CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Cruz Pedregon raced to the qualifying lead in Funny Car with a dominating performance Friday at the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts.
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) led their respective categories as No. 1 qualifiers at the first of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s playoffs.
Pedregon, a two-time Funny Car world champion, powered his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry to an impressive run of 3.980 seconds at 319.22 mph. It was the second quickest run in NHRA Funny Car history and a zMAX Dragway track record. Pedregon will have an opportunity to certify the run as a national record during Saturday’s two qualifying sessions. A national record performance carries a 20-point bonus.
“We were trying to run hard, but it’s hard to predict that you’re going to run 3.98,” Pedregon said. “We went out there and said, ‘If we turn this knobs the way we’re turning them and it doesn’t spin or drop a hole, it’s going to go fast.’ We’ll definitely try to back up that run tomorrow and get those 20 points. From what I’m hearing, it’s going to be cooler tomorrow, so we’ll take a poke at it.”
Keeping pace with Pedregon is the No. 1 seed in the Countdown, Matt Hagan. He is currently qualified second with a pass of 3.992 at 320.58 in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger.
Lucas, in a new Top Fuel dragster built by the team in their race shop in Brownsburg, Ind., took the qualifying lead with a run of 3.749 at 324.51. The GEICO / Lucas Oil dragster team tested the car at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis early this week but this was the first time the car made a full pass down the track.
“To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect,” Lucas said. “It’s nice to have something that came out of our shop run like that. The track just took it. We struggled at the beginning of the year and in qualifying in Indy, so it’s nice to be able to run like this. The team is on cloud nine.”
Line, who lives in nearby Mooresville, N.C., led Pro Stock qualifying with a run of 6.541 at 211.86 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro. Line has yet to record a No. 1 position this season and has 33 in his career. His two solid qualifying efforts on Friday earned him five valuable bonus points towards a third Pro Stock world championship title.
“If you don’t [go after qualifying points] you will have no chance of winning," Line said. "Somebody is going to get them so it might as well be me. We’ve got a good hot rod this weekend and we haven’t had one for a while.”
The points leader in Pro Stock, Mike Edwards is qualified third in the competitive field with a run of 6.546 at 210.44 in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro.
Another local favorite, Smith, from nearby King N.C., led Pro Stock Motorcycle with an effort of 6.874 at 192.90 on his Viper Motorcycle Company Racing Buell. Smith has three No. 1 qualifying positions this year and is second in Pro Stock Motorcycle points.
“We’re a round-and-a-half behind [Hector Arana] Jr. and we made a decision to put my good motor in to start this deal,” Smith said. “I thought that maybe I could gain 10 points from qualifying this weekend and close that half a round down just in qualifying. We’ve done everything right so far.”
Bike top seed Arana, Jr. qualified 12th on his Lucas Oil Buell.
Qualifying continues for the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts, Saturday at 12:15 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Eliminations begin Sunday at noon.