'COUNTDOWN' DRIVERS EARN TOP QUALIFYING POINTS; FULLER EARNS FIRST TECHNICOAT TITLE IN LAS VEGAS LAS VEGAS -- Tony Schumacher, Robert Hight, and Chip Ellis held on to their No. 1 qualifying positions Saturday at the ACDelco Las ...
'COUNTDOWN' DRIVERS EARN TOP QUALIFYING POINTS; FULLER EARNS FIRST TECHNICOAT TITLE IN LAS VEGAS
LAS VEGAS -- Tony Schumacher, Robert Hight, and Chip Ellis held on to their No. 1 qualifying positions Saturday at the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals, each earning eight vital points in their quests for NHRA POWERade Series world championship titles, while Countdown contender Dave Connolly usurped Justin Humphreys to keep his historic momentum going in Pro Stock.
Local favorite Rod Fuller also made headlines, earning his first $100,000 winner's share of the Technicoat Top Fuel Shootout after a runner-up finish last season.
Schumacher piloted his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster to a 4.482 at 327.59 for his 11th No. 1 qualifier of the year, the 46th of his career and his third at The Strip.
"We've run so well here the last few years but that does not in any way, shape, or form mean we'll run good tomorrow," Schumacher said. "I do feel a lot better getting down the track today because we'll see these same sort of conditions tomorrow. If we get beat, we'll have gotten beat by a great car, no matter when it happens, because there are a lot of great cars out there.
"Even the cars not in the Countdown, they're out there headhunting for us. They can go for it because they have nothing to lose. It'll probably be a sleepless night but I do know we have a car capable of getting it done."
Championship contender Fuller is fourth with a 4.529 at 326.32 mph in his CAT dragster, while Budweiser's Brandon Bernstein and SkyTel's Larry Dixon are sixth and seventh, respectively, with a pair of 4.534s.
Fuller earned his first Shootout award on a holeshot win over Melanie Troxel, posting a 4.527 at 329.99 to Troxel's 4.526 at 326.40.
Robert Hight drove his Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car to a 4.763 at 322.58 for the top spot in front of his boss John Force, who was injured after his own Ford went out of control in Dallas and returned to the track for the first time this weekend.
By qualifying No. 1, Hight edged one-point closer to current POWERade leader Tony Pedregon, who qualified second with a 4.770 at 314.09 mph. Fellow title-hopefuls Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps also earned top-half berths. Scelzi is third with a 4.775 at 320.81 mph, while Capps is sixth with a 4.783 at 322.96 mph.
"We came here with a brand-new car and we're still learning about it," Hight said. "Fortunately, we have three other cars here that we are able to collect data from and that's what having a team like ours is all about. It's pretty impressive to get four cars in the field these days. John (Force) just got us all together and he was screaming about how proud he was of everyone."
Although he's won a class-leading eight races this season, including the last five events in a row, Pro Stock low qualifier Connolly has only led the qualifying field twice this year. His run of 6.725 at a track record top speed of 205.57 mph came in Round 3 when he led a trio of racers around Humphreys.
"This is another tribute to the whole team," Connolly said. "We went testing again for four days between Richmond and here and it was obviously worth all the hard work. It's exciting to be here in Las Vegas and exciting to be starting the Countdown to 1 on this incredible run we've been on. I'm so happy to be driving this car."
Outgoing champ Jason Line is second with a 6.727 at 205.22 mph, while his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO teammate Greg Anderson secured the third spot with a 6.731 at 204.42 mph.
The first monster match-up of the Countdown to 1 will occur in Round 1 when No. 8 qualifier Allen Johnson (6.750) matches up with No. 9 qualifier Jeg Coughlin (6.752).
Ellis' incredible second-half performances continued here with his fourth consecutive low qualifying effort and his fifth in the last six races. Ellis dipped to a 7.023 at 189.60 mph Saturday to reset the track's elapsed time record. Ellis will now try to capitalize on his fast start and win his first race of the year.
"I need to separate Chip Ellis the person from Chip Ellis the racer and just go out there tomorrow and ride the bike," Ellis said. "I put a lot of stress on myself. I've been doing it all year. I need to just ride, have fun, and do what I do. If anyone runs into me tomorrow morning please just remind me to have fun."
The other three players in the Countdown to 1 are close behind Ellis. Andrew Hines is second overall after a 7.049 at 188.44 mph on his Harley-Davidson V-Rod. Matt Smith is third with a best of 7.049 at 186.77 mph on his Buell, while Peggy Llewellyn is sixth with a 7.071 at 187.60 on her Buell.