Las Vegas II: Saturday qualifying report

Force Clinches 13th World Championship and Grubnic Scores $100,000 Top Fuel Payday From Budweiser; Kalitta, Worsham, Line and Hines Earn No. 1 Spots in Las Vegas LAS VEGAS -- John Force clinched the $400,000 NHRA POWERade Funny Car world ...

Force Clinches 13th World Championship and Grubnic Scores $100,000 Top Fuel Payday From Budweiser; Kalitta, Worsham, Line and Hines Earn No. 1 Spots in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- John Force clinched the $400,000 NHRA POWERade Funny Car world championship while David Grubnic won the $100,000 Budweiser Shootout Saturday at the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals.

Scott Kalitta, Del Worsham, Jason Line and Andrew Hines were No. 1 qualifiers at the $1.8 million race, the 22nd of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Force needed only to qualify to secure a record 13th series crown in the category he has dominated since 1990. He powered his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a 4.777 second run at 319.75 mph for seventh in the 16-car starting lineup for Sunday's eliminations at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"I needed this," Force said. "I'm having fun again. I've been so caught up in the business that I've been forgetting to have fun, but this is fun. People thought that once Tony (Pedregon) won (in 2003) and ended my streak that I was done. Well, I'm right here. I never left. I never said I had to win every year. No one can do that. There's too much competition out here.

"This ain't about proving I can win; this was about letting everyone know I'm still a big player in the game," Force said. "I'm still fighting, and I am not going away. I'm proud of Baze (Whit Bazemore), (Gary) Scelzi, and (top qualifier) Del Worsham for being the kind of stand-up guys they are. Whenever they were up front (of the standings) this year and we were way down, they still showed respect and said I was the guy to beat. I noticed it and I appreciate that.

Force added Eric Medlen to his stable of drivers following the departure of 2004 NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion Pedregon, who opted to start his own team in 2004. With Force's third driver, Gary Densham, having already announced he is leaving Force Racing following the 2004 season, Force again will need to add another driver for 2005.

"This is the hardest championship I have ever won," Force said. "The changing of the guard is happening. We can all see that. But it doesn't happen overnight. The young kids need time to get better and become drivers. I plan on staying until that happens, how ever long it takes. It's no secret that we're building for the future on this team. We got Eric (Medlen) with a year (of experience) now, and we're hoping to add my son-in-law (Robert Hight) to the team real soon. My daughter Ashley will be turning pro after two more years (in Alcohol dragster), maybe less."

Meanwhile, Grubnic defeated Larry Dixon in the lucrative bonus race-within-a-race for qualified Top Fuel drivers. The Australian driver clocked a 4.501 at 328.46 in his Zatrex-3 dragster to pass Shootout wild card winner Dixon, whose Miller Lite machine lost traction at the start. Grubnic becomes the fourth driver in NHRA history to win the Shootout in his first start.

"This is fantastic," Grubnic said. "To go out there and finally win one after racing in so many finals (seven career runner-up finishes) only to come up short is very, very gratifying, to say the least.

"I've had so many races where we looked like we were going to win and then you'd see someone's nose sneak past you at the end. This time I never saw or heard Larry and when I went through the scoreboards and saw my win light come on, I realized we'd finally done it. The first thing I did was get on the radio and tell my crew chief, 'We just won a hundred thousand dollars.' What a thrill.

"Thanks to Bud for putting up the money. Thanks to (team-owner) Connie Kalitta for giving me this ride. Thanks to Mac Tools and Technicoat and Zatrex-3, all the people that have supported me for 10 years. They should all share in this win.

"We (Kalitta Racing) started the race with three cars out of the eight in the field but the other two lost in Round 1, so I was out there alone. Ultimately, only one driver and team can win and today it was us."

Kalitta earned his second top qualifying effort of the season and 20th of his career in Top Fuel, as he posted a 4.491 at 333.00 in his Jesse James/Mac Tools dragster.

"I keep telling Jim-O [Oberhofer, crew chief] that I wish we had broken out this new chassis three months ago," Kalitta said. "It's working so well with his tune-up and that's become pretty obvious with the way we're running this weekend. We'll just have to make the most of what's left this year and try to win tomorrow and win (the 2004 season-finale) in Pomona (Calif.)

"Like everyone else at this point we're pretty much preparing for next year. I never won Pomona so it's on my to-do list, and this place wasn't around when I won my championships, so it's on my list also."

Worsham scored his first No. 1 qualifying performance of the season and third of his 14-year career in Funny Car, racing to a leading time of 4.751 at 328.22 in his Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevy Monte Carlo.

"We've ended up qualifying second quite a few times," Worsham said. "That's what happens when you have a guy named John Force in your class. The last time we were No. 1, at Houston in 2001, we ended up winning the race. That was really the turning point for this team in my mind. We had won before then but that really is the point where we turned the corner and became a team that could contend for the championship each year.

"We came here to test the Thursday after Reading (Pa.). The guys were tired and everyone else on the other team was home on vacation, but I couldn't sleep and neither could my dad so we came here and tested. It looks like that was a good move for us."

Line claimed his second No. 1 effort of the season in Pro Stock, covering the distance in 6.775 at 202.55 in his KB Framers Pontiac Grand Am. Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson, who can break the single-season NHRA wins record tomorrow by earning his 14th victory, was second with a 6.790 at a track record speed of 203.09 in his Summit Racing Grand Am.

"It's an ideal circumstance for us whenever Greg and I finish 1-2 on the qualifying ladder," Line said. "That way we know we're on opposite sides of the ladder and we can both go all-out to get to the final. I also seem to do better whenever he's on the other side of the ladder. I'm not sure why, but I'm just more relaxed.

"We have some goals left. We all want to see Greg win his 14th race and break that (single-season victory) record. I'd like to do enough to stay second in the POWERade point standings. If Greg and I get to the finals again we'll race straight up, just like we did in Reading. That's the way we do it on this team. He'll try to beat me and I'll try to beat him."

Hines, 21, who can become the youngest world champion in NHRA history tomorrow by earning more points than closest challengers Antron Brown and Angelle Savoie, claimed his eighth top qualifying position of the season in Pro Stock Bike by clocking a 7.130 at 182.21 on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.

"I saw what Tony Schumacher did in Reading, clinching the championship and winning the race in the same weekend, and I thought that would be an awesome way for this team to get it done," Hines said. "But I can't worry about what Antron does because I can't control that. All I know is that we have a great bike and it appears we've finally overcome the 40 pounds they (NHRA) added to us a few months back.

"I'd love to clinch here and win the race because then we'll have a full five months to enjoy it before we have to worry about next season. If I had my choice I'd race Antron in the final and beat him for both trophies."

If Hines ears the title Sunday, it will be the first time any NHRA competitor has rode a factory-backed Harley Davidson to an NHRA world championship.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , David Grubnic , Gary Densham , Scott Kalitta , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Eric Medlen , Connie Kalitta , Robert Hight