Baytown: Saturday qualifying report

SCHUMACHER TOP QUALIFIER FOR THIRD TIME IN FOUR EVENTS Hight, Johnson and Sampey round out top qualifiers at O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals BAYTOWN, Texas -- Tony Schumacher's 4.495-second pass from Friday night held up Saturday and the ...

SCHUMACHER TOP QUALIFIER FOR THIRD TIME IN FOUR EVENTS

Hight, Johnson and Sampey round out top qualifiers at O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Tony Schumacher's 4.495-second pass from Friday night held up Saturday and the defending Top Fuel world champion will enter Sunday's final eliminations as the top qualifier at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park.

It marks the third time in four events that the pilot of the U.S. Army dragster has entered the final eliminations of an NHRA POWERade Series event as the top qualifier. It is his 14th career No. 1 qualifying position.

Schumacher backed up the Friday night run with the best effort of the day Saturday, a 4.521-second pass that validated his run from the night before.

"I get more confidence from (the 4.521 Saturday) right there than from the 4.49," Schumacher said. "Friday night is Friday night and if it's cool and cloudy (Sunday), great. But I don't think it will be. I'll say this; I would have been a little uneasy if we hadn't gotten down that time.

Schumacher got the front end up right off the start and it remained up nearly halfway down the quarter-mile track.

"That last run was fun," he said. "That reminds me why I drive these things. It's not for the money or whatever; it's for runs like that. The front end was up longer than I wanted but it was pulling so strong I didn't want to lift. I almost got nervous. I could feel my knees rattling for a second. But then it settled down and just took off."

Robert Hight's pass from Friday night (4.767 seconds at 323.27 mph in the Auto Club Ford Mustang) also held up Saturday and he will lead the field of 16 drivers into Funny Car final eliminations. It is the second consecutive event the rookie has been the top qualifier entering eliminations.

"I'm just happy to be qualified, I really am," said Hight, who currently sits in ninth place in the Funny Car point standings. "We made two good runs in the 4.80s today on a really hot racetrack so between that and running good last night when it was cooler we feel like we have a good handle on this track no matter what conditions we see. They say there might be clouds tomorrow, but who knows. We'll be there."

Hight will face Gainesville runner-up Bob Gilbertson in the opening round, and should he advance, the match-ups don't get any easier.

"I'm looking at the ladder and I see a lot of big hitters going up against each other in the first round," he said. "That means we could see some big moves in the points and we'd love to be able to move up as far as we can."

Similar to Schumacher, Warren Johnson backed up an impressive run Friday night with another on Saturday -- except Johnson actually surpassed his time in spite of the sunnier, warmer conditions.

Johnson backed up his 6.707-second run from Friday night with a 6.696-second pass Saturday in his GM Performance Parts Pontiac to earn a record 131st No. 1 qualifying position.

"I really didn't know what to expect today," Johnson said. "We knew the conditions would be better than (Friday night) but since we have no down time between now and next weekend in Las Vegas we decided to use (Saturday's) two runs as a test session. We put in a brand new powerplant that had a completely different power curve than the one we ran yesterday and all we'd done to this point was about five pulls on the dyno so we were happy to see the performance."

Johnson, who is in his final year as a driver, sits in second place in the overall NHRA POWERade point standings, 20 points behind Dave Connolly.

"This year is no different than any other year for me," he said. "The fact I'm retiring from driving doesn't make winning any more important than it's been in the past. It would be nice to go out on top but our effort for doing that remains the same as it's always been."

Angelle Sampey regained the top qualifying position in Pro Stock Motorcycle over defending category champion Andrew Hines with a track record 7.055-second run on her U.S. Army Suzuki. U.S. Army teammate Antron Brown qualified third.

"Our first goal at any race is to qualify our two U.S. Army bikes in the top half of the field," Sampey said. "Then we try to get them up at the top. We love to be 1-2 on the ladder but 1-3 three is the next best thing and that's where we are this race. That means the only way we'll race each other is in the final.

Hines ran side-by-side with Sampey and delivered a track record speed of 195.73 mph atop his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson, but he crossed the line just behind Sampey in 7.067. The two dueled a third time in the final qualifying round in the afternoon, but neither could top their morning run.

"I'm not totally surprised to be ahead of (the Harley-Davidsons) but I am surprised that they're not faster than they are. It's a mystery to me why their not blowing us away with all that horsepower. I know if we had twice the cubic inches and electronic fuel injection we'd be running a lot quicker than we are now. We'd be in the sixes every pass."

Final eliminations in all four classes are scheduled to begin Sunday at 11 a.m.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Warren Johnson , Bob Gilbertson , Tony Schumacher , Andrew Hines , Robert Hight , Angelle Sampey