runs on Saturday to earn a spot in Sunday’s NHRA Nationals.
“We’re testing some different things with the bell housing and with the clutch system to try and improve our 60-foot time,” said Tasca of his two runs on Friday. “Our time in that part of our run is something that we’ve struggled with all season. We’ve been one of the faster cars from 60 foot on, but we know that in order to make significant strides on the track and in the points, we need to be quick for the entire run.”
With 17 Funny Cars entered into Sunday’ race, the driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane/Custom Accessories Shelby Mustang needs to only qualify better than one other car to make his 13th start of the season on Sunday.
“The margin of time between the No. 1 position and us at No. 14, is just over seven-hundredths of a second, and in the middle of the pack it’s half of that,” said that rookie driver. “We’re unfortunately at the bottom of the pack, but we’re there with some good company. John Force, Tim Wilkerson, Ron Capps, and Jack Beckman aren’t inside the top 12 either, so with those names being on the outside looking in, it shows you just how competitive this field is.
“From where we were at the beginning of the year, to where we are now, we can have the types of runs that we had today, and not lose any sleep tonight, because we have a handle on the racecar,” said Tasca. “It’s about making changes and learning. If you don’t try new things out, you’ll just keep doing the same thing over and over again. If we were No. 1 in the points, we’d just keep on doing what we’re doing, but being No. 11, it’s about improving and learning. We've got the testing part of our weekend out of the way and on Saturday, we’re going to zero in on our race-day tune-up.”
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