Friday qualifying leaders stay on top in Phoenix
The top performers in the Professional ranks during Friday qualifying remained the qualifying leaders despite an onslaught of great runs in the final day of qualifying at the Lucas Oil Slick Mist NHRA Nationals in Phoenix. Mike Edwards (pictured) will head into final eliminations from the No. 1 spot in Pro Stock, while father and son crew chiefs Ed and Jason McCulloch tuned their respective drivers Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) to the top spots.
Never before in drag racing history had a father and son tuned drivers to No. 1 spots in different Professional classes at the same event. This occurred in just the second race of the younger McCulloch's tuning career.
Though Dixon has been followed closely by his competitors in Top Fuel, he is the only leader in the Professional ranks that clearly had the best car during both days of qualifying. Mike Neff had the best Saturday in Funny Car, and Greg Anderson and Allen Johnson were slightly quicker than Edwards in Pro Stock on Saturday.
Dixon was the class of the field throughout qualifying. He wheeled the Alan Johnson/Al-Anabi Racing dragster to respective runs of 3.843, 3.807, 3.828, and 3.818 en route to the 32nd No. 1 qualifying effort of his career. To open eliminations on Sunday, he'll face Terry Haddock, a Funny Car driver who will be making his first start in Top Fuel.
"I'm happy to see Jason got his first pole, and I think it's really neat that his dad got one, too," said Dixon. "It's great to be up here with a brand-new team. When you look at what [team owner] Alan Johnson has done over the past 15 years, not qualifying in Pomona with only one shot was just a small hiccup.
"I've watched this team dominant qualifying in the past when they were with [Tony] Schumacher. Being their driver, all I have to say is that they're really good. We ran a .82 in the third session when the next best run was a .87, and that's just amazing to me."
Tony Schumacher moved around Antron Brown for the second spot during the final qualifying session with a strong 3.826 at 314.46 mph. Spencer Massey stayed fourth in the U.S. Smokeless dragster, so he will start from the top half of the field for the first time in his young Pro career. Massey's first-round opponent will be Mike Strasburg, who upset him in round one in Pomona.
Doug Kalitta successfully avoided becoming the first driver since Jerry Toliver in 2004 to fail to qualify one race after winning the season-opener. Kalitta went from outside the field to the top half with one of the better runs of the last session, a 3.897 at 307.86 mph. He holds lane choice over Cory McClenathan in the first round.
Capps remained the quickest driver in Funny Car with a 4.023, the second-quickest elapsed time of the 1,000-foot era. The driver of the Napa Dodge Charger earned the eighth No. 1 spot of his career, one of which occurred at this event while driving for Don Prudhomme in 2000. The Pomona champ is vying to extend his points lead with consecutive victories to start the season, which hasn't been done in Funny Car since 1997.
"It's cool that Ed and Jason both got No. 1s," said Capps. "It's strange to be around the two of them. They have a neat relationship, because they both have an old school, tough image. Ed gave me a big hug recently, and I asked him if he hugs Jason like that. He just looked at me and said, 'No.' "
"We made three pretty good runs. It would have been nice to lay down another 4.0, but you've got to look at the big picture of getting down the track consistently. I hope to keep going rounds. After that win in Pomona, I think everyone on this team remembers how fun it is and wants to do it again."
Though Capps made the best run in qualifying, it can be argued that Mike Neff had the best race car. The driver and designated crew chief of the Ford Drive One Mustang is the No. 2 qualifier and the only driver to go A to B on every attempt with efforts of 4.126, 4.050, 4.124, and 4.063. Neff, whose crew chief John Medlen is recovering in Indianapolis after a stent was inserted around his heart, also holds top speed at 309.06 mph.
John Force made the biggest move in the final session. His Castrol Edge Ford Mustang stepped up to a 4.069 at 306.53 mph to take the third spot, setting him up for a marquee first-round matchup with Tim Wilkerson. John Force Racing driver Robert Hight stayed fifth, setting him up for a first-round battle with teammate and sister-in-law Ashley Force Hood.
Matt Hagan is making his first career start from the top half of the field with the BrakeSafe team. Jeff Arend and the DHL crew made the field on the bump spot with a 4.196 at 293.60 mph.
Edwards sat tight as the top qualifier in Pro Stock, a position he held six previous times in his career and once at this event in 2001. After making the quickest runs in both sessions on Friday with a best of 6.605 at 208.52 mph, Edwards' Penhall/YoungLife Pontiac GXP was the third-quickest in each of the sessions today with a pair of 6.62s. Edwards will fight for his first win of the season with power from his own engine program and a tune-up from capable wrenches Terry Adams, Josh Robinson, and Alan Lindsey.
"We worked long hours over the winter to make strides in our engine program," said Edwards, who also leases engines to Ron Krisher, who coincidentally leased an engine to Edwards when he was the No. 1 qualifier at this event in 2001. "We were behind all last year before we gradually got better. Our guys really stepped up. Greg [Anderson] has a top-notch team, and he set the bar so high that it's been our ultimate goal to get as close as we can to him."
"When you can run good, you feel like you have a chance," added Edwards. "We have a chance tomorrow."
Two weeks after setting the national E.T. record in Pomona, Greg Anderson's Summit Racing Pontiac GXP made the best passes of the day with a 6.610 and a 6.622. Allen Johnson made the best runs other than Anderson in the two sessions with respective 6.621 and 6.624 blasts, after which the Mopar driver boldly declared, "We're gonna win this race."
All of yesterday's top 12 made the field with Johnny Gray taking the bump spot with a 6.669. Three Dodge drivers (Rickie Jones, Larry Morgan, and David Beckley) and one Chevy driver (Steve Spiess) made the field today with nice runs, and the 21-year-old Jones even ran quick enough in the QuarterMax Dodge Stratus to move into the top half of the field.
Defending event champ V. Gaines was unable to make the cut. The last time a Professional driver failed to qualify as a defending event winner was last season when 2007 Bristol champ Jeg Coughlin posted a rare DNQ at the same event.