Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Friday Race Notes

NHRA's Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Race Notes column includes live timing and scoring, news, photos, videos, and social media posts in reverse order that they happened.

Thanks for joining us for today's live Race Notes feature. We'll be back Saturday and Sunday with complete coverage and analysis.


1. Tony Schumacher – 3.712
2. Steve Torrence – 3.720
3. Shawn Langdon – 3.723
4. Antron Brown – 3.749
5. Brittany Force – 3.775
6. J.R. Todd – 3.781
7. Doug Kalitta – 3.782
8. Richie Crampton – 3.816
9. Leah Pritchett – 3.818
10. Clay Millican – 3.833
11. Terry McMillen – 3.892
12. Morgan Lucas – 3.936


The final pair in Top Fuel, like the one in Funny Car, is a preview of tomorrow's rescheduled Seattle event final. Steve Torrence goes 3.720 at 326.63 mph for the No. 2 spot while Antron Brown smokes the hides.


Morgan Lucas, who won this event, sponsored, of course, by the family business, two years ago — he was the only Pro winner crowned on the original weekend after rain forced the Funny Car final and Pro Stock semifinals and final to Indy — has a good run, going to about 800 feet before shutting down to a 3.936 that leaves him No. 12. J.R. Todd shuts down early and will stay No. 6.


Shawn Langdon is bullish about the performance of the Phil Shuler-tuned Red Fuel/Sandvik Coromant, even if his back-to-back wins in Bristol and Norwalk were followed by only two round-wins in the four races that followed.

“Results-wise, we don’t have what we were having in the middle of the season, but the car is there," said Langdon. “We lost early a couple times for different reasons. We just need it to all start coming back together."

Langdon runs a 3.723 on his second attempt to move behind teammate Tony Schumacher in the qualifying order.


Tony Schumacher goes to the top of the order with an outstanding 3.712, 323.50 mph in the Mike Green-tuned U.S. Army dragster.

"That's a great run for the Army team, but I'm not sure that's going to hold," said Schumacher. "The fact is there is a 3.6-second racetrack out there. We ran too close to the front of the pack and showed a lot of smart crew chiefs what's out there."


Chris "the Greek" Karamesines makes his first run of the event. The ageless veteran rolled through the beams, dropped a cylinder, and fireballs an engine. (animated gif)

In the other lane, Clay Millican moves up to No. 7 with a 3.833.


1. Del Worsham – 3.856
2. Ron Capps – 3.866
3. Matt Hagan – 3.882
4. Tommy Johnson Jr. – 3.884
5. Courtney Force – 3.892
6. Jack Beckman – 3.901
7. John Force – 3.915
8. Chad Head – 3.921
9. Robert Hight – 3.933
10. Brian Stewart – 4.017
11. Bob Bode – 4.283
12. John Hale – 4.498


In a preview of the rescheduled Seattle final tomorrow, Ron Capps runs low e.t. of the session at 3.866 seconds beside Del Worsham's 3.872, though Worsham uses a holeshot to get to the finish line first.

"That team brings out the best in us," said Capps. "It could be one of the best side-by-side races ever in the final tomorrow."


Matt Hagan crushes the track speed record that he set last season at 330.47 mph in the Dickie Venables-tuned Rocky Boots/Mopar Dodge Charger. He runs a 3.882 to go up to the No. 2 spot.


Brian Stewart just misses his first three-second run. The Minnesota native and former Pro Stock racer records a career-best elapsed time at 4.017 seconds at a speed of 309.56 mph.


John Bojec starts the second Funny Car session on a single on his first attempt of the event. His Johnny West-tuned Speed City Toyota Camry features several changes, including the latest Don Schumacher Racing cylinder heads and superchargers, a John Force Racing manifold, and laid-back headers. Bojec's safety shutoff system activates immediately when the Mentor, Ohio, native steps on the throttle.


