Baytown: Friday qualifying report

JOHNSON LEADS PRO STOCK QUALIFYING AT O'REILLY NHRA SPRING NATIONALS Schumacher, Hight and Hines also are leaders at Houston Raceway Park BAYTOWN, Texas -- Veteran Warren Johnson, in his final season as a driver in the NHRA POWERade Series,...

JOHNSON LEADS PRO STOCK QUALIFYING AT O'REILLY NHRA SPRING NATIONALS

Schumacher, Hight and Hines also are leaders at Houston Raceway Park

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Veteran Warren Johnson, in his final season as a driver in the NHRA POWERade Series, is the leader after two rounds of Pro Stock qualifying at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals Friday at Houston Raceway Park.

It's the first time Johnson has led a field in qualifying since setting the pace at St. Louis back in June, 2003. If his time holds at the top it will be his 131st No. 1 qualifying position, the most for any NHRA professional driver.

His leading run of 6.707 seconds at 205.10 miles per hour in his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am will be the time to beat in the final two rounds of qualifying scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Final eliminations in all four classes are scheduled to begin Sunday at 11 a.m.

"After all the work that we've done it's coming around," Johnson said. "It's still not up to its potential. This is a great way to start but there's still a lot of good cars out there and they can all step up. We're certainly happy where we are, but we'll see what happens (today)."

Also in the Pro Stock class, 21-year old Houston native Erica Enders nudged her way into the top 16 after a second-round pass of 6.762 seconds at 203.61 miles per hour in her Cagnazzi Racing Chevy Cavalier.

The other top qualifiers Friday were Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel (4.495 seconds at 327.90 in the U.S. Army dragster), Robert Hight in Funny Car (4.767 seconds at 323.27 mph in the Auto Club Ford Mustang) and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle (7.087 seconds at 187.99 mph on the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Suzuki).

Schumacher, the Top Fuel points leader, was quickest over Cory McClenathan, who posted a run of 4.496. Schumacher also just missed the Top Fuel track record (Gary Scelzi, 4.480 in 1999) by .015 of-a-second.

"(Crew chief) Alan (Johnson) tuned Gary Scelzi to a 4.480 way back in 1999 and that's still the track record here," Schumacher said. "You know Alan has the ability to run the number when he can but the fact we didn't get down the track at all in round one forced us to play it safe.

"After they told me I went 4.49, I thought for sure someone would blow by the record because everyone was still left to run. Somehow, it didn't happen and we stayed on top."

If Schumacher retains the top position in today's final rounds of qualifying, it will mark the third time in four events in 2005 that he has entered final eliminations as the top qualifier.

"Maybe we can go quicker. The other two times (in Phoenix and Pomona) we got the No. 1 qualifier deal this year we did it in the daytime so who knows what will happen," Schumacher said.

In Funny Car, Hight, who set the pace in Gainesville, will also be looking for a second consecutive top qualifying position.

"This is the first night run that I've ever made all the way down the track," said Hight, who is ninth in the Funny Car point standings. "In a Funny Car you have a limited view anyway and when you get all the clutch dust in there and it's dark it can be a little hard to see.

"I was just focusing on driving the car down the track. I had no idea that it ran that quick," he said. "I don't think that run will stand. I think we'll see some mid-4.80s (today). As tough as the Funny Car field is, I just consider myself lucky to be out here driving. To have a rookie be in the top two at the first three races is pretty good."

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines passed Angelle Sampey -- who led after the first round and is in second after two rounds -- in his second trip down the quarter-mile track.

"The conditions were a lot better that time and we really wanted to go for it but after the first round (where he ran a 7.179) we just decided to get it down the track," Hines said. "We still have four or five hundredths in there so we'll see what we can do in the morning. I'm happy to be No. 1 and I know I'll sleep a lot better tonight knowing I'm No. 1.

If Hines holds onto the top spot, it would be his second top qualifier in a row --

Hines also was the top qualifier at the first Pro Stock Motorcycle event of the season, the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. in March.

"We're all pretty excited because we found a problem that has been slowing us down for three years now," he said. "The manufacturer of the ignition we use just told us that there is a built in delay so we've been getting false information all this time. We finally know why our 60-foot times have always been terrible. Now we know, watch out."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Robert Hight , Angelle Sampey