Atlanta Pontiac Racing Saturday Report

COMMERCE, Ga. (May 6, 2000) - The field is set for tomorrow's running of the 20th annual Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson took the No. 1 qualifying position in the GM Goodwrench Service...

COMMERCE, Ga. (May 6, 2000) - The field is set for tomorrow's running of the 20th annual Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson took the No. 1 qualifying position in the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird with a run in the final session of 6.907 seconds at 200.14 mph. Kurt Johnson is qualified second in a Camaro, Jeg Coughlin is third in an Oldsmobile, Jim Yates is fourth in the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird, Tom Martino is fifth in the Century 21 Firebird, Mark Pawuk is sixth in the Summit Racing Firebird and Bruce Allen is ninth in the Reher-Morrison Firebird. Jamie Yates is qualified 12th, Richie Stevens is 14th, Greg Anderson is 15th and Ron Krisher is 16th. There are 11 Firebirds in the 16-car Pro Stock field.

In Funny Car, eight Firebirds qualified for the quickest field in NHRA history. Jerry Toliver is the highest positioned Pontiac in the No. 2 spot. The WWF car ran an elapsed time of 4.914 seconds at 307.30 mph. Todd Paton is qualified fifth in a Firebird, Bruce Sarver is qualified eighth, Frank Pedregon is 11th, Del Worsham is 12th, Al Hofmann is 15th and Gary Densham is 16th. The No. 1 qualifier is Dean Skuza in an Avenger with an elapsed time of 4.860 seconds at 312.06 mph. John Force is third in a Mustang and Whit Bazemore is fourth in a Camaro.

MBNA/Pontiac driver Cory McClenathan took the pole position tonight in Top Fuel with a run of 4.577 seconds at 312.35 mph. Kenny Bernstein is qualified second, Joe Amato is third, Tony Schumacher is fourth and Doug Kalitta is fifth.

PRO STOCK

Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Service Pontiac Firebird) - "I think we hit on something this weekend that we've been trying to do for the last couple of races. We just finally found a little bit better spot for this GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird to run in. Hopefully it will work at every track. Obviously it works pretty well here but we have to have some more track time with it to see if it's going to bear fruit. It certainly doesn't hurt the team's confidence knowing that we can make some and come up with a decent combination to run fast in both lanes. If we don't have any serious oil downs, we won't be at a serious disadvantage if we have to go in the right lane. At this point in time, our goal will be to stay in the left lane. Part of that is due to the fact that the right lane was replaced three or four weeks ago when they had some surface deterioration. Give it some time and both lanes will be fast. Actually, in the long run I think the right lane will be better because it's a little smoother. To put it in perspective, compared to this point in time last year, we are only one round win off of where we were in the points standings and we know what the outcome was at the end of the year. We're not concerned with the points situation as it is right now. Our concern is to be in the lead after the last round of the last race - that's the only one that counts. Up until then it's just academic. I can't really say that we have an advantage going into this stretch of the season. We seem to have run pretty decent today given the conditions, but you have to look at the Jegs cars. They've been going down the racetrack consistently too, so it's not going to be a case where they're going to fall off, we just have to keep up the pace. We have some things coming on line that horsepower-wise we should be in better shape than we are right now. In the long run we'll be competitive."

Jim Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird) - "I think as long as we stay in the left lane we have a great car for tomorrow. We had some trouble again in the right lane this afternoon, and I'm looking forward to getting this Splitfire Pontiac Firebird back in the good lane to see if we can get down it straight and fast. The lanes keep changing with every session and there's no reason why they won't keep changing tomorrow. If they don't do something it's going to be a one-lane racetrack again. Once we get into the heat of the day, and the sun starts beating down on the track, things are going to deteriorate pretty quick. The key to winning tomorrow will be to win your round and be able to run fast enough to get lane choice for the next round. This morning in the left lane we were a little light on clutch. Last night we slipped the clutch quite a bit and thought we added enough to it for today. This morning, with the way the weather came in we didn't expect the track to be as good as it was. But a lot of teams were able to put up some good numbers. When we go over there for the first round, we'll make sure we have enough clutch in it. I think we're in the top four or five cars in that left lane. We learned a lot today. We changed some things in the car for tonight's run and this Firebird worked pretty good in low gear. But it got out there in the marbles and wouldn't go anywhere after it got off the starting line. We'll just have to see if we can put enough stuff together to win first round, run fast and secure lane choice. We've been in the last two final rounds and that gives us a lot of runs on raceday. We'll try to come up with a number to put in the clutch that will make it work good. It's just a matter of coming up with the right combination based on what data we have." Mark Pawuk (Summit Racing/Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird) - "We had the right pick this weekend - we were in the left lane for two good sessions. We're heading back in the right direction although we're still not running as fast in the backhalf as we were, but we're starting to get our act back together. Our car is out of control in fourth and fifth gear. It's too bad because we were here last week testing and it was just awesome. Right now I'm content with where the Summit Racing Firebird is qualified. There were a lot of good cars in the right lane this morning that will be moving over and you could see this field juggle tremendously if conditions come back around to where they were last night. We'll have to be able to run down both lanes tomorrow to win this race so going back over there tonight is going to be important. Hopefully it will be better than it was during the first session on Friday because it was awful yesterday. You never know, maybe it's not as bad now as I think it is, but there are some fast cars that will be in the left lane tonight and hopefully we'll leave here tonight with lane choice. That's going to be very important tomorrow."

