Denver: Saturday qualifying report

TROXEL, HIGHT, JOHNSON, SMITH, HOLD ON TO NO.1 SPOT AFTER RAIN DELAYED SATURDAY QUALIFYING AT DENVER DENVER, Colo. -- Melanie Troxel, Robert Hight, Allen Johnson, and Matt Smith -- remained in control of their respective categories as...

TROXEL, HIGHT, JOHNSON, SMITH, HOLD ON TO NO.1 SPOT AFTER RAIN DELAYED SATURDAY QUALIFYING AT DENVER

DENVER, Colo. -- Melanie Troxel, Robert Hight, Allen Johnson, and Matt Smith -- remained in control of their respective categories as NHRA racers got a bonus nighttime session of qualifying after weather delayed Saturday's qualiflying session at the 28th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA nationals at Denver's Bandimere Speedway.

Hight survived the most attacks as the Funny Car contingent collectively shot for the moon -- his 4.862-second elapsed time was even equaled by "Fast Jack" Beckman -- but he held on for his fifth pole of the year. The Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes were done well before the rain came and little changes occurred from top to bottom.

This was Hight's fifth low qualifying effort of the season, which leads the Funny Car class. The driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang has maintained second place in the points despite missing the Houston race following the death of teammate Eric Medlen.

"I didn't think that 4.86 would stay in because with that long weather delay we basically ended up with a bonus night session," Hight said. "I saw Beckman run my exact E.T. and I thought for sure someone else would be quicker."

"This mountain is the great equalizer, but I feel as though I have a great team behind me, led by Jimmy Prock. We'll be ready to race and I hope to go some rounds tomorrow."

Mike Ashley of Team Torco followed Hight and Beckman in third place with a 4.889.

Jerry Toliver started the final session on the bottom of the qualifying sheet. By the end of the round he was all the way up to the No. 4 slot with a 4.893 at 319.60 mph. Unfortunately, his Rockstar Toyota Solara ended up on its' side in the top-end sand-trap after Toliver's 'chutes came out late.

"We just took delivery of our back-up car today so we'll be ready to race no matter what," said Toliver, who was unhurt in the accident.

After a wild final session where drivers were bumping in and out after virtually every pair, Ashley Force, Cruz Pedregon, and Tim Wilkerson all ended up outside the 16-car field. Wilkerson was top qualifier at the last event in Bristol, where Pedregon raced to a runner-up finish.

Troxel is doing everything she can to erase the memory of five first-round losses in a row, qualifying No. 1 in Top Fuel for the first time this season in her Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA dragster. The Littleton, Colo., native used her 4.610 at 322.42 mph from Friday night to earn the podium.

"There's been some controversy about the No. 1 qualifier not winning on race day but we're looking forward to taking our shot at changing that," Troxel said. "Growing up here, I couldn't think of a better place to turn our season around. We have a win and a runner-up this year, but aside from that we've only won one other round. You've got to be able to get past that first round to be a contender. I feel very fortunate that we've been able to hold on to that No. 8 spot in the Countdown to the Championship."

Dave Grubnic cranked his Zantrex-3 dragster up Saturday and almost took the top spot from Troxel when he posted a 4.612 at 314.97 mph in the final session. POWERade points leader "Hot Rod" Fuller slipped to third with a 4.615 at 319.75 mph.

Team Mopar Pro Stock racer Johnson secured the third No. 1 qualifying award of his 259-race career in the perfect place -- the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals -- with his Friday night pass of 7.032 at 195.73 mph in his Dodge Stratus R/T.

"I was just talking to Dad [engine builder Roy Johnson] and he said this is a dream come true for us and he's right," said Johnson, who ran a 7.049 and a 7.088 Saturday. "For him especially, with his heart problems and all from earlier this year, he's still put in so much work to make us faster. He was dead on the table in Phoenix and three days later he was at the shop working."

The top of the ladder is all Mopar blue as Johnson's team driver Richie Stevens has his identical racecar right behind his boss in the No. 2 position after a best of 7.035 at 195.05 mph.

Smith's fourth low qualifier of the year in Pro Stock Motorcycle, courtesy of a Round 3 pass of 7.347 at 179.92 mph, means he's had the quickest bike at half the races this season. Now the Torco Buell rider and current POWERade points leader will try to improve on his 1-4 final-round record.

"We've got to start winning more races," Smith said. "We're winning lots of rounds but we're just having weird things happen to us in the final round. Today's a great example. We ran the 7.34 in the first session and then broke a crank trigger in the second session and the bike just quit. That could have easily happened in the first round of eliminations and we would have been done."

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Allen Johnson , Mike Ashley , Jerry Toliver , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Roy Johnson