Justin Ashley, Ron Capps, and Greg Anderson, finished Saturday qualifying as the leaders in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock, at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.
The second day of qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals presented a unique challenge for NHRA pro teams as the 70-degree temperatures from Friday were replaced by highs in the low 90s. To further complicate matters, the forecast for Sunday’s final eliminations calls for a return to much cooler temps, forcing crew chiefs to develop strategies not often used on a typical race weekend.
The Top Fuel class may have gotten just three qualifying runs due to delays on Friday, nevertheless put together a quality field with 13 of 14 entries in the three-second zone and the entire top eight qualified between Justin Ashley’s 3.746, run during the heat of the day on Saturday, and Charlotte winner Austin Prock’s 3.795.
Ahsley and his Phillips Connect team adjusted quickly to the weather change, knocking Friday’s leader Doug Kalitta from the top spot late in the day Saturday. Ashley leads the field for the second time this season and the fourth time in his career.
Ashley has won six of the first 13 events held this year and comes to Brainerd with a class-best 29-7 record in elimination rounds. He’s also got a sizable lead in the battle for the top spot in the Countdown to the Championship.
“That’s a stout run with conditions what they are but nothing surprises me with team we have with Mike [Green] and Tommy [DeLago, crew chiefs]. This is a unique situation because I’m not sure how much we can apply to tomorrow since it will be cooler and the conditions are going to be much different than today.
“Tomorrow is going to be tough,” Ashley said. “I have our good friend Terry [Totten] in the first round and I’ve learned to never take anyone lightly. I think we’ll see 3.6s for sure tomorrow. It will certainly be faster than Friday and faster than today.”
Ashley will face Totten in round one while other key match-ups include Doug Kalitta vs. Clay Millican, Brittany Force vs. Josh Hart, and Mike Salinas vs. Austin Prock.
Ron Capps missed the opening round of qualifying on Friday but quickly recovered with a 3.894, 330.23 to take the top spot in Funny Car. Capps hasn’t qualified lower than sixth since the Charlotte Four Wide event in April and he’s secured the top seed for the second time this season and the 38th time in his career. Capps will be paired with Jim Campbell in Sunday’s opening round.
“I know you never take anything for granted. We saw Bob Tasca run 3.92 ahead of us and Guido [Dean Antonelli, crew chief] went into the box and made some adjustments. I think he was going to try and run 3.88 but obviously it didn’t stick. This yellow [low qualifiers] hat is such a tribute to how good our NAPA guys are. There is not a lot you can do as a driver. You pretty much stage the car and keep it in the groove.
“Tomorrow will be the great equalizer because of the conditions,” Capps said. “Tomorrow will be epic. I think you might see the national record fall. It might be that good. I think it will be a day where you can throw down and give it everything you’ve got.”
Three-second runs were at a premium on Saturday although Tasca came close with his 3.92 in the final session that held for low E.T. of the day while Tim Wilkerson produced a very competitive 3.968 in his SCAG/LRS Ford. Wilkerson’s teammate, Chad Green, was also impressive with a 3.984 to garner valuable qualifying bonus points in Q3.
The final round of the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge also featured a three-second run by winner Robert Hight but his 3.988 wasn’t enough to unseat Capps.
Key match-ups on Sunday will feature Wilkerson and Alexis DeJoria, John Force and Chad Green, and Hight vs. Bobby Bode, who’s father, Bob won this event in 2010 when he beat Jack Beckman in the final.
Not surprisingly, the Pro Stock class was most affected by the heat in Brainerd. Greg Anderson’s 6.597 from Friday afternoon wasn’t challenged. In fact, no driver in Pro Stock, including Anderson, was able to come within four hundredths of a second. That being said, some drivers had every reason to feel good about their performances, including Anderson, who set the pace for the day with a 6.642, albeit in a holeshot loss during the opening round of the Mission 2Fast2Tasty Challenge. Anderson followed with a 6.682 to conclude qualifying.
“It’s very gratifying to know that you can run in heat and cool and in any conditions,” said Anderson. “We experimented a little today and we might have learned something. What we did [in Q4] didn’t’ work. That’s not bad. If you bat .500 here that’s pretty good.
“Tomorrow should be a fun day,” Anderson said. “The cars will be fast and hooked up. You should be able to throw everything you’ve got at the track and see what you’ve got. I got my butt spanked in the Mission [Challenge] and I don’t want to see that happen again.”
Anderson’s teammate, Dallas Glenn, also made a solid run in the heat with a 6.650, while Mission Challenge winner Erica Enders also produced a solid baseline run with a 6.658 in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Elite Camaro.
In the final session, Matt Hartford collected the lion’s share of the bonus points with a 6.662 while Dallas Glenn (6.664) and Kyle Koretsky (6.669) also earned points.
Sunday’s Pro Stock ladder sets up a few intriguing match-ups as drivers jockey for position in the standings ahead of the Countdown to the Championship, which will be finalized in Indy later this month.
Erica Enders, the winner of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, will face off with fellow Texan Mason McGaha, Mission runner-up Kramer will face Troy Coughlin Jr., while Aaron Stanfield is paired with Bo Butner.