Bruce Allen (Reher-Morrison Pontiac Firebird) - "There again, we weren't going for broke, we were just trying to improve a little bit and we did. We got by all the 6.95 cars, and anytime you can improve from the Friday night run you're making a good hit. There are a lot of fast cars out here. The Reher-Morrison Firebird made a decent run in that lane, and although we could've run better, it's going right down the track. We'll change some stuff around for tonight's session and see if we can do that again. I think if we can stay consistent and stay on top of it on race day we'll have a good chance. I definitely feel that we have a good racecar for tomorrow. I think we're in as good a shape as anybody. We may not be the most powerful car, and we were off a little bit this morning, but I like our chances. I think we could've run a 6.93, and that would have been really good. The fastest guys ran a 6.92, and it's been a long time since we've been that close to the fastest guys so I'm happy with that. I'm not somebody that thinks we can run a whole lot better, and when you run as good as you think you can, then you should be pleased - you don't want to go changing things to try and run a 6.90 when the best you can do is a 6.93."

Tom Martino (Century 21 Pontiac Firebird) - "We changed the car 175 percent from the way we ran it on Friday. We changed the clutch, the four-link, the weight, the tires and the gear ratios. We went out there this morning and made a pretty decent run at 6.96. We came back and changed the ratios around again for this afternoon and went 6.94, which was all I could probably get out of it on that run. Obviously, we're thrilled. It's important to qualify in the top half of the field because we were able to get lane choice on a track where there is a significant difference between the two sides. We face Jamie Yates in the first round, and I know his father will do an excellent job of setting the car up. Jamie's not one of the guys you want to have in the bad lane, because you know he's going to make a good run. But we're planning to make sure the Century 21 Firebird makes a strong run of its own."

Jamie Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird) - "The important part is to get qualified. It would've been nice to qualify in the top half of the field and get lane choice, but our Splitfire Pontiac Firebird seems to run pretty decent in that right lane. We'll see what we can do tomorrow. We struggled tonight with a 7.02 but the first round at Houston was a lot like this. We ran real well there and hopefully we can go some rounds here tomorrow. Tom's (Martino) a tough competitor and we'll see if we have something for him. The key will be to go some rounds. Tommy's one of the guys we're trying to catch in the points battle and sometimes when you need to get a job done it's easier to do it yourself rather than relying on other people. I'm learning a lot still and anytime you get to race on Sunday is a good weekend. I've been spoiled a lot the last couple of weekends qualifying so high. No. 12 isn't too bad, it's in the top 16 and today, with as tough as this field is, that's really all that matters."

FUNNY CAR

Al Hofmann (Jim Dunn's Mooneyes/Red Line Oil Pontiac Firebird) - "That was a good run for the Mooneyes Pontiac Firebird, especially in the heat of the day and with the pressure we had on us. I had a lot of confidence in the whole team and Jim (Dunn), but it was a little nerve racking there for about a minute. Like I said though, I have an awful lot of confidence in Jim Dunn. We were dropping cylinders and Jim (Dunn) made the right changes. I knew if we could run on all eight we would make the show. I think we have something for Jerry Toliver tomorrow. If I know Jim, it's going to be a drag race. We thought we would run a five-flat or a 4.99. The car engine was down on power, and the clutch was a little soft but it will run at least a 4.94 tomorrow morning at about 302 - we'll give him a race. We put a new blower on it for the final session. That's what was making us drop cylinders so bad. It used to be that we would get 14 runs on a blower and now we're getting four. I guess that's the price we pay for the game we play."

Gary Densham (NEC/AAA Southern California Pontiac Firebird) - "After our disaster last week, and losing everything we had, we're kind of sneaking up on it slowly. The motor is making great power, and the NEC Pontiac Firebird is running good speed, we're just still working on the clutch to get us to go quicker earlier. Our run in this first session wasn't too bad. But like I said, it's slow early. It's slow to halftrack and then it really flies the rest of the way. If we can cure that part of it then we may have a real shot at this thing. We really need to get in this show because of financial reasons and as a morale booster. Then we can go out tomorrow and try and win it. It's going to take us awhile to get back up to 100 percent. From a parts standpoint we've been able to make the car run well. Hopefully within three or four weeks we can be back up to speed with our equipment as well. Our biggest problem is getting a new body and we should have that handled in the next four to five weeks."

