Wet weather forces Monday Winternationals conclusion
Persistent rain and cooling air and track temperatures forced NHRA officials to call an end to Sunday's action at the Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals with only a mostly complete first round in the books. The first rounds of both Top Fuel and Funny Car were completed and two of the eight first-round pairings in Pro Stock were run down the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona track before a rain, which had caused a four-hour delay earlier in the day, brought an end to the day's activity at 5:20 p.m.
Racing will resume Monday at 10:30 a.m. with Stock eliminator. Round two of Top Fuel will follow at 11:30 a.m., followed by Funny Car and then the resumption of round one of Pro Stock.
Monday’s racing will air during a two-hour show on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD at 9:30 p.m. (ET). Tickets will be available for Monday’s racing for $26. Fans holding tickets for any of the rain-delayed days (Thursday, Friday, or Sunday) may redeem those tickets on Monday for entry.
In-between the delays, quick times and exciting racing were the order of the day as many favorites fell to the tricky track conditions and the lack of on track time from Saturday's one-shot qualifying, but both low qualifiers in the nitro classes moved on into round two.
Though it is just one round, things remained much the same in Top Fuel with Tony Schumacher leading the way with a 3.845 that gave him an easy win over rookie Del Cox Jr. Schumacher enters round two with lane choice over Brandon Bernstein, who had an interesting journey to the second round of competition. Both Bernstein and opponent Andy Carter had to pedal their cars, and Carter’s car responded quicker, giving him the edge. However, just when it appeared the European driver would score his first career NHRA round-win in his debut, his Lucas Oil ride began shedding body panels and drifted toward the centerline, ultimately crossing it and disqualifying Carter from competition.
Joining Schumacher and Bernstein in round two are Antron Brown, Mike Strasburg, Morgan Lucas, Steve Chrisman, Cory McClenathan, and Doug Kalitta. Only four of the first-round winners came from the top half of the ladder.
The upsets started early with independent runner Strasburg ousting Don Prudhomme’s U.S. Smokeless Racing team and rookie driver Spencer Massey. Chrisman continued the shockers when he bested David Baca in the following pair. Though he also started in the bottom half of the field, Morgan Lucas made a strong opening-round statement with the second quickest time of the round, a 3.846, that gave him the win over No. 2 qualifier Joe Hartley. Doug Kalitta also started from the slow half of the field, but his 4.648 was more than enough to move him around Urs Erbacher.
One driver from the top half of the field that did escape the first round was top qualifier Brown, who dodged a bullet when Steve Faria experienced more troubles and faded, allowing Brown to win with a 4.222. Fellow top half qualifier McClenathan also advanced when he bested Shawn Langdon, 3.934 to 4.221.
Funny Car low qualifier Robert Hight, who's been to the last three Winternationals finals and won two of them, in 2006 and 2008, is a round closer to a fourth straight final-round appearance after getting past Jerry Toliver in their opening pairing. Hight's Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang ripped to a 4.15 to beat the 2004 Winternationals winner to the finish line.
Although Hight advanced, his boss, John Force, in his new Castrol Edge Mustang, did not, as longtime rival Ron Capps put him on the trailer with a 4.125, the quickest pass of the round. Another Ford driver, Bob Tasca III and his Quick Lane Shelby, nearly matched Capps with a 4.127 against Hight's teammate, Mike Neff, who compounded a red-light by getting extremely crossed up. In round two. Hight will face Jack Beckman, who downed reigning season champ Cruz Pedregon, and Tasca will race Capps. If both Hight and Tasca win their second-round duels, they'll face off in the semifinals.
On the bottom half of the ladder, Del Worsham was the only driver to make close to a full pass as he booted Alan Johnson's Al-Anabi Toyota to a 4.19 against Bob Bode. Worsham will face veteran Gary Densham in round two; Densham beat local hero Jeff Arend in their first-round tussle.
“When you get in these cool conditions like this, the track doesn’t become slippery; it actually gets more traction,” said Worsham, of Sunday's conditions, which produced a number of tire-shaking runs. “When these tires bite like that, if they don’t slip a little bit, they tend to want to shake, and that’s what you were seeing with the tire shake out there and everybody trying to pedal it and get it down there. We just don’t run in these conditions enough to get good at it, so when we get into a situation like this when it happens, everybody’s just doing the best job they can do. If you can get it to where it’s not shaking, you could easily set a record out here right now.
“I’m extremely confident about tomorrow. The first round’s gone, and that really is the nerves, first round at the first race of the season. I feel a lot better about tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Ashley Force Hood added a second John Force car to the quarterfinals when she bested rookie Matt Hagan's BrakeSafe Dodge. She's pair off in round two with Jim head, who advanced after former world champ Tony Pedregon hiked the front end after pedaling and crossed the centerline.