Baytown: Saturday qualifying report

NO. 1'S FROM FRIDAY HOLD UP AS SUN COMES OUT AT HOUSTON RACEWAY PARK ON SATURDAY Alan Bradshaw, Cruz Pedregon, Kurt Johnson, Matt Smith top respective classes; Funny Car points leader Hight fails to qualify BAYTOWN, Tex. -- Led by Odessa,...


Alan Bradshaw, Cruz Pedregon, Kurt Johnson, Matt Smith top respective classes; Funny Car points leader Hight fails to qualify

BAYTOWN, Tex. -- Led by Odessa, Tex.-native Alan Bradshaw, the four provisional No. 1 qualifiers from Friday night retained their top spots on Saturday as qualifying was completed at the 21st annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil.

Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Kurt Johnson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) rounded out the No. 1 qualifiers at the fourth of 24 races in the NHRA POWERade Series. The foursome will lead the field into final eliminations beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday.

It was the second straight No. 1 qualifier for Bradshaw, who shot for a high-4.50 on Saturday but wasn't able to make that happen. Still, his 4.526 at 323.50 mph from Friday night wasn't threatened.

"Today was all about test mode to see what the track would take," said Bradshaw, who entered the weekend in 13th place in the POWERade Series standings and would need to win at least two rounds to get in the Top 10 by Sunday night.

Bradshaw will open his quest to get into the Top 10 by facing No. 16 qualifier Urs Erbacher in the first round, hoping for different results from two weeks ago when he spun his wheels and lost to No. 16 qualifier Bruce Litton in the ACDelco Gatornationals first round.

"We've got the Vis Viva in there. We've got the Shell V-Power in there. I think we've got something that works ... at least for Friday night qualifying," said Bradshaw, who is sporting a Shell V-Power wrap on his dragster this weekend.

Early-arriving fans will be treated to a monster first round matchup between three-time defending champion Tony Schumacher and Brandon Bernstein, who came within a single round-win of wresting that championship away from Schumacher at the Auto Club Finals last November.

The most impressive pass of the day was turned in by Cruz Pedregon's Advance Auto Parts team, which guided his Chevy Impala to a 4.86-second pass during Saturday's first session that was a tenth better than the next best Funny Car.

"It kind of surprised us. It was actually faster at the eighth (mile) than (Friday night's) 4.83," said Pedregon, whose 4.834-second pass at 314.97 from Friday night remained the standard in Funny Car. "It (the tune-up) was a calculated guess (by crew chief Rahn Tobler) and guys guess right sometimes. Rahn has a good feel for the car. He's adapted well."

In yet another illustration of how difficult the Funny Car class is, Pedregon's reward for qualifying No. 1 is a matchup with four-time world champion Gary Scelzi.

"Bring it on. I feel like if we're going to be successful, we're going to have to beat guys like that," said Pedregon, who will enter Sunday's final eliminations in second place after points leader Robert Hight failed to qualify. "It's a long year, but is it good to be in this position after four races? Yeah."

The other particularly intriguing first-round matchup in Funny Car features John Force's Castrol GTX team against Jack Beckman's Valvoline/MTS team, which will enter Sunday's final eliminations in the points lead after Robert Hight failed to qualify.

In Pro Stock, Kurt Johnson's 6.638-second pass at 208.42 mph from Friday was good enough to keep the ACDelco Chevy Cobalt on top of the ladder.

"We're pretty pleased with the runs we've made so far this weekend, especially considering the amount of changes we've thrown at it," said Johnson, who will meet John Nobile in the first round Sunday. "Today (Saturday) we were tuning for (Sunday), throwing different combinations at it, and fortunately everything stuck. It's like a Velcro race car -- everything we're throwing at it is sticking."

Smith led the two-wheelers with a 6.929-second pass at 191.38 mph on his Nitro Fish Buell that was set on Friday and held up Saturday. And in spite of the fact that he maintained the top bike on Saturday, the defending POWERade Series champion is cautious entering Sunday.

"This is qualifying and raceday is different. That's why they call it qualifying," Smith said.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Litton , John Nobile , Kurt Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Cruz Pedregon , Jack Beckman , Alan Bradshaw , Matthew Smith , Urs Erbacher , Robert Hight