TOP FUEL PILOT SCHUMACHER GRABS NO.1 SPOT IN BRISTOL; COUGHLIN AND WILKERSON TAKE NO.1 SPOTS ALSO BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Reigning champion Tony Schumacher will try to become the first Top Fuel driver this season to win a race from the No.
TOP FUEL PILOT SCHUMACHER GRABS NO.1 SPOT IN BRISTOL; COUGHLIN AND WILKERSON TAKE NO.1 SPOTS ALSO
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Reigning champion Tony Schumacher will try to become the first Top Fuel driver this season to win a race from the No. 1 qualifying position after racing his U.S. Army dragster to the top of the field Saturday at the seventh annual O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Q.
Schumacher, Funny Car leader Tim Wilkerson, and hard-charging Pro Stock racer Jeg Coughlin all finished the day on top of their respective ladders at historic Bristol Dragway at the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event. Coughlin's run to the top was the most impressive as he went from out-of-contention to race favorite in 6.765 seconds. Like Schumacher, Wilkerson relied on his Friday night run to earn low qualifier honors.
This was Schumacher's sixth low qualifying effort of the season, which he secured with his Round 2 pass of 4.544 at 321.12 mph. He then backed it up with Saturday's quickest pass, a 4.585 at 322.58 mph in his U.S. Army dragster to prove he has a car capable of winning its third trophy of the year.
"My guys have assured me that we are capable of winning out of the No. 1 spot so I'll try my best to rest easy tonight," Schumacher said. "Getting down the track in the heat is probably way more important than being No. 1 qualifier. It's great to be on the pole again but we don't race at night. We race when it's hot out and tomorrow we start at noon, not 11 a.m., so it'll be hot for sure."
Matco Tools pro Whit Bazemore stayed second with his 4.547 at 327.43 mph. Brandon Bernstein is third with a 4.553 in the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster, while points leader "Hot Rod" Fuller remained fourth with a 4.592 in his David Powers Motorsports dragster.
A favorite along pit row and among the fans, Wilkerson scored one for the underdogs by wrapping up his first No. 1 qualifying award since the Brainerd event in 2004, a span of 65 races. His Round 2 pass of 4.819 at 321.42 mph in his Levi, Ray, and Shoup Chevrolet Impala SS entry was untouched in Saturday's two sessions.
"We've been coming around here lately, going down the track nearly every pass," Wilkerson said. "We really just try and treat every day and every pass as something new. We put Friday night behind us today and started working on getting down the track under the sunshine. Being No. 1 qualifier is a good thing but it doesn't mean anything tomorrow."
Mail Terminal Services racer "Fast Jack" Beckman locked up second place in his Dodge Charger with a 4.827 at 319.67 mph. Cruz Pedregon parked his Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Impala SS in third with a 4.831. John Force qualified fifth with a 4.853 in his Castrol Ford Mustang, while points leader Ron Capps moved up to sixth with a 4.863 in the Brut Dodge.
Budding star Ashley Force suffered the first DNQ of her rookie campaign. Kenny Bernstein also failed to make the show.
Coughlin's Saturday morning pass was impressive as he jumped from out of the Pro Stock field to the top spot with a powerful 6.765 at 204.05 mph in his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt. Coughlin was 12th after Friday's action and was pushed down and bumped out by the time he made his run of record, but his Cagnazzi race team responded under the pressure.
"It's very common in Pro Stock these days to be sitting back in the staging lanes all suited up and hear the runs ticking off and you know you're gonna get bumped out," said Coughlin, who has now qualified on top three times this year. "I was a little concerned. We hadn't run well and as a driver you want to make sure you stage as perfectly as you can and make those shifts as perfectly as you can. We were able to get it all together and make that run."
POWERade points leader Greg Anderson and Coughlin's teammate Dave Connolly were second and third, respectively, with a pair of 6.782s. Anderson was slightly faster with a 204.35-mph clocking in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO compared to Connolly's 203.58 mph top speed in his Torco/Seeyle Wright Cobalt. Anderson's stablemate Jason Line was fourth with a 6.789.