POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 15) -- The elimination rounds of the 34th Annual Winston Finals at Pomona Raceway began Sunday morning with several thrilling races. Team Pennzoil's two entries were both involved in the Round 1 excitement with one driver advancing and the other closing out his season.
Here's a recap of each driver's opening round lap.
Mike Thomas, the driver of the Pennzoil Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, won his first round race over Allen Johnson by a mere two inches. The photo finish favored Thomas' 6.993-second, 198.32-mph lap over Johnson's 6.989-second, 197.83-second pass. The fractional difference came at the starting line where Thomas jumped out in front of Johnson, 0.442 seconds to 0.451 seconds.
"Raw horsepower won that race," Thomas said. "We were light on the clutch set-up and my Finish Line Racing Engine just carried me through that lap. I was pushing it so hard the shift light never went off. I've always said you have to be good and you have to be lucky to win a race. We just used up a little luck. I want to win this race. I don't care about the (Winston) points, I just want to win."
Thomas advances to a quarterfinal race against Jeg Coughlin, who ran a 6.944-second lap at 198.98 mph to beat Ray Franks. Thomas has lost to Coughlin twice this year. The win also moves Thomas into sixth place in the Winston points standings. He can now finish no lower than seventh place.
Eddie Hill, the pilot of the Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster, lost in the opening round of eliminations after a thrilling side-by-side race against Cory McClenathan. The final numbers saw Hill cross the finish line in 4.637 seconds at 312.82 mph to McClenathan's 4.597-second, 302.82-mph lap.
"You look at the results from this weekend and you see that it took two 4.5-second passes to beat us," Hill said, alluding to today's race and yesterday's Big Bud Shootout final round which he lost to Doug Kalitta by a margin of 4.599 seconds to 4.620 seconds. "I've lost a lot of races where I run real quick and just barely lose and it's still real hard to swallow. Congrats to Cory. He ran a great lap. We'll get him next time.
"The car has been awesome all year. Obviously our qualifying performances back that statement up. The Pennzoil Dragster has been so consistent. We just haven't been able to find much luck on Sunday. It felt great to take part in the Big Bud Shootout and to do so well in it. We ran a career-best speed in Round 1 (315.12 mph), beat the best driver in the world in Round 2 (Gary Scelzi), and battled to the finish in the finals. This has been a good year for us and we really feel good about the finish."
Hill finishes the 1998 season with nine elimination round wins in 22 races. He is one of only six drivers to have qualified for every race this year. Additionally, Hill has not missed an elimination round in the last 40 races.