Del Worsham’s 3.856 in the opening qualifying session was close to a perfect run. The Nick Boninfante Jr.- and Jon Oberhofer-tuned DHL Toyota Camry led every increment on the back of the qualifying sheet with the exception of 60-foot times at which his .863 was just .001-second shy of Courtney Force’s time.

“We pretty much hit a home run," said Worsham. “What we do tonight is up to Mother Nature."


Dale Creasy Jr. wasn’t angry after a timing malfunction caused him to not get a time after his Tek Pak/Beaver Shredding Dodge Charger made a nice run at the front of the first Funny Car session. With 16 cars on the premises, Creasy knows he will be competing on Sunday and is happy that the onboard data from the run parallels his career-best 4.08 from the Topeka event.

“We overlaid our 4.08 run, and they’re twins," said Creasy. “It might have lost a couple thou from throwing the belt at 3.98 seconds. The motor looks good, even better than it did when we ran our 4.08. It got through the wiggle zone, my vision cleared right up, and I thought, ‘It’s going now.’

“I’m disappointed more than upset because I wanted to see the time slip. I’m just happy we repeated the run, and we’ll try to do it again tomorrow."


Minnesota native Brian Stewart is determined to make his first three-second pass tonight. His Daniel Wilkerson-tuned Mustang went 4.08 in the first session despite dropping a cylinder at the hit and pitching a blower belt downtrack.

“Danny thought it had an .01 or .02 in it," said Stewart. “It was fighting me. I probably should have shut off, but it felt good. Our goal is 3.999. We’re going for it tonight."


2010 Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals winner Bob Bode won’t make the second attempt after torching the heads on his first hit. The John Stewart-tuned Toyota had strong early numbers before Bode pedaled it, and damage ensued.

“It was driver error," said Bode. “I thought it spun the tire when it locked up, and I squeezed the throttle. ‘Stewie’ says I hurt my pocketbook all by myself.

“That run might have been that elusive 4.0. We’re gonna find it. This track is the first place I’ve ever qualified at; it’s where I got my only win, and I want to run my first 4.0 here to complete the trifecta. We love Brainerd."


1. Bo Butner – 6.622
2. Vincent Nobile – 6.628
3. Drew Skillman – 6.640
4. Jason Line – 6.642
5. Greg Anderson – 6.644
6. Allen Johnson – 6.644
7. Shane Gray – 6.651
8. Deric Kramer – 6.654
9. Chris McGaha – 6.664
10. Jeg Coughlin Jr. – 6.692
11. Alex Laughlin – 6.710
12. David River – 6.763


Bo Butner will stay No. 1 after teammate Jason Line doesn't improve with a 6.645, and in the other lane, Allen Johnson improves slightly with a 6.642 but will get bumped down to the No. 5 spot.


A great side-by-side run as Bo Butner heads to the top with a 6.62, and Drew Skillman goes to the No. 2 spot with a 6.64.


A puff of smoke came out of Jeg Coughlin Jr.'s car around the half-track mark, and he coasts to a 7.45. Deric Kramer moves up to the No. 5 spot with a 6.65 for now.


Defending event champ Erica Enders, who was unable to make it down the track in the first session due to an air-line break, experiences more bad luck as she gets timed out because she couldn't get the car to stage. She reports from the top end that the engine simply died as she was going into stage and couldn't get it relit in time. She launched the car anyway, trying to gather some data, but ran into problems in 3rd gear and had to lift.

In the other lane, Alex Laughlin improves with a 6.71.


Mark Hogan had an oil drip and shut the car off in Q1 and will make his first pass down the track here in Q2.

Hogan runs a 6.83, which is good enough for the No. 12 spot for now.


1. Angelle Sampey – 6.848
2. LE Tonglet – 6.877
3. Hector Arana Jr. – 6.894
4. Matt Smith – 6.908
5. Hector Arana Sr. – 6.917
6. Michael Ray – 6.925
7. Cory Reed – 6.925
8. Jerry Savoie – 6.929
9. Eddie Krawiec – 6.929
10. Andrew Hines – 6.930
11. Karen Stoffer – 6.950
12. Jim Underdahl – 6.964


Matt Smith led the first session with a 6.90 that was spectacular only in that it was the best run of the round, considering that the track record is a 6.78.

