Denver: Friday qualifying report

TROXEL, HIGHT, JOHNSON AND SMITH PACE FIELD IN DENVER DENVER - Denver's own Melanie Troxel picked the perfect race to lead the Top Fuel qualifying field, racing to the top of the 28th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals Friday night with a...

TROXEL, HIGHT, JOHNSON AND SMITH PACE FIELD IN DENVER

DENVER - Denver's own Melanie Troxel picked the perfect race to lead the Top Fuel qualifying field, racing to the top of the 28th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals Friday night with a 4.610 at 322.42 mph.

Troxel, who hails from the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., used the last pass of the day to set her mark, joining Funny Car's Robert Hight, Pro Stock's Allen Johnson, and Pro Stock Motorcycle's Matt Smith on Bandimere Speedway's provisional low qualifier podium.

The last four cars in Top Fuel had to wait out a 10-minute rain delay and perhaps that gave Troxel and crew chiefs John Stewart and Lance Larsen just enough time to fine-tune their set-up. The waiting was well worth it as Troxel's Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA dragster managed to nudge into the No. 1 slot by five-thousandths of a second.

"I can't think of a better place to do this then my home track and I hope this turns our whole program around," said Troxel, who is racing in just the third event with her new crew chief duo. "You've got to get that chemistry going with the team. We're basically starting over with a new team and a new car. We've done well as far as not DNQing or making any big mistakes but we haven't yet seen the performance we all know is there.

"Mom's here running interference for me with all the family members needing tickets and all that. Everyone, with the exception of one uncle, lives right around here so it's a lot of fun to do well at this race. I was born here and lived her for 30-something years before I moved to Indy so this will always be a special place for me."

Rod Fuller had the lead until the last pairing with his earlier 4.615 at 319.75 mph in the Wagner CAT dragster. His second run appeared to be even better, at least incrementally, but around half-track he started hiking his front tires in the air and was forced to shut his car off to avoid a blowover.

The John Force Racing organization continues to gain strength as team driver Hight followed John Force's Bristol win from last Sunday with a top qualifying effort here. Hight led both Friday sessions in his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, opening with a 4.962 at 297.81 mph before dipping to a 4.862 at 314.02 mph in the evening.

"The team's on a roll," Hight said. "You know, I like it when we have all these races in a row. I'm still pretty new to this driving deal so when you race every weekend you kind of stay in that race mode. If I have any time off I feel like I get rusty."

Mike Ashley was next in his Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger, clicking off a 4.889 at 311.34 mph. Del Worsham followed with a 4.897 at 318.09 mph in his Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Chevrolet Impala SS.

Force was fifth with a best of 4.929, while his daughter Ashley ended up 14th with a 5.187 in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.

Tony Bartone had a wild ride after completing his 5.058-second, 290.94-mph second-round pass. Despite bending the handles almost completely off, Bartone couldn't get his parachutes to deploy and his Lucas Oil Monte Carlo slid sideways at the top end but still slid into the sandpit. The car rolled over once before coming to rest on its' side. Bartone was uninjured.

"I've never had a ride like that," said Bartone. "I had a guy run into me one time in Alcohol Funny Car but this one was the worse. I was sitting in there feeling pretty discombobulated for a minute. We'll exam the chassis and do all we can to continue racing."

It seems fitting that Mopar Racing teammates Allen Johnson and Richie Stevens have their Dodge Stratus R/T's first and second on the Pro Stock qualifying grid at their title sponsor's main event. Johnson used a track-record elapsed time of 7.032 at 195.73 mph to gain his early lead, with Stevens following close behind with a 7.035.

"Life couldn't be any better," Johnson said. "Mark [Ingersoll, crew chief] made the perfect call on mine and Richie's cars and they just ran great. We tested here before Chicago and ran well then so this isn't a total surprise."

POWERade points leader Smith continues to impress in Pro Stock Motorcycle, knocking Round 1 leader Geno Scali off the provisional pole with a 7.376 at 178.57 mph in the evening session. Smith and his Torco Buell have earned low qualifier honors three times this year, including the last stop for the bikes in Norwalk, Ohio.

"This is my first time on the mountain tuning the bike myself," Smith said. "Before, I've always been riding for someone else. It's weird; no one would give me a tune-up. I asked around but no hints. The first run was a roll of the dice and I slipped the clutch quite a bit. I tightened that up for the second round and we made a nice run."

Scali and his Performance Machine Suzuki recorded the only other 7.3-second pass of the day, as he was clocked at 7.397 at 181.15 mph in the opening round. Harley teammates Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines followed on their Screamin' Eagle V-Rods in third and fourth, Krawiec with a 7.411, Hines with a 7.412.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Bartone , Del Worsham , John Force , Geno Scali , Melanie Troxel , Allen Johnson , Mike Ashley , Andrew Hines , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Matt Smith , Eddie Krawiec