Baytown: Darrell Russell final qualifying notes

Russell nails down first top-half start of '02. HOUSTON (April 13) -- Rookie of the Year driver Darrell Russell rode new crew chief Wayne Dupuy's tune-up to his best qualifying effort of the young season Saturday at Houston Raceway Park. As a ...

Russell nails down first top-half start of '02.

HOUSTON (April 13) -- Rookie of the Year driver Darrell Russell rode new crew chief Wayne Dupuy's tune-up to his best qualifying effort of the young season Saturday at Houston Raceway Park. As a result, Russell and the rest of Joe Amato's Bilstein Engine Flush System Top Fuel team will begin their quest for the title of the 15th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals from the No. 7 position on the sudden-death elimination ladder.

Navigating a hot and tricky race track, Russell powered to the second-quickest pass of the day's opening session, posting a steady 4.728-second quarter-mile pass at 311.20 mph. The lap earns the 33-year-old resident of nearby Hockley, Texas, the coveted advantage of lane choice over John Smith, who qualified 10th with a 4.734 at 298.93 mph.

"It's great to qualify in the top half and it's even better to have lane choice," Russell said. "Any advantage you can gain is a help. The weather has been great for the fans but it's made the track very hard to figure out. It's hot and greasy, which means you're always on the edge of overpowering the track and smoking your tires. We don't want to do that.

"As simple as it sounds, I think the approach we need to take tomorrow is to make absolutely sure the car gets from one end to the other every single lap. We need to make people feel like they have to really step it up to beat us. I know [crew chief] Wayne Dupuy will find a way to put take the pressure off us and put it on the guy in the other lane."

Russell remains perfect as a professional driver, qualifying for all 29 events in which he's competed. His race day record is an impressive 37-26, despite a 1-4 mark so far this year.

"We need to go rounds," Russell said. "I don't even want to think about winning just yet, although to win here would be huge because it's my hometown. We need to just try our best to get past John Smith and then we'll go from there. I'm excited and ready to go."

Today's qualifying highlights can be seen this evening on ESPN2 from 7:30-10 p.m. (ET). Tomorrow's elimination rounds will air from 8-10 p.m. (ET), also on ESPN2, with a rebroadcast from 2:30-4:30 p.m. (ET) Tuesday.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Joe Amato