Gainesville: Friday qualifying report

Pedgregon, Fuller, Coughlin and Ellis Lead ACDelco Gatornationals Qualifying GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Following a race in which he failed to qualify, former Funny Car world champion Cruz Pedregon raced to the top of the 16-car starting order Friday...

Pedgregon, Fuller, Coughlin and Ellis Lead ACDelco Gatornationals Qualifying

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Following a race in which he failed to qualify, former Funny Car world champion Cruz Pedregon raced to the top of the 16-car starting order Friday at the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals.

Rod Fuller, two-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin and Chip Ellis were the leaders in their respective categories at the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event at historic Gainesville Raceway.

Pedregon hired crew chief Wayne Dupuy in the offseason to make his hot rod quicker. In just three races, it appears the decision was a good one as Pedregon moved to the top position on the Funny Car ladder with a 4.792 at 295.21 mph in his Advance Auto Parts Chevy Monte Carlo.

"We came out of Phoenix with a teammate [Tony Pedregon] who won the race and set a national record so I sat down with Wayne and said, 'Let's use the knowledge those guys have gained, be true teammates with them, and share all of our info.'," Pedregon said. "Fortunately he and Dickie [Venables, Tony's crew chief] have developed a great friendship already, so it was an easy thing to do. There's some of his tune-up in that car and some of Dickie's tune-up in ours and together we're both running strong now."

John Force's 4.802 at 316.97 mph in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang has him comfortably in fourth place with two rounds to go. Daughter Ashley Force, a rookie driver competing in only her third race in the 7,000 horsepower category, is eighth with a 4.832 at 306.67 in her Castrol GTX Mustang. Six-time NHRA world champ Kenny Bernstein, who is returning to the cockpit after three years of retirement, is qualified 12th in his Monster/Lucas Oil Dodge Charger with a 4.910 at 306.40.

Phoenix winner and category points leader Fuller continues to prove he has the best Top Fuel car, covering the quarter-mile distance in 4.535 at 323.66 mph in his Valvoline dragster. Fuller teammate Whit Bazemore was second overall with a 4.542 in his Matco Tools dragster.

"There's no way our time will hold through tomorrow," Fuller said. "We'll see a bunch of 4.40s and hopefully Whit and I will be right there with all the other fast teams."

In Pro Stock, 34-time winner Coughlin only has eight career No. 1 qualifying awards, the last one coming 53 races ago at Dallas in 2004. But he's on track to end that streak here, posting a track-record 6.632 at 207.75 mph in his Slammers Ultimate Milk/Jegs.com Chevrolet Cobalt.

"It's exciting," said Coughlin. "For us to have both of our team cars at the top of the ladder is really a nice tribute to the guys back in Charlotte building our horsepower. My teammate Dave Connolly took both of our cars testing last week and I think it's really helped us both."

The quickest rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle history, Ellis opened the season strong with the two best passes of the day, a 6.956 and a 6.957 on his Drag Specialties Buell V-Twin.

"We got up this morning and wondered if we'd even get to run today," Ellis said. "But it quit raining and the NHRA did a great job prepping the track and we made two great runs. If it gets a little cooler and we get even a slight tailwind we might knock down that record."

Three-time series champion Angelle Sampey, the most prolific female drag racer ever, is close behind with a 6.960 at 191.87 mph on her U.S. Army Suzuki.

Qualifying continues Saturday at noon and 2:30 p.m. for Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Ashley Force , Chip Ellis , Rod Fuller , Angelle Sampey , Dave Connolly