Force, Kalitta, Nobile Top Winternationals Qualifying

John Force stays on top in Funny Car

Defending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion John Force set a new National Record while Doug Kalitta bested the track record in Top Fuel to secure the top qualifying spots for Sunday’s season-opening NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Defending event winner Vincent Nobile claimed the no. 1 qualifier spot in the Pro Stock division.

Force notched his 147th-career no. 1 qualifier spot with a time of 3.966 seconds at 324.12 mph during Friday’s session to claim the new National Record, beating the previous ET mark of 3.986 seconds set by “Fast" Jack Beckman at Reading in October of 2012 and the previous speed record of 320.66 mph by Matt Hagan at this same track back last November.

“We thought we could run .01 or .02, even a high 3.9," Force said. “We tried it the first session, thought we could the second. We pushed it hard. Jimmy (Prock, crew chief) said there was more than the .96 and that it would run .94, .95, and he just wanted to know.

“There was nothing to lose unless (Ron) Capps could pull it off in the other lane, but we're also looking at conditions for tomorrow. It's supposed to be overcast tomorrow, so we'll have these same conditions. Otherwise, if it was going to be hot, you wouldn't want to be doing that. You'd be trying to make it work. We got the record. It's points, and that's all we can say."

Force’s teammate and three-time Winternationals winner Robert Hight held onto the second spot with a time of 3.996 at 317.94 from Friday’s session while Alexis DeJoria pulled off the biggest move of the day, jumping from 20th to third in Saturday’s session with a run of 3.997 at 318.32. Cruz Pedregon also improved on his time in both sessions on Saturday, moving from 16th to fourth running 4.001 at 311.49. Ron Capps rebounded from a spectacular engine explosion in Friday’s session to hold onto fifth with a pass of 4.014 at 304.67.

Paul Lee qualified in the 16th spot to earn an opening round matchup with Force in Sunday’s eliminations. Terry Haddock, Bob Bode, Tony Pedregon, Phil Burkart and Jeff Diehl failed to qualify.

Doug Kalitta

In Top Fuel, Kalitta powered to the top of the ladder in Saturday’s final session with a quick pass of 3.713 seconds at 327.98 mph to secure the top qualifying spot and a new track ET record.

Kalitta, who came into Saturday’s session in second behind Shawn Langdon, came out in the second-to-last pairing of the day and knocked Langdon from the top spot, and, adding insult to injury, took the record previously held by Langdon of 3.721 set here last February.

“Conditions are perfect," said Kalitta, who claimed his fourth Winternationals top qualifier mark and 37th of his career. “It's fun to race here. What can I say about (crew chief) Jim O. (Oberhofer), (assistant crew chief) Troy (Fasching), and this whole team? They came out of the box strong. It's great to have four strong runs in qualifying at the start of the year. We're really looking forward to seeing what we can do with it tomorrow."

Langdon held onto second with a time of 3.715 seconds at 328.70 mph, followed by Antron Brown (3.731, 326.00), Bob Vandergriff (3.743, 328.14) and Spencer Massey (3.768, 324.51).

Steven Chrisman, Steve Faria and Scott Palmer missed the cut, while Sidnei Frigo took the bump spot and will face Kalitta in the opening round.

Defending Pro Stock event winner Vincent Nobile battled back in Saturday’s final session to claim the No.1 qualifier spot, running 6.510 at 212.73 to jump from sixth place and knock Allen Johnson from the top spot and secure his third career pole.

“It's definitely a great start to the season, we put four great runs together," said Nobile, who will face Shane Tucker in Sunday’s opening round. "Tomorrow's a new day though and we need to put together another four good runs and hopefully come home with a trophy. Number one qualifier doesn't really mean anything to me until the end of the year, when those bonus points start adding up. Anybody can win this race, one through 16. So, the only thing that really matters is who holds up that trophy on Sunday."

Johnson tried to rally in the final session and did manage to improve his time, but not enough to best Nobile, running 6.512 at 212.96 to hold down second place. Jason Line (6.514, 212.63), V. Gaines (6.515, 212.83) and Erica Enders-Stevens (6.516, 212.53) rounded out the top five. Paul Pittman was the only Pro Stock entry to not make the field for Sunday’s event.

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