Topeka: Friday qualifying report

Bazemore, McClenathan and Johns Lead Qualifying at O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals TOPEKA, Kan. -- Whit Bazemore raced to the qualifying lead in Funny Car Saturday at the O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. Cory McClenathan...

Bazemore, McClenathan and Johns Lead Qualifying at O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Whit Bazemore raced to the qualifying lead in Funny Car Saturday at the O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

Cory McClenathan and Steve Johns also were leaders in their respective categories at the $1.9 million race, the ninth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Bazemore covered the quarter-mile distance in 4.792 seconds at 323.19 mph in his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T to pace the 16-car order.

"We under-performed for the conditions," Bazemore said. "And because of that we're surprised to be here. But no one took advantage of the sun going down. It was nice to take (the No. 1 position) away from (Tony) Pedregon. We have a little rivalry going since we were both chasing the title last year and he got the better of us there so any time we can pick his pocket, even if it's Friday night qualifying, I'm happy."

Pedregon was second with a 4.798 at 320.66 in his Quaker State Chevy Monte Carlo, while rookie Eric Medlen drove his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang to a run of 4.805 at 318.32 for third place.

With warm weather conditions for much of both sessions, none of the drivers approached the high-octane 330 mph performances produced last weekend at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago.

"That speed (323 mph) feels really slow now," Bazemore said with a grin. "I was telling (John) Force at the other end after the first session how boring it was to run a 4.95 after running all those low 4.70s in Chicago. It felt weak, like we left a lot on the track."

McClenathan powered his Berryman/Carrier Boyz dragster to a leading run of 4.513 at 320.58 to take the provisional No. 1 spot in Top Fuel.

"These last few weeks have been such a cool time for me," McClenathan said. "It's like a second chance, a second life. I'm feeling so much excitement right now and I'm so happy to be where I'm at with this team."

If McClenathan hangs on to the top spot through Saturday's two qualifying sessions (11 a.m. and 3 p.m.) it will be his 28th career No. 1 position. It is another strong effort for the veteran driver who recently ended a long dryspell from winner's circle in Atlanta and credits much of his team's turnaround to the addition of new crew chief Todd Smith.

"I was the first one to believe in Todd," McClenathan said. "I knew he could do it at this level. He just didn't have a chance to show his stuff before. He's a thinking guy but he's not afraid to go for it when the right conditions present themselves. He told me he was going for it tonight and he did.

Brandon Bernstein was second with a 4.566 at 325.45 in the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster, while Darrell Russell was third with a 4.582 at 325.30 in the Amato Racing dragster.

"There were plenty of capable cars behind us," McClenathan added. "I knew Darrell could go past us, and for sure the two Kalitta Racing cars. But I was down there listening to the announcers say they would run better than us and maybe that worked to our favor. Maybe they heard that and twisted the knobs a little too hard."

Surprise Pro Stock leader Johns, the 1992 NHRA Comp Eliminator champion and former crew chief for several top Pro Stock teams, drove his Sportlite Chevy Cavalier to a 6.853 at 201.10 .

"This is a tremendous thing for us," Johns said. "I'm sure Greg (Anderson) will be back. We just caught him on a siesta, I guess. What a huge day for all of us at Jenkins Performance and Cagnazzi Racing.

"Two years ago we started working on a 500-inch motor and we just finished this particular one Wednesday and shipped it over. Victor (Cagnazzi, team owner) has had a long-term plan for this team and his car is like a science project. We may have looked bad early on but we've been collecting a lot of data and adding it up. We've been gaining on it and I think we started to show our stuff a little in Chicago. Then we found 15 more horsepower with this one and here we are."

If Johns keeps his car at the top of the qualifying ladder it will be his first career No. 1 effort in Pro Stock.

Anderson, who has qualified No. 1 at six of eight races this season, was a tick off the pace in second with a 6.857 at 200.68 in the Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am. Anderson's teammate, rookie Jason Line, was third with a 6.859 at 200.53 in the KB Framers Grand Am.

-nhra-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Cory McClenathan , Brandon Bernstein , Jason Line , Eric Medlen , Steve J , Todd Smith