POMONA, Calif. - Qualifying for the 53rd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona is complete, and Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car driver Johnny Gray and his diligent team sought consistency for their Pitch Energy Dodge Charger R/T and were rewarded as they scored a start from the top half of the field and a handful of bonus qualifying points to bolster their strong start to the 2013 season of NHRA's Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
"I'm real proud of my guys," said Gray, who intends to step out of the driver's seat - at least full-time - at the end of the season. "This year is very important to me for several reasons, and I feel like we're starting off on the right foot.
Sure, we would like to be qualified a little bit higher, but hey, the top half of the field is not a bad position to be in."
Gray's first run down the racetrack at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona netted a swift 4.08 at 308 mph, the third-quickest run of the session for the floppers, and in their second effort, the Pitch Energy Dodge tripped the top-end timer with a repeat 4.08, 308 that was second quickest overall for the round.
Bonus qualifying points were collected for both efforts, and after a 4.44 in the third session, crew chief Rob Wendland had the eye-catching Pitch Energy Funny Car back in the game with a 4.09, 309.
"Our goal this year is to try and make four good laps through qualifying," said Wendland. "Of course, we always want to be the fastest - but I think the car that's the most consistent is probably the better car on raceday, and that's what we're after."
With cooler conditions on tap for Sunday, tuners will be required to utilize more than just what they learned about the racing surface during qualifying, and thankfully, Wendland and assistant crew chief Rip Reynolds have a playbook to reference this year.
"It'll just be about moving some numbers around," explained Wendland. "We have enough run history with this car now to know what conditions do what to the engines, and this should factor to our advantage a little bit.
It's also great that we went and tested in Vegas on Monday before coming here because the high there was only 55 degrees, and the highest track temp we saw was 76.
We have that information in our back pocket, and that's helpful. Regardless of the track temp tomorrow, we feel confident that we have a car that is capable of winning this race."
Gray, the No. 7 qualifier, will line up next to second-year driver Alexis DeJoria in the first round of eliminations. The two have met only once before during eliminations, last season at the Four-Wide NHRA Nationals in Charlotte, where Gray was quicker and faster to advance to the next round.
"It doesn't matter who is in the other lane on raceday," said Gray, whose Pitch Energy Dodge is detailed with a very special paint scheme as a tribute to his late father, John R. Gray. "Really, just like during qualifying, we go up there focusing on our own car and our own lane.
It's more fun when you're racing for the win light, sure, but we're going to concern ourselves with our side of the racetrack and see about getting down there and moving on, then we'll take it from there. I like our chances."
Don Schumacher Racing