The Strip in Vegas roars to life on Saturday

It isn't exactly put up or shut up for Tony Schumacher. But he also knows he can't wait too long if he's going to make a run at third consecutive NHRA Powerade Series Top Fuel championship. Schumacher, winner of 18 national events the past two...

It isn't exactly put up or shut up for Tony Schumacher. But he also knows he can't wait too long if he's going to make a run at third consecutive NHRA Powerade Series Top Fuel championship.

Schumacher, winner of 18 national events the past two seasons, hopes to make his stand Sunday during the SummitRacing.com Nationals, where he earned his fourth pole of the season during qualifying at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday. Also qualifying No. 1 were Robert Hight in Funny Car and Greg Anderson in Pro Stock.

"Sunday is huge," said the Chicago native, who trails points-leader Melanie Troxel by 159markers coming into Sunday's event. "I keep saying that you can't win a championship by just qualifying No. 1. You have to win the races.

"This would be a great place to get it started now, because we're a little behind. There's just too many good race cars out here to expect we can come from behind. We have to start carrying our weight and win some of these races."

Schumacher's chances look good after making two passes in the low 4.5-second range, including his 4.501 run on Friday that earned him the No. 1 qualifying position. Other top qualifiers in Top Fuel include No. 2 Larry Dixon (4.528), No. 3 Brandon Bernstein (4.534) and No. 4 Troxel (4.543).

"It's just very hard to win these races," Schumacher said. "Last year, when we were winning eight times, I kept trying to explain that. It's very seldom that you can put a string together like that, where nothing bad happens. We've been having it happen to us early, and it's killing us."

Hight, who won the Winternationals in February, scored his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season with a 4.702 pass on Friday. Other top qualifiers in Funny Car included No. 2 John Force (4.715), No. 3 Del Worsham (4.750) and No. 4 Eric Medlen (4.758).

"We only made one good run, so it's not looking good for (Sunday's) first round," Hight said. "None of the top qualifiers in Funny Car have gone on to win the race. We're hoping to change that.

"We just have to make some good runs and we'll be OK. We always seem to find away to lose these things. We have to stop that."

Anderson, winless since dominating the season-opening Winternationals in February, scored his 43rd career pole with Friday's solid 6.787 pass at 203.31 mph. He also made runs of 6.793 and 6.799 on Saturday.

"We're inching up on it," said Anderson, who will face No. 16 Greg Stanfield in the first round on Sunday. "I'm just so proud of my guys with the job they've done this week. We've been fighting the car. But my car is happy right now.

But the competition looks to be ready for Anderson, winner of 36 national events the past three seasons. Sunday's field, including Anderson, will feature the top seven qualifiers separated by a mere one-hundredths of a second between Anderson's 6.787 and David Howard's 6.797. Three drivers - Warren Johnson, Erica Enders and Richie Stevens Jr. ran identical 6.790 passes, with the order decided by speed. Johnson (203.49 mph) took second with Enders (202.94 mph) third and Stevens (202.42 mph) fourth. Other top qualifiers in Pro Stock include No. 5 Jim Yates (6.793) and No. 6 Kurt Johnson (6.795).

"It's just going to be a knock-down, drag-out brutal brawl out there (Sunday)," Anderson said. "If we can whip 'em, we're going to feel pretty good at the end of the day."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Eric Medlen