Krawiec, Lucas, Pedregon, and Johnson lead Gainesville Morgan Lucas raced his GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fueler to the No. 1 qualifying spot at the 43rd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.
Cruz Pedregon leads Funny Car in his Snap-On Tools Toyota Camry heading into eliminations Sunday, Allen Johnson topped Pro Stock in his Mopar Dodge Avenger, and two-time Gatornationals champ Eddie Krawiec ran the quickest pass in Pro Stock Motorcycle history en route to the No. 1 spot on his Harley-Davidson.
The GEICO/Lucas Oil driver earned the second No. 1 of the season and sixth of his career Saturday with a 3.766 second pass at 321.88 mph. In just the third race of 2012, Lucas equaled his career high for No. 1 qualifying positions in a single season.
“I can honestly say this is the best race car I’ve ever had,” Lucas said. “I can’t wait to hop in the thing. The problems we have this year have had to do with freak parts failures, not performance. This team is so strong right now.”
Lucas is not only the driver but also the team owner, and for part of last season, he was also the crew chief. After some changes in the off-season Lucas has been able to focus on what he knows best.
“I credit the guys on the team. I feel like we’ve had the ingredients to perform this whole time and didn’t know how to put it together. [Crew chiefs] Aaron Brooks and Rod Centorbi brought that to the table. With them here, I can focus and drive the car with a clear mind.”
Krawiec set the national record on his Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod Saturday with a 6.750-second pass at 198.03 mph and collected not only the 10th No. 1 of his career but also the 20 point bonus that comes with setting a national e.t. record.
“This morning, we got some great weather, and we were able to take advantage of it,” Krawiec said. “We had a stiff headwind, so maybe tomorrow if the wind dies down, we can get that 200-mph run. We’re trying to run 200 mph, but I keep telling everyone you can’t push it. Everything has to be just right. We want to go 200, but we also want to win a Wally.”
Last season, Krawiec set the speed record at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville and won the prestigious event which makes it a place he feels very comfortable.
“Being here [in Gainesville] is like walking in my front door,” Krawiec said. “I’m very comfortable here. This is a great facility, and everyone gets excited for Gainesville.”
Pedregon took the No. 1 spot from defending event champ Mike Neff during the final qualifying session Saturday evening when he laid down a 4.026-second pass at 311.05 mph. This is the third No. 1 at the Gatornationals for Pedregon, first of the season, and 46th of his career.
“I was looking for some kind of 4.0, and sometimes, these cars will surprise you,” said Pedregon. “I always want to lay one down when I’m racing beside [John] Force, but I didn’t want to mess it up. It put me back in the seat really hard and got a little blurry around midtrack. It was a very good feeling, euphoric as they say. It’s nice to reward these guys with a run like that.”
After a DNQ and a first-round loss at the first two races of the season, Pedregon feels the team may have found the right race-day combination.
“We’re really going to enjoy it for tonight, but we’ll be focused on getting back into the points battle on race day,” Pedregon said. “We didn’t have much to show from the first two races, so we kind of considered them our test sessions. We had some consistency on Friday, and to cap it off with a run like that is beyond great.”
Johnson’s Mopar Dodge Avenger raced to the top spot Saturday morning with a 6.486-second pass at 211.93 mph. It’s Johnson’s first No. 1 of the season, first at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, and 19th of his career.
“Anytime you’re in Gainesville, it is prestigious,” Johnson said. “This is Pro Stock country, so it’s great to be No. 1 qualifier here. I really appreciate the [K&N Filters] bonus. The Mopar people are throwing us new parts, and the Dodge Avenger is an awesome race car. I’m just looking forward to starting from No. 1 spot in this field.”
The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx kicked off their season. Mike Castellana’s Camaro lead the 16-car field when eliminations got underway Saturday afternoon and took out veteran Jay Payne in the opening round at the historic track.
Leah Pruett started from the seventh qualifying position and advanced to the quarterfinals with her quickest pass of the weekend, 5.916 seconds at 250.83 mph, outrunning Steve Matusek’s Mustang in the process. Raymond Commisso, Mike Knowles, Kenny Lang, Donald Martin, Rickie Smith, and Danny Rowe also advanced to the quarterfinals.