|Antron Brown Was Fastest in Top Fuel Qualifying at Las Vegas|
Top Fuel points leader Antron Brown raced to the qualifying lead Friday at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders in their respective categories at the penultimate playoff event in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Brown, who entered this event with a 132-point lead over Tony Schumacher as he tries to claim a second world championship crown, powered his Matco Tools dragster to a track record time of 3.722 seconds at 326.95 mph.
“We know what’s on the line," said Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel world champ. “We know how good Tony’s team is. Back in 2012, we had problems at this race and in the first round at Pomona, and those guys cut down a 136-point lead and had a chance to win the championship in the final round at Pomona. We are trying to do everything possible to get this done, and right now that Matco Tools dragster is running on a rail, and we are going to ride that wave and take it as far as it will go."
After opening qualifying with a 3.82, Brown said he and his team knew they needed to step it up in the evening session.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
“You had to bring the kitchen sink, and you had to go in the basement and even get some of the water in the bottles to make that car run great," Brown said. “We literally had to put everything in it to make it go. The first run showed it to us. We thought we could go out there and go a high 3.7, and it went a 3.82, so we knew the track was really good. Tonight, we just didn’t want to miss it. We wanted to end up in the top three. We ran that 3.72, and we were like, ‘OK, we should be in the top three now.’ Luckily, it held up for No. 1, and we’re in the spot where we want to be at right now, and we’re controlling our own destiny by running the way that we are."
Eight-time world champ Schumacher is qualified seventh in the 16-car order in his U.S. Army dragster with a 3.794 at 323.81. Richie Crampton, who sits third in points and is the tour’s most recent winner, sits sixth in the Lucas Oil dragster with a 3.774 at 308.35. Five-time LVMS winner Larry Dixon sits second with a 3.733 at 328.30 in his C&J Energy Services dragster.
Johnson sped to a track record time of 3.931 at 320.43 in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger to lead Funny Car qualifying. Johnson entered the event in third place in points behind series leader Del Worsham and second-place Jack Beckman. Worsham sits seventh in the qualifying order, and Beckman is ninth after two sessions.
“My plan was for them to not qualify and then us be No. 1 and win it," Johnson said, with a laugh, when asked how he was approaching this weekend. “No, you have your back up against the wall a little bit. It’s quite a few points to gain in two races, but anything can happen, and we have a team that is capable of gaining those points. We came in here with a carefree attitude. Everybody’s kind of counted you out of it, and alright, that’s fine. Let’s go race. Let’s go have some fun the last two races and try to get two trophies and see what happens. That was my attitude. I think that’s the team’s attitude. We’re very relaxed this weekend. Everybody’s having fun, and John [Collins, crew chief] is making really great calls, and I think it’s maybe due to we don’t have the stress the other guys have. We’re just going out and racing and having fun."
Johnson entered this event 147 points back of leaders Worsham and Beckman, who are separated by only 38 points. While he would be considered a longshot for the series title by the Vegas bookmakers, he and his team still believe.
“As much as everybody wants to say, ‘Oh, we’re good. No stress for the championship,’ there is stress," Johnson said. “I guess we have some because there is a shot, but at the same time, it’s not a very feasible shot, so we don’t have much stress, and it’s been more fun, I can tell you that. This weekend has been a lot more fun than the last couple with the stress. I kind of like it. If I was ever to win a championship, I would want it coming from behind and trying to catch ’em because I don’t know that I would want to be out front having ’em coming after me."
Series points leader Enders led Pro Stock qualifying by setting both ends of the track record with a 6.559 at 210.28 in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. Enders is in position this weekend to earn her second consecutive world championship title. She entered the event with a 154-point lead over four-time world champ Greg Anderson. Anderson qualified third in his Summit Racing Camaro.
“We are trying not to take this race any differently than we do any other race of the season and not get ahead of ourselves," Enders said. “It’s still our job to win races. I have the best team in the world and one of the baddest hot rods around.
“This is so much different than last year’s points battle. I think I aged 10 years in Pomona. I’m enjoying this a little more."
Another factor in Enders’ favor is her stellar record at this facility, where in the past two seasons she has earned three consecutive national event titles and taken two all-star titles in the K&N Horsepower Challenge.
“It’s an exciting position to be in because we have 18 consecutive round-wins here," Enders said. “My guys perform great here and have a great handle on this racetrack."
Louisiana alligator farmer Savoie continued his surge to the top of the points standings in Pro Stock Motorcycle by making the quickest runs in both Friday qualifying sessions. He posted a performance of 6.876 at 194.21 on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki to lead the 30 bikes entered in the event. He trailed series leader Andrew Hines by 31 points entering this event.
“My mindset coming here was to take it round by round," Savoie said. “I don’t want to get too focused on the championship or a points chase. Your mind gets too cluttered. My crew chief [Tim Kulungian] has a good handle on this thing. To come out here to be No. 1 on Friday I feel that God has blessed us."
Savoie has made up major ground in the points standings since winning in Indianapolis from the No. 6 points position to end the regular season. Since then he has posted two No. 1 qualifying positions and won two weeks ago in Dallas. He trimmed a few more points off Hines’ lead today.
“I have the baddest Pro Stock Motorcycle engine on the planet," Savoie said. “Tim works really hard. He’s took seven days off in the last year. The guy is a guru, and I love him. We just keep plugging away."
Qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m.