“I thought there was an .88 out there; we just missed it a little bit," said Smith. “There were other guys who missed it a lot more. The air is cool, but there’s no barometer."

Smith predicted a 6.85 for his run, but mechanical problems strike as he gets on the rev limiter and shuts off. LE Tonglet goes 6.877 in the other lane.


Angelle Sampey puts her Star Racing machine to the top with a 6.84 while in the other lane, Andrew Hines doesn't improve.

"I know I should be happy about that run — other than the fact that I short-shifted 2nd gear — but my heart and my mind are focused on Louisiana," said Sampey, who lives in Mathews, La. "I have a lot of family members who have lost everything they owned in the floods. I'm really trying for a Wally for them. I know it won't rebuild their houses, but maybe it will rebuild their spirits. God bless, Louisiana. I love you all."


The Vance & Hines Harley team basically sacrificed their first qualifying passes to both break in a new rear tire, and they begin to prepare the parts that will carry them through Indy and the Countdown to the Championship. Andrew Hines also was breaking in a new engine to replace the one he wounded last month in Sonoma, so both riders expect better runs this session. “There’s an .84 or an .85 out there," opined Eddie Krawiec, who spun the tires on his run. “Right now, we’re just trying to learn, so we’re testing where we can along the way."

A mid-6.80 might be out there but not for Krawiec, who runs a 6.927, quicker than his opening 6.99 but still not at the top of the pack. Melissa Surber runs a 7.04, slowing from her earlier 6.97.


Jim Underdahl improves with a 6.96 to move him into the top 12 for now while Steve Johnson has trouble around midtrack and has to push his bike off the track.


Scotty Pollacheck, traditionally a top-10 runner, has had the toughest of seasons as his Nitro Fish machine has struggled with intermittent ignition woes that have been causing the engine to shut off during a run. Engine builder Matt Smith was in his pits between runs trying to help diagnose the problem, and the team was hopeful that they had found the gremlin. A 7.04 at 190 mph is solid but not what they were looking for.


Chip Ellis, who did not get down the track cleanly in the first session, is unable to get his bike fired up at the starting line and won't make a pass here in Q2.


Fourty-two-time national event winner Tony Bartone goes for a wild ride during the second session of Top Alcohol Funny Car qualifying. (animated gif)


1. Steve Torrence – 3.748
2. Antron Brown – 3.749
3. J.R. Todd – 3.781
4. Doug Kalitta – 3.782
5. Richie Crampton – 3.816
6. Leah Pritchett – 3.818
7. Scott Palmer – 4.045
8. Morgan Lucas – 4.057
9. Luigi Novelli – 4.695
10. Rob Passey – 4.700
11. Brittany Force – 4.931
12. Shawn Langdon – 5.540


Antron Brown is the only driver in the first session to make a good run in the Powercruise Boats (right) lane. The Matco Tools dragster misses the top spot by .001-second with a 3.749. It was Brown's first run in that dragster since being front- and back-halved at the Don Schumacher Racing in-house chassis shop.

Doug Kalitta runs 3.782 in the other lane, coming .001-second shy of taking a bonus point from teammate J.R. Todd.


Steve Torrence, who has qualified No. 1 eight times this season and leads drivers in all categories in that department, goes to the top of the field with a 3.748 in the Richard Hogan-tuned Capco Contractors dragster.

The fast-starter is the No. 1 qualifier after the first session for the ninth time this season.


Sonoma winner J.R. Todd goes to the top with a 3.781 in Connie Kalitta's SealMaster dragster.

In four races between Topeka and Epping, Todd only scored one round-win and qualified in the Nos. 8 or 9 position. Since then, he has qualified No. 7 or higher at every race and made five consecutive semifinal appearances.