Del Worsham (Checker Schuck's Kra=gen Pontiac Firebird) - "Everyone knows we don't race 60 feet, we race 1320 feet. But the reason everyone talks about 60-foot times is that they're a pretty critical part of running huge times. We ran an .880 to the 60-foot timer and that's our quickest ever. That's the sort of time you need to run with the big dogs. We just need to push the clutch out a bit more, get it to half track like and then the aerodynamics of our Firebird bodies should get us to the finish line. We're happy we've got the launch sorted out, now we just have to nail it the rest of the way. Who would have thought we'd have a Funny Car field like this in Atlanta. It is incredibly tough out there."

Second Session: We made a correction from the first run, but we didn't really chase the weather enough. The track changed a little, and we didn't make enough of a change to the clutch system. We know what we're doing, we know which way we have to go, but it's frustrating not to have nailed it on the run. I know this Firebird is a 4.90 racera, and in the cooler air tomorrow morning that's what we're going out there aiming to run. I wouldn't want to run, I know that. I'm just a little mad at myself right now for trying to cut the tune up a little too fine. I wanted to keep the early numbers intact and run a 4.8 or a low 4.9."

Bruce Sarver (emoola.com Pontiac Firebird) - "The car has actually been coming around. We've had this blower belt problem and we've replaced them with some new ones that are a little wider. The emoola.com Pontiac Firebird made two good runs down the racetrack yesterday and today with a 4.96 this morning. Now we're going to try and inch up on it. We haven't been able to make enough runs where we've had the luxury of stepping on it-now we can. Alan's (Johnson) excited and the team's ready to go. Today was the first time that I'd run it out the back since the second round of eliminations at Pomona. It hasn't made it that far since then. We've had little tiny growing pains, but the main problem has been little things biting us. This blower belt situation has been bad not only for us but other teams as well. We have a good racecar for tomorrow. Our 4.96 today was actually pretty soft -- there's room for a few more hundredths. We're not going to be going for the pole because we have to make a few more laps, but after that then we can start playing hard."

Frank Pedregon (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) - "That was better than 5.01 run. It was running a 4.98 or so. At the top end it drifted left on me, got over by the wall and then got in the loose stuff out there. It's like getting sucked in. You fade toward the wall, get that left rear wheel in the loose stuff and you can't pull it back. So I just held on a legged it to the lights spinning the tires. We want to put a four up in the last run."

Second Session: It drifted on me again. I'm not sure where we picked this trait up from. It was cruising along, just like Dave Fletcher almost always has it running, and it got left out of the groove and spun the tires in the marbles over there. I wasn't being cute with it. I was yanking on the wheel hard right, but it wouldn't come back. We're happy to be a solid part of the quickest Funny Car field in history. It's so competitive out here you almost can't believe it. I'll tell you literally what you can't do, you can't have any kind of bad weekend and hope to just sneak into the field. You either run stout or you won't be running on Sunday."

TOP FUEL

Cory McClenathan (MBNA/Pontiac) - "As everybody can tell, we've been a little lax. We've been putting out one good qualifying number at most, and then we haven't been able to come back and repeat. Wes (Cerny) really changed the combination around this weekend and it's definitely proven to be better. The MBNA/Pontiac ran 4.64 in the first session and 4.63 on the second pass. We experimented a little bit, went after it and ran the 4.57, and for the conditions that is an excellent number for any track. The NHRA did a great job repairing this track. My guys and Wes Cerny did a heckuva job preparing the car for me -- they deserve all the credit. We're happy to be back in the ball field and to be in a position to win race. We haven't had a No. 1 qualifier since 1998. We won Indy last year, and Richmond but it's been a long dry spell for us. We feel we should have won one by now, but with all the parity in the class and everybody running so close together, if we can come out and win one here, it would help the guys a lot, it would help my confidence as a driver and it would definitely help our sponsors. They've been very patient with us lately but I think we've been working towards a goal, we've achieved a part of that goal and maybe we can take it a step farther tomorrow. The last few races we've been getting close with the car but not to the point where I feel comfortable going into Sunday eliminations. I have to say that this last round, when we smoked the tires, we were trying some different stuff that just didn't work out for us. I have to say this has to be the most consistent racecar that I've had in a while and that will help us quite a bit tomorrow. We can get from point a to b and that's a big advantage for us right now."

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Frank Pedregon , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Jamie Yates , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Gary Densham , Todd Paton , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , Jerry Toliver