NHRA: Force, Pedregon, Enders and Sampey claim No. 1 spots at Maple Grove
The final day of qualifying at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil delivered plenty of standout runs in a front of another massive crowd at Maple Grove Raceway, and Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) earned No. 1 qualifiers at the first race of the Countdown to the Championship.
On a sparkling day in Reading, Pa., fans packed the historic facility and were treated to a great day of qualifying on a stellar Saturday. It all sets up for a great day of eliminations on Sunday, as drivers look to start the playoffs in style.
Brittany Force and her team didn’t rest on Friday’s massive run, as she improved with a spectacular run of 3.660-seconds at 334.07 mph. She followed that with another impressive run to close out qualifying, as Force made the quickest run in each of the three qualifying sessions. She also earned her seventh straight No. 1 qualifier in the process and her ninth this season, putting her in prime position to open the Countdown to the Championship on a high note. The streak of seven straight No. 1 qualifiers is the most since 2007 when Greg Anderson had seven in a row, and she becomes the first driver in Top Fuel history to have seven straight No. 1 qualifiers during one season.
“That’s a pretty outstanding record to have,” Force said. “But, really, looking at today and yesterday, that Q2 run that we had today, to be able to step it up was pretty outstanding. That was a big run for us and that’s the run I’m most excited about. But we laid three solid passes down and that’s pretty outstanding. I’m proud of this team and I can’t wait to get this Countdown going. We’re all pumped and we’re all excited, and we’re all delivering. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
Steve Torrence stayed second with his pass of 3.692 at 327.19 from Friday, but he didn’t put together a great pass during the two sessions on Friday. Clay Millican is third with a 3.696 at 322.65, while Mike Salinas remained fourth after going 3.699. He did, however, make a strong run (3.719) to close qualifying. Billy Torrence and his 3.699 stayed fifth, while Justin Ashley’s 3.721 put him sixth. Antron Brown jumped to seventh in the final session with a pass of 3.731.
Pedregon lowered the boom during the final qualifying session in Funny Car, vaulting to the top with an impressive blast of 3.875 at 326.00 in his Snap-On Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. It’s Pedregon’s first No. 1 qualifier since going to the top at Chicago in 2015, a span of more than six years and the veteran couldn’t have picked a better time. Pedregon was solidly in the field at fifth, but crew chief John Collins stepped on it to close out the day and it paid off. He’ll look to cash in with his third win at the track on Sunday.
“I didn’t even realize it was that long ago,” said the former two-time Funny Car champ. “We’ve been steady and knocking on the door. John Collins, my crew chief, definitely thought there’s great rewards and it would pay off to get that No. 1 spot and get on the right side of the ladder. Sometimes winning these races, you have to get on the right side of the ladder and avoid the big hitters, until the later rounds. That’s how it worked out. The car really responded, and it really has been responding the last six races. The car is just so consistent. I don’t know if I’ve ever driven a car as consistent as this one. It’s not easy to drive, but it’s going places, that’s for sure.”
Hight’s 3.883 from Friday kept him second, but he also impressed to close out the day, going 3.899. Speaking of big jumps, Indy winner Tim Wilkerson did just that, going from sixth to third on the strength of his 3.884, while Tommy Johnson Jr. dropped to fourth with a 3.895. Ron Capps dipped into the 3.80s earlier in the day with a 3.896, while four other drivers — Bob Tasca III, J.R. Todd, Alexis DeJoria, and Paul Lee — all ran in the 3.90s.
The second qualifying session brought plenty of highlights on Saturday in Pro Stock, but nothing topped Enders, who delivered a standout run of 6.524 at 209.56 in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. Fresh off her second straight U.S. Nationals victory, Enders delivered an impressive boom at Maple Grove Raceway to open the playoffs. It’s her first No. 1 qualifier this year and 23rd in her career as she looks to jump past Greg Anderson on Sunday and into the points lead.
It’s also the defending world champ’s first No. 1 qualifier since the fall Charlotte race in 2019. She’ll open eliminations against Larry Morgan, feeling good about the way her team is performing at the perfect time.
“We’ll need all the points we can get (in the Countdown) and those qualifying points will definitely matter. They have in our past championship runs and we’ll take all we can get, but having a great race car going into Sunday definitely gives you confidence,” Enders said. “After the Friday night session, we felt like we left some on the table, so we felt like there was more. I definitely feel like we’re all clicking. We have our work cut out for us and the competition is stout, but I’m ready to get down to business.”
Anderson wasn’t far behind, delivering an excellent pass of 6.530 at 209.79 to qualify second. He also had the quickest run in the final qualifier with an impressive 6.541 at 209.69. Aaron Stanfield’s 6.534 has him third, while Dallas Glenn momentarily was the No. 1 qualifier during Saturday’s standout first session. His 6.537 left him fourth, while Kyle Koretsky, who was Friday’s provisional No. 1 qualifier, had his 6.547 bumped to fifth. Troy Coughlin, Matt Hartford, Chris McGaha, Deric Kramer and Mason McGaha, who had the fastest run (210.21) this weekend round out the top 10.
Even if the top spot stayed the same, there was plenty of movement and strong passes in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but nobody could top Sampey, who delivered a pair of great runs on Saturday. That gives her three straight quality runs on the track, with her run of 6.745 at 196.64 on her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki giving her the top spot for the second time this season and 53rd time in her career. Sampey delivered in each of her three qualifying runs, setting her up for what she hopes is a long Sunday as she seeks her first win of the season.
“It was a great start to the weekend and I’m excited about it because it’s the same motorcycle I’ve had all year long,” said Sampey, whose first win in the class came at Maple Grove Raceway 25 years ago. “That bike was capable of doing that from Gainesville to here, it was just me not driving it well. I’m starting to get the hang of it and I’m starting to get more comfortable on the bike, and it’s showing. My teammate, Eddie (Krawiec), did so well at Indy, qualifying No. 1 and winning the race, and I’d like to follow in his footsteps this weekend.”
Matt Smith set the speed mark in the second qualifier, going 202.09, and then jumped to second to close the day with his run of 6.750 at 201.91. It was a great day for the points leader, as he looks to duel with Sampey and Krawiec, who finished third with his run of 6.763 at 201.67 from Friday. Scotty Pollacheck is fourth with a 6.803, while Steve Johnson stepped up in his final pass, jumping to 5th with a 6.812. Angie Smith jumped two spots after going 6.817, while
Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday.