MAJOR MOVEMENTS ALONG THE TOP FUEL CUTLINE IN POWERADE COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP Nos. 7 and 8 drivers in Top Fuel standings fail to qualify; UPS team in good position JOLIET, Ill. -- The 10th annual Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals...
MAJOR MOVEMENTS ALONG THE TOP FUEL CUTLINE IN POWERADE COUNTDOWN TO THE
Nos. 7 and 8 drivers in Top Fuel standings fail to qualify; UPS team in good position
JOLIET, Ill. -- The 10th annual Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals will shake up the Countdown to the Championship standings, particularly in Top Fuel, where the seventh and eighth place drivers each failed to qualify.
The top qualifiers heading into Sunday's final eliminations, beginning at 11 a.m., are Top Fuel's Tony Schumacher, Funny Car's Gary Scelzi, Pro Stock's Greg Anderson, and Pro Stock Motorcycle's Andrew Hines, but the story surrounded those who didn't qualify.
In Top Fuel, No. 7 Dave Grubnic and No. 8 Whit Bazemore -- the last two in if the 17-race regular season ended today -- each failed to qualify, opening the door for ninth-place Cory McClenathan and 10th-place Bob Vandergriff.
Vandergriff's UPS team stands to make the biggest move. It already passed McClenathan's Fram team with better qualifying position and Vandergriff can pass Grubnic and Bazemore as well with a first round win Sunday.
The updated points after qualifying, beginning with sixth-place Melanie Troxel: Troxel, 436; Grubnic, 429; Bazemore, 406; Vandergriff, 400; McClenathan 399.
Vandergriff and McClenathan will of course get 20 points for staging in the first round and 20 more points for every round win.
Other prominent drivers who failed to qualify included points leader Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) -- John Force's son-in-law who failed to qualify for the first time in his 55-race career.
Schumacher collected his fourth low qualifier award of the season in his U.S. Army dragster and the 39th of his career with his Friday night pass of 4.462 seconds at 327.11 mph.
"Today is another perfect example of what it's going to take to win the POWERade Series championship this year," said Schumacher. "It's not going to be the guy that's running the best every week; it's going to be the one that screws up less than the others."
Scelzi was joined by his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps at the top of the Funny Car ladder, giving their boss something to get excited about in front of his hometown fans and friends. Like most people, he couldn't improve on his rocket run of 4.736 at 330.96 mph from Friday evening in his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger.
"It's not a very comfortable feeling when you only go down the track one time in qualifying," Scelzi said. "We had a vibration in the car today and we're not sure what's causing that. Hopefully we can find it before tomorrow because I know we have a car that's capable of running in the heat."
Anderson's sixth No. 1 qualifier of the season's first nine races was also the 57th of his career and that moved him into sole possession of fifth place on the all-time No. 1 qualifier list, one ahead of Joe Amato (56) and nine behind fourth-place Kenny Bernstein (66). The all-time leader is Warren Johnson (136).
"That 57 times at No. 1 is a neat, neat stat," said Anderson. "I never thought I would be anywhere near there and every time you do it, it's really neat. It's a good thing I did it yesterday because I wouldn't have done it today. We didn't perform up to par today. We got beat in the King Demon Crown (losing in the semis to eventual winner Kurt Johnson), and that was kind of a bummer, but we have to forget about that deal and get ready to race [Sunday]."
The Pontiac GTO driver will now try to win from the top spot for the fifth time, beginning with a race against first-round foe and retired NBA player Tom Hammonds, who posted a 6.666 in his Chevy Cobalt. Anderson's numbers showed a 6.617 at 208.94 mph.
Hines somehow managed to improve on Friday evening's 6.930 at 192.88 mph in the last session, clocking a 6.921 at 193.65 mph on his Harley-Davidson V-Rod despite ambient temperatures that were 13 degrees higher than last night. This was the first pole of the year for the winner of the last three POWERade Series Pro Stock Motorcycle world championshiops and 20th of his pro career.
"I'm completely impressed with that pass," Hines said of his final run. "The bike's responding to everything we're doing to it and our 60-foot times were strong again today. It's amazing how much those first 60 feet make or break your run."
Veteran Pro Stock racer Kurt Johnson became the first four-time winner of the King Demon Crown Saturday, pocketing the $50,000 top prize of the special event by beating youngster Dave Connolly, class dominator Anderson, and surprise finalist Greg Stanfield at Route 66 Raceway.
After stuffing starting line expert Connolly with a better reaction time to take his opening round win on a holeshot, Johnson simply out-drove and out-ran Anderson and Stanfield to win the 23rd annual race, which annually showcases the top eight qualifiers from the last 12 months.