Las Vegas II: Series Saturday qualifying report

EDWARDS ON VERGE OF CLINCHING FIRST PRO STOCK CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE Funny Car title contenders Hight and Force Hood to meet in important first round; Dixon, Hagan and Arana also No. 1 qualifiers at NHRA Las Vegas Nationals LAS VEGAS -- Mike...


Funny Car title contenders Hight and Force Hood to meet in important first round; Dixon, Hagan and Arana also No. 1 qualifiers at NHRA Las Vegas Nationals

LAS VEGAS -- Mike Edwards earned his category leading 15th No. 1 qualifying position in Pro Stock Saturday at the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals and now sits only a few points away from clinching his first NHRA world championship trophy.

Larry Dixon, Matt Hagan, and Hector Arana also were No. 1 qualifiers at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

With a successful day in Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations (ESPN2 HD, 7:30 p.m. ET), Edwards can secure his first Full Throttle Series world championship title. Following qualifying, he leads closest challengers Greg Anderson and Jason Line, both former champs, by 139 and 168 points respectively.

"We're looking to try and seal the deal," Edwards said. "This is a huge thing for us, and we're all excited about it. We're looking forward to tomorrow, and hopefully we can fulfill our dreams. No matter the outcome, it's been an extraordinary year for us. We've worked real hard, and now we're in a position to do something we've never been able to do. Maybe we can get it done tomorrow."

Edwards, who earned his 21st No. 1 effort of his career with a track record performance of 6.623 at 207.75 in his A.R.T. Pontiac GXP, needs to lead the second place driver by at least 151 points following eliminations to secure the title.

"You just go into it like it's another first round, like you've done all season long," Edwards said. "You just have to focus, do your job, and hope for the best. It's just like every other race. There's a lot riding on it, but that's just what you've got to do."

Dixon claimed his ninth No. 1 of the season in Top Fuel and 40th of his career with his Friday performance of 3.805 at 318.24 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. With his qualifying effort he cut series leader Tony Schumacher's lead by six to 41 points. Schumacher qualified fourth is his U.S. Army dragster with a 3.839 at 313.07.

"You can pick up the nickels and the pennies and all that kind of points in qualifying, but you get 20 points per round on race day, and that's what makes a big chunk," said Dixon, a two-time Top Fuel world champion. "At this point, I'm not looking any further than Morgan Lucas [in the first round]. It's a great car. It's a Countdown car, so you've just got to go in there and race your own race and not get ahead of yourself... If we're fortunate enough to go on to win the race, then obviously we'll have made up some ground."

Rookie Hagan earned his second No. 1 effort in Funny Car with his Friday run of 4.030 at 313.88 in his Dodge Charger. The nominee for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award, which recognizes NHRA's top rookie performer for the year, will face New Zealand's Grant Downing in the first round.

"We've had a great weekend so far, and the only way for us to top this off is with a win tomorrow," said Hagan. "This is a good team and a good car, and we showed that we can run in the heat this morning and we've got a good tune-up. I think that's what Tommy [DeLago, crew chief] is going to do tomorrow. I think he's going to go right back to what we did this morning and make it go right down the track. That's what I'm looking forward to, and hopefully our plan will come together and work for us."

Hagan's competition for the top rookie award are Top Fuel drivers Shawn Langdon and Spencer Massey and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Doug Horne. All four drivers have made significant impacts in their respective pro categories in the Full Throttle Series this season and the outcome should be very close. The winner will be announced Nov. 16 at the NHRA Awards Ceremony in Los Angeles. More than 135 members of the media vote to determine the winner.

"I would love to come out here and win [the rookie of the year award], but if it doesn't happen, you know that you got beat by the better guy -- that's the same way as winning on the dragstrip in the morning," Hagan said. "I think there's definitely some talent out here. I think all the rookies are learning and growing together. As the year has gone along, I think you can see us all polish our driving skills and really focus more on what we have to do to get these cars and motorcycles down the track."

Also in Funny Car, a blockbuster first round meeting between the top two championship contenders, Robert Hight and Ashley Force Hood, could put the winner of that round in the championship driver's seat heading into the season finale in Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 12-15).

"If Robert wins then I want him to win the race," said Force Hood, who struggled most of the weekend in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang and barely made it into the 16-car starting lineup on her final qualifying attempt. "We want one of us to win this championship. It has come to the end and there are only a handful of rounds left. If it is not going to be our team winning it then I want this Auto Club team to get it."

Said Hight: "We qualified well and got some points in just about every qualifying session. I think that puts us more than a round ahead of her so if we lose it is still not over. Those qualifying points that the NHRA came up with....good job. Those definitely helped us. We are just going to go out there and give the fans a good side by side show."

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, series leader Arana earned his seventh No. 1 of the season on his Lucas Oil Buell with his quick time of 6.979 at 192.03 from Friday. Arana's closest championship challenger, defending champ Eddie Krawiec, qualified fourth on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.

"Everything's happening so fast this year," Arana said. "I qualified No. 1 in 1994, I believe, and then I went through a dry spell, and now I have seven this year, so it's awesome. I know that Eddie Krawiec is on my side of the ladder, so I just got to stay focused. All I need to do is stay consistent on my lights, and I should prevail."

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Greg Anderson , Ashley Force , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Grant Downing , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Eddie Krawiec , Mike Edwards , Shawn Langdon , Spencer Massey