With Papa John's Pizza founder "Papa John" Schnatter standing on the starting line, Leah Pritchett wheels the gold dragster he sponsors to a 3.818 at 314.68 mph to go to the top for now.

"It's exhilarating," said Schnatter. "We love the fans. I appreciate how hard Leah, Don [Schumacher], and everybody works. I had no idea what 10,000 horsepower felt like."


Scott Palmer shuts off early on a 4.045 at only 229 mph. His 3.114 eighth-mile time is .002-second quicker than Del Worsham's when Worsham ran 3.856 to qualify No. 1 in Funny Car, and Worsham was going 12 mph faster (284 mph to 272 for Palmer).


Richie Crampton and the Lucas Oil team have turned their performance around after being plagued with inconsistency this season. How did they do it? Crew chief Aaron Brooks jokes, “We’ve being playing a lot of the NHRA [Championship Drag Racing] PlayStation 2 game. We moved all the dots into one place."


The U.S. Army team is pleased with the timing of Tony Schumacher’s performance. The promise that their new combination showed during preseason testing has come to fruition.

“It’s getting better, for sure," said crew chief Mike Green. “It’s more race-able. Once we have that, we can make it quicker. We’re normally not that aggressive, but we’ve been upping the performance a little more. We put a fresh front-half on the car before the Western Swing. There are no excuses at this point. It’s time to start winning races."

“I’m pretty pumped," added assistant crew chief Neal Strausbaugh. “We changed a lot of stuff over the winter. We’re approaching an important time of the year, and the car is performing."


Rob Passey loses a blower belt to start Top Fuel qualifying on a 4.700. There was an apparent haze from the puke tank while the Mr. Magoo/TNT Motorsports dragster was under power.


1. Del Worsham – 3.856
2. Ron Capps – 3.897
3. Tommy Johnson Jr. – 3.915
4. Jack Beckman – 3.917
5. Courtney Force – 3.920
6. Robert Hight – 3.933
7. Chad Head – 3.938
8. John Force – 3.966
9. Brian Stewart – 4.087
10. Bob Bode – 4.283
11. John Hale – 4.498
12. Tim Wilkerson – 5.604


Ron Capps closes Funny Car qualifying with a 3.897 to go to No. 2 behind his Protect the Harvest NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil final-round opponent.

The Funny Car points leader has performed excellent since the start of the "Eastern Swing" in Epping, though his numbers in that time span don’t tell the whole story. Their supply of certain batches of clutch discs had run out at various points in that span, forcing crew chief Rahn Tobler and assistant Eric Lane to adapt the tune-up of the NAPA Dodge Charger.

“We changed four different discs since Epping," said Tobler. “The last disc we changed was in Sonoma, and it made it soft. We struggled on race day there. In Seattle, we set it up to go 3.91 in the first session and went 3.97, so we changed our approach. You have to adapt; you can’t get stuck on numbers."

Capps has enough discs to maintain his current clutch combination through the end of the year. Meanwhile, he has two chances to win this weekend with the rescheduled Protect the Harvest NHRA Nationals final round against Del Worsham taking place on Saturday. Capps won this event in 2014 when the final round against John Force had to be completed at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

“We’ve been in this situation before," said Tobler. “Running the final tomorrow isn’t going to change what we’re trying to do today."


Del Worsham shatters the track e.t. record with the seventh-quickest run in Funny Car history at 3.856 seconds, 326.71 mph. The DHL Toyota driver now owns three of the seven quickest runs in history.

Worsham has led the last five consecutive Funny Car qualifying sessions.

“It’s nice to come out here and make a run like that," said Worsham. “Everyone’s car is running well, and every week we all get better at what we’re doing. Nicky [Boninfante], Jim O. [Oberhofer], and the boys on the DHL Camry, and we’ve had Tommy D. [DeLago, crew chief for sidelined Alexis DeJoria] the last couple of races, and everyone contributing."


