Warm temperatures and clear blue skies dominated the final day of qualifying for the AutoZone Nationals in Memphis, Tennessee. Although this prevented any major changes at the top of the qualifying order, it did provide some anxious moments for...
Warm temperatures and clear blue skies dominated the final day of qualifying for the AutoZone Nationals in Memphis, Tennessee. Although this prevented any major changes at the top of the qualifying order, it did provide some anxious moments for several competitors. In the end, teammates Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler were able to position themselves 11th and 16th on Sunday's final eliminations ladder.
Heading into the day, Epler knew that to have any chance of racing on Sunday, he would have to improve on the 5.126 second pass he had made on Friday afternoon. Fortunately, his Bass Pro Shops/Matco Camaro responded on Saturday morning with a 5.048-second, 280.89 mph run, which placed him in a very precarious 15th position.
Epler's anxiety mounted in the final session when his 5.051-second pass did not improve his standing. This forced the Phoenix, AZ resident to watch as two cars attempted to knock him from the starting line-up. However, when each encountered difficulty with the hot and slippery track, Epler's position was secure. However, his reward would be a first round encounter with No. 1 qualifier and current Winston Funny Car points leader John Force, whom Epler defeated in their most recent race in Indianapolis.
"Ironically, I actually shut off early on the run that eventually got us in the show, because it was spinning the tires so hard that I didn't think it was anywhere close to making it. If I had run it through the full quarter-mile, it might have run a 5.01, so I was really hoping that it wouldn't cost us qualifying at a very important race.
"I felt we would have to step un in the final session to guarantee our spot in the field. Unfortunately, it stayed very warm and the cloud cover did not come in. We tried to retard the timing and control the tire spin at the other end, but it still was a problem, even though our e.t. was not that bad in that particular session. The information from that run should help us for tomorrow, but we had some anxious moments, and are fortunate to qualify, because some very good cars went home early.
"It was crucial that we qualify. This is our first weekend with Bass Pro Shops, and we wanted to have a successful debut. Besides, with that merchandise trailer in the midway, we wanted to make sure to stick around on Sunday to help sell some things! Seriously, we're really looking forward to building our relationship with the people at Bass Pro Shops. They've already nicknamed the car the 'Bassinator", and we hope to live up to that billing.
"Tomorrow in the first round we take on the biggest fish in the pond. We've been fortunate against John (Force) in our past few encounters, and we hope that continues tomorrow. We know we have to run better, and I'm confident we know what we need to do."
Meanwhile, team owner Etchells also battled to tame the difficult track. Although he did not improve on his 5.011-second effort from Friday, he ended on a positive note, recording a solid 5.084-second, 287.60 mph pass on his final attempt. In a situation very similar to that of his teammate, the Putnam, CT native will pair off with veteran driver Gary Densham in the first round, which is also a rematch of the opening stanza in Indianapolis.
"Overall, our qualifying effort we not too bad. Of course, it would have been nice to get into the top half of the field, although I don't think lane choice will be that big of a factor tomorrow. The Sunoco/Matco Camaro is reallt smooth early in the run, which is definitely a good thing. We do have to make an adjustment later in the run where the clutch comes to the motor, either adding power or taking out clutch in order to smooth that part out. If we can solve that problem, we could have a really good day. Right now, the car is working well, not hurting any parts, and is very easy to drive.
"We know we'll have to run better in the first round tomorrow, because the track will be in the best condition of the entire day. To be honest, I don't think a 5.01 will get the job done, so we'll need to be in the mid 4.90's. We have a tough opponent in Gary Densham, who is running one of Force's cars. But, as we know, they are all beatable, and we're starting to show some consistency, so I think we're going to be okay."