Millican, Johnson, Jr., Anderson, Savoie Top Friday Qualifying at zMax

Clay Millican
Clay Millican

Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson, Jr. (Funny Car), GregAnderson (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) topped Friday’s qualifying sessions for Sunday’s fifth annual NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway.

Sunday’s race marks the opening event in the six-race,10-driver Countdown to the Championship that will decide the 2014 champion in each of the top four divisions in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Qualifying will resume Saturday afternoon with the final two rounds to determine the lineup for Sunday's eliminations.

Johnson, who enters the playoffs as the third seed, had a great regular season largely in the shadow of teammate Jack Beckman’s stellar performances. However, he made a statement on the first day of the playoffs by claiming the qualifying lead with a track record time of 3.971 seconds at 312.42 mph in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T.

Tommy Johnson Jr.

“There’s not a lot of humidity in the air, and the [new] track [surface] is getting better and better," Johnson said. “The car’s been running better lately. I wasn’t sure it was going to stay No. 1 with the way Jack [Beckman] has been running lately, and you know that Ron [Capps] was No. 1 after the first session, and they have stepped their performance up after the last few races. It was a nice surprise."

Johnson, who raced to two victories in five final rounds in the regular season and moved from seventh to third in points in the final 11 races before the playoffs, advanced to four final rounds in the last six races, winning two of those. Some have been calling him Beckman’s Kryptonite, as Johnson defeated Beckman head to head in three of the final six races in the regular season.

“I was kidding my crew chief [John Collins] coming here [for the interview], so much for flying under the radar," Johnson said. “We weren’t getting all the headlines and flying under the radar. We’ve been very consistent and been making good runs and sneaking up on it and closing that gap at every race. It’s nice to see the results of a lot of hard work for the whole team."

DHL Toyota Camry driver Del Worsham, who is still looking for his first win of the season, was second with a 3.993 at 318.32 and was followed by Capps, a past winner of this event, who posted a 3.994 at 317.34 in his NAPA Auto Parts Charger. John Force, who is racing with a special tribute Chevy Camaro dedicated to NASCAR star Jeff Gordon this weekend, is sixth with a 4.004 at 313.80.

Playoff top seed Beckman, who won six races in the regular season and is riding a four-race No. 1 qualifying streak where he reset the national record two times, sits eighth after two sessions in his Infinite Hero Foundation Charger with a 4.022 at 304.60.

Clay Millican

Countdown spoiler Millican, who just missed making the top 10 for the playoffs, led Top Fuel with a run of 3.758 at 318.77 in his Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster.

“From my perspective, it was a really bad driving job," Millican said. “It looked like a Slinky going down through there. That run might’ve been a .74. Either way, I am extremely happy to be No. 1 and sitting here talking with you guys. I really thought a couple of those guys or Leah [Pritchett] would go by us. Grubby [crew chief Dave Grubnic] had it set up to go a .77, so he gave us a little extra. That’s some of that pow-pow action kicking in right there."

Defending world champion and the top seed in Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher, is second with a 3.774 at 319.75 in the U.S. Army dragster. Steve Torrence is third in his Capco Contractors dragster with a 3.786 at 320.36. Pritchett, who led after the first qualifying session and is also a Countdown spoiler like Millican, sits fourth overall in her Gumout/Dote Racing dragster with a 3.803 at 319.45.

Shawn Langdon, the 2013 world champ who is competing in the Countdown in the Red Fuel dragster owned by Don Schumacher Racing, is fifth after two sessions, posting a best of 3.868 at 315.86.

Greg Anderson

Local favorite Anderson, a four-time NHRA world champion who lives in nearby Mooresville, N.C., set the pace in Pro Stock with a 6.524 at 212.26 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro.

“It all comes down to making that perfect run, and today we were close to that," Anderson said. “I’m very happy with the two runs we made day. I’m excited to be at the top of the heap after day one. It was a little warm, but the racetrack held up great. The humidity was not out of control, and we have a great surface. You could throw what you have at it. Now we can look at what we have, make a few tweaks, and hopefully do even better tomorrow."

Rookie Bo Butner was second with a 6.533 at 211.66 in his blue Jim Butner Auto Chevy Camaro and was followed by category top seed Erica Enders, who qualified third in her red Elite Motorsports Camaro with a 6.536 at 211.83. Larry Morgan, who won the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals here in March and is a Countdown contender, sits fifth in his FireAde Camaro with a 6.548 at 211.76.

Jerry Savoie

Louisiana alligator farmer Savoie was quickest in Pro Stock Motorcycle, powering his White Alligator Suzuki to a leading effort of 6.862 at 195.59. Savoie brings momentum into this event as he closed the 18-race regular season by winning the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

“This is a great deal," Savoie said. “Last year, we missed the Countdown by one point, and a lot of other riders said thank you because we peaked at the right time. This year, we peaked a little earlier. We just love the smudgy weather, and this weekend, it is smudgy. Before we went up for that [second] round, I thought we might run a 6.87. Then we saw Andrew [Hines] run a 6.87, and I thought, ‘Oh, boy’. The temperature came down a little, and we made a good run. I get more excited to be No. 1 than I did when we won the race at Indy. I want to grab all those [bonus] points while I can."

Defending event winner Hines is second on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.876 at 194.10. Two-time season winner Karen Stoffer is third overall on her Big St. Charles Motorsports Suzuki with a 6.886 at 195.00. Former NHRA Carolina Nationals winner Steve Johnson is fourth on his Build Your Future Suzuki, posting a Friday best of 6.902 at 193.63. Playoff top seed Eddie Krawiec sits seventh after two rounds with a 6.927 at 192.82 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.

Former NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series national champion Khalid alBalooshi raced to the qualifying lead Friday in the Pro Mod portion of the event. The race is the eighth of 10 events in the 2015 NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.

The 2011 national champ in NHRA’s Pro Mod class powered to a leading performance of 5.859 seconds at 247.70 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing ’69 Camaro.

Danny Rowe qualified second with a 5.885 at 247.66 in his Agave Underground Tequila ’68 Camaro, and Steve Matusek is third in his Aeromotive/Agave Underground Tequila ’68 Camaro.

Series points leader Mike Janis is qualified 13th with one session remaining, as he posted a 6.007 at 242.54 in his supercharged late-model Jan-Cen Racing Engines Chevy Camaro.

Two-time defending national champ and local favorite Rickie Smith sits 16th in the qualifying order with a 6.057 at 244.74 in his 2015 IDG Camaro.

The final qualifying session on Saturday at 12:15 p.m. will set the field for eliminations, which opens with the first round on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

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