Tommy Johnson Jr. goes to the top with a 3.915 at 321.81 in the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger. John Force goes 3.966 in the other lane.

"That was pretty good," said T.J. "I thought it was just an OK run when I pulled the chutes. It was smooth. We've got to put on a show for the people at 'the Zoo.' That's what it's all about. We were runner-up here last year, and we'll see if we can take it one run further."


Chad Head makes the first three-second run of the weekend with a 3.938 at 315.42 mph.

“That’s a great way to start, but it’s only going to get faster; I can promise you that," said Head. “We’ll see what we can do in Q2."


Lee Beard is consulting Cruz Pedregon on the Snap-on Toyota Camry this weekend. Beard, who has been tuning one of Santo Rapisarda's dragsters in Australian competition, will also be tuning for Bruce Litton at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.


We're back to racing with Minnesota native Brian Stewart and 2010 Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Bob Bode running side by side. Stewart nears his career best at 4.087 seconds despite having a cylinder out the entire way, and Bode goes 4.283.


Officials are still addressing the timing system following Dale Creasy Jr.'s qualifying attempt.


Courtney Force is ready to get in the seat of her new Traxxas Chevy Camaro following an accident during the first round of eliminations at the Protect the Harvest NHRA Nationals presented by Lucas Oil, in which she made hard contact with the retaining wall. It left her sore in the right knee and left elbow.

“I’m doing good," said Force. “I’ve been doing physical therapy every day to build up muscle around the knee. I’m excited to get back in the car. The guys worked hard getting the new car ready. I’m ready to get through the first run."


Del Worsham on the apparent timing malfunction in Dale Creasy Jr.'s lane: "I'm disappointed because I thought we had the record at 1.67 a few races ago, but that .000 takes the cake."


Dale Creasy Jr. soloed at the front of the first Funny Car qualifying session. Though he made a nice, clean run, he did not receive a time.

The annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals always marks an anniversary for the Tek Pak/Beaver Shredding Dodge Charger driver. Creasy competed in the Funny Car class for the first time here 19 years ago, and it also marked the first time he was able to drive to the finish line at more than 280 mph.

“It’s amazing to think this is my 19th year with a Funny Car license," said Creasy. “This is one of those races that we always put on our schedule because it means a lot to us."

Creasy’s most recent NHRA appearance was at the NHRA Kansas Nationals, where he recorded a career-best 4.086-second elapsed time. He has run his car at four match racing events since then.

“We’re trying to keep our progress going from Topeka," said Creasy. “The motor was really safe on that run. With 16 cars here, we’re going to make one run today, one tomorrow, and get ready for St. Louis."

The St. Louis event will conclude Creasy’s season. One week after the event, he is going to have surgery performed to repair a torn rotator cuff.


Crew chiefs in the nitro categories expect times akin to the performance-fest that took place two weeks earlier in Seattle at some point during the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Though the elevation is significantly higher than Seattle, teams are able to compensate in their tune-ups for what are expected to be cool conditions on Saturday on a fantastic racing surface.

“I think it’s going to be really fast," said U.S. Army Top Fuel crew chief Mike Green. “We should see times like we had in Seattle."

“If they can do it there, they can do it here," said Infinite Hero Funny Car crew chief Jimmy Prock. “That track was exceptional, but I think you’ll see more of that. It will get quicker. I don’t see anyone slowing down."

“It should be awesome like it was last year," said Auto Club Funny Car crew chief Mike Neff. “Last year, the track took everything you can throw at it; it looks like a repeat of that. This is the most fun part as a tuner, trying to run quicker and faster than you ever have before."


1. Jason Line – 6.642
2. Allen Johnson – 6.644
3. Greg Anderson – 6.644
4. Shane Gray – 6.651
5. Vincent Nobile – 6.661
6. Chris McGaha – 6.664
7. Drew Skillman – 6.669
8. Bo Butner – 6.674
9. Deric Kramer – 6.679
10. Jeg Coughlin Jr. – 6.692
11. David River – 6.821
12. Alan Prusiensky – 6.853


Last pair in Pro Stock in the first qualifying session is none other than the two Summit Racing Equipment cars of Greg Anderson and Jason Line.

