Day 1: Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals
J.R. Todd and Morgan Lucas put their matching dragsters atop the Top Fuel field after the first day of qualifying at the 44th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, the final event of the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series schedule. Todd scorched the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona track with a 3.851 to take the top spot, just four-thousandths ahead of his teammate.
Mike Neff leads the Funny Car field with three qualifying sessions to go after posting a 4.10 while Dave Connolly fronts the Pro Stock pack and Eddie Krawiec, who is locked in a tight championship battle with Matt Smith, heads the Pro Stock Motorcycle field.
It's been a tough season for the Lucas Oil team of Todd and Lucas, so the two pals are probably reveling in their current positions atop the field at the season's final event. Todd's 3.851 leads Lucas' 3.855 by a scant margin as he races toward what he hopes will be his second win of the season.
"We plan for the two cars to run the same and you can't get much closer than that," said Todd, who won earlier this season in Dallas to hand Tony Schumacher his only loss of the season since the switch to the 1,000-foot distance. "The cars aren't as close as they could be; our car makes more power than Morgan's car; they have to stand on the tune-up quite a bit more. I dunno; his car is jinxed. There's some bad juju going on with that car, but I know Jimmy Walsh has made some wholesale changes to the car and looks like he's gotten it turned around.
"We've been struggling all year so that's a great run for us right out of the trailer. I don’t know if that will hold up all weekend but it will stay in the show and give us a chance to play on Sunday. It got out of the groove a little bit downtrack so I feel it could have run a bit better than that, but we'll come back and tune 'er up for Friday and Saturday and get ready for raceday."
Hillary Will, second place in points, sits in the third spot with her KB Racing dragster with a 3.860, just ahead of Brandon Bernstein, who clocked a 3.863 on the tune-up of outgoing crew chiefs Tim and Kim Richards. Doug Herbert is fifth with a 3.877.
Recently crowned champ Tony Schumacher struck the tires on his all-conquering U.S. Army car and posted just a 6.44 for the 18th spot. Swiss racer Urs Ersbacher holds down the 12th spot with a 3.953. Twenty one cars made qualifying runs in Top Fuel today.
With a five-way championship battle raging in Funny Car, it's surprising that neither of the top two spots went to any of the title contenders. That's not to say that Neff's John Force Racing teammate, third-place Robert Hight, won't enjoy seeing Neff's Old Spice Mustang up and running and able to take out the competition. Neff's 4.105 leads the field and is another feather in the cap of the driver who's expected to be named winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award as the season's top rookie at Monday's awards ceremony.
"That was a very important run to get down there on the first pass," said Neff, who previously this season was low qualifier in Bristol. "We want to get all of our cars up there in the top spots so we don’t have to race one another until the semifinals. We need Robert to get up here with us and even in front of me because he's our shot at the championship. Hopefully we can get all of our cars running this good and eliminate all of these guys who are challenging Robert.
"Getting my first win would be huge," added Neff. "We've been to three finals and don't have a win yet; the one that really hurts the most is Bristol. I felt like we gave that one away so now we're carrying the monkey around on our back to get the first win we already should have had. It would be great to get that first win here, at my home track."
Gary Scelzi, who's competing in his last event before he takes a hiatus from driving, sits second with a 4.121, just ahead of the 4.122 of Tony Pedregon, the first of the championship runners on the sheets. If Pedregon's Q Racing entry stays third, he'll have gone from 62 to 57 points behind his points-leading brother Cruz, making his job on Sunday a round easier. Cruz, meanwhile, could only muster a 15th-best 4.478 and will need to step up if he wants to win his first championship since 1992. Hight is fourth on the ladder with a 4.122 of his own (but at 298.14 to Tony Pedregon's 301.67).
Former points leader Tim Wilkerson, second in points, sits eighth and fifth-place Jack Beckman is a spot behind Cruz in the 16th position with a 5.45. Del Worsham holds the 12th spot with a 4.214 in his last race with the Checker Schuck's Kragen team. Twenty Funny Cars made runs today.