The numbers don’t lie, and neither will Anderson as he admits that his KB Racing team is looking over its shoulder as the Pro Stock pack finally closes in. With non-KB cars qualifying No. 1 at three of the last four races, it’s clear that gap that Anderson and teammate Jason Line had through the first two-thirds of the season has closed.

“It was great while it lasted, but it’s clear the pack has caught up, and it’s not just one car," said Anderson. “Vincent [Nobile], Chris McGaha, there’s a lot of them right there, so it’s our job now to find something new. The problem is we were so good, so fast that we found all the major chunks right away, so now it’s just 5 or 10 horsepower here and there for us while the other guys still have some of the big chunks still to get. That doesn’t mean that the big chunks aren’t still out there for us; we just haven’t found them yet."

Despite cool track and weather conditions predicted for the weekend, Anderson is expecting quick but not necessarily record times, as everyone will be battling the track’s altitude of about 1,200 feet above sea level. The track record is 6.541 (under last year’s carbureted rules); by comparison, the track record at near-sea level Sonoma Raceway was 6.499.

Anderson posts a 6.644, putting him in the No. 3 spot, while teammate Line goes to the top with a 6.642 to close out the first session.

"I guess it was an OK run," said Line. "It couldn't have been that good because it barely outran that Dodge [of Allen Johnson]. I'm sure there's some left."

It's the fifth time this season that Line has been leader after Q1, and he won the race each of the four previous times.


Shane Gray heads to the top with a 6.65 while Chris McGaha makes a solid run of 6.66 to snag the No. 2 spot for now.

"That was a nice, controlled, smooth run," said Gray. "It gives us a little bit of data on what to do next run."


Erica Enders doesn't have the first qualifying run that she wished to have in her Elite Motorsports Dart as she squares the tires early in the run, coasting to an 18.29. In the other lane, teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. makes it down the track with a 6.69.


Alex Laughlin had been in the coveted top 10 in points all season until being bumped to 11th two weeks ago in Seattle in a head-to-head first-round match with Erica Enders that pushed her into 10th and dropped him to 11th. The fact that his loss came via a holeshot made it a bit tougher.

“I knew that kind of thing was possible because I’m pretty consistent in the .040s and .050s [in reaction time] and that she can be .00 when they make some adjustments to their clutch linkage," he admitted. “She goes .009 against me, and then she runs Aaron [Strong] in the next round and is [.031] against him. I told her, ‘Why couldn’t you have been .030 against me?’ But we take it as a compliment that she knew she had to be quick against us."

Laughlin is just nine points behind Enders with two races remaining, including the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, which is a points-and-a-half event, so the pressure is on Laughlin and the Gas Monkey Garage team.

“For the longest time this season, we weren’t really focused on the points, just taking it one race at a time, until we realized how close we were to staying in the top 10 and that we might have a shot at staying in," said Laughlin, who is competing in his first full season after a seven-race campaign last year. “We definitely need to go a few rounds this weekend and in Indy to get that spot."

Laughlin started to lose traction almost immediately off the starting line and pedals it to get it down the track, posting a 6.88. In the other lane, Deric Kramer goes 6.67.


Both Dave River and Alan Prusiensky make clean runs down the track. River posts a 6.82 while Prusiensky goes 6.85.


Part-time Pro Stock runner Mark Hogan has issues after his burnout and is pushed off the starting line.


1. Matt Smith – 6.908
2. Jerry Savoie – 6.929
3. Andrew Hines – 6.930
4. Hector Arana Sr. – 6.940
5. LE Tonglet – 6.942
6. Hector Arana Jr. – 6.946
7. Karen Stoffer – 6.950
8. Angelle Sampey – 6.956
9. Michael Ray – 6.967
10. Melissa Surber – 6.973
11. Cory Reed – 6.986
12. Eddie Krawiec – 6.996


Teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec will close out the first session of Pro Stock Motorcycle. Neither rider is able to claim the No. 1 spot from Matt Smith, as Krawiec goes 6.99 and Hines records a 6.93.


Angelle Sampey’s Star Racing Buell set low e.t. of the meet with a 6.730 at the last Pro Stock Motorcycle event in Sonoma, but the engine that powered the former world champ to that great number expired in round two against Hector Arana Jr., so George Bryce and the team are starting from scratch this weekend with a new engine that was fired for the first time in their pit this morning. The Star team, like a number of bike teams, had to relocate its pit area after heavy rain Thursday afternoon.

Sampey runs 6.956, well behind the 6.929 by fellow Louisianan Jerry Savoie. By making his first qualifying pass, Savoie has clinched his spot in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.


If you walked by LE Tonglet’s pit area this morning, you didn’t see the Nitro Fish Suzuki out in front of the trailer, just another Minnesota lake after Thursday’s intense downpour that Tonglet chronicled yesterday for social media. The Tonglet family’s Sonoma-winning Suzuki was being worked on inside the trailer while BIR officials tried to drain Minnesota’s 10,001st and newest lake.

The family – father Gary, brother GT, and LE – used the time between races to put a new engine in their purple terror, replacing the tired powerplant that won the Sonoma event. That engine has since been freshened and waits in reserve this weekend if the newer engine doesn’t perform as well.

Suzuki teams typically get 25 runs on their $40,000 engines before then need freshening, and declining vacuum on every run in Sonoma told them they needed to make the switch. They’ll give the new one – which last made a pass during the Chicago event – two passes today before making any decision.

Tonglet goes 6.948 alongside Hector Arana Jr.'s 6.940.


After Hector Arana Jr. moves to the No. 1 spot with a 6.94 for just a few moments because Matt Smith takes it over with a 6.908.


It’s a big event for Michael Ray (pictured), who sits 11th in points, just six behind Steve Johnson for the last Countdown to the Championship playoff berth.

“I’m just a good qualifying outing behind Steve," said Ray. “I think we’re getting better when you’re supposed to, but I still feel like we’re a race or two behind everyone else. Earlier this year, we couldn’t run fast; now we can run fast, but we’re running into parts breakage. We learned a lot in Denver and Sonoma, so I’ll think we’ll be good. [Sonoma winner LE Tonglet] showed that you just have to have one good race and have someone else have a bad one to move up pretty quickly, as tightly as we are bunched [six bikes within 100 points]. You can make up some ground pretty quick."

His qualifying partner, Karen Stoffer, sits in 12th place, just 25 points outside the top 10, and is looking for a big weekend out of her Big St. Charles/Skillman Motorsports Suzuki. The team has battled an elusive clutch problem all season that was just recently uncovered, so after a season spent adjusting the tune-up trying to compensate for the problem, the challenge now for crew chief Gary Stoffer is to get the tune-up aligned with the properly functioning clutch.

“We were really lost there for a while, and I wasn’t riding that good either, so if we can get our game together, maybe we can make a move for our sponsors, who have been so supportive for us all year," Stoffer said. “We’ve never had this bad of a start to a season – we usually do well at the start and then fall off – so maybe this year we’ll have a slow start but finish strong."

Stoffer goes to No. 1 with a 6.950; Ray is No. 2 with a 6.967.


Melissa Surber heads to the No. 1 spot with a 6.973 while in the other lane, Jim Underdahl posts a 7.00.


Kristen Ashby is the first rider down Brainerd Int'l Raceway, recording a 7.37 as we kick off the first Pro qualifying session of the day.


Welcome to the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals live blog brought to you by the expert staff of NHRA's National Dragster magazine. We'll keep you updated throughout the day with news, notes, and analysis as we kick off qualifying at race 17 of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. To help you follow along with the race, live timing is above this blog.

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