Las Vegas: Saturday qualifying report

JOHNSON CLAIMS RECORD 132nd TOP QUALIFYING POSITION Kalitta and Scelzi also top qualifiers at the NHRA Nationals LAS VEGAS -- Warren Johnson will enter Sunday's Pro Stock eliminations at the sixth annual NHRA ...

Kalitta and Scelzi also top qualifiers at the NHRA Nationals

LAS VEGAS -- Warren Johnson will enter Sunday's Pro Stock eliminations at the sixth annual NHRA Nationals in the No. 1 position for the 132nd time in his storied career -- and for the first time ever at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In 35 years in the class, "The Professor" has notched more top-qualifying performances than any other professional driver in the sport's history. Castrol-backed Funny Car star and fan favorite John Force trails Johnon with 124 career top qualifying efforts..

Johnson led the 16-car field with a 6.824 second effort at 201.46 mph. Professional eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m.

Doug Kalitta and Gary Scelzi also were the No. 1 qualifiers of their respective categories at the $1.8 million race, the fifth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Johnson qualified his GM Performance Parts Pontiac ahead of Ohio-based Larry Morgan and Ron Krisher, who sit in the second and third spots.

"We made changes this afternoon because we feel like the conditions just now are most representative of what we'll see tomorrow," Johnson said. "This is the hottest we've been this year and this being a new car we needed to try some things to see how it would react. It went too far so at least we learned what not to do."

Johnson's best run came Friday night, when cooler temperatures allowed for faster speeds.

"Today was like NASCAR's happy hour," Johnson said. "No one was going for low E.T., we were all just tuning for tomorrow. I'd like to drive one of those (NASCAR) cars. I could qualify one. I just don't want to be out there with 42 other rednecks two inches away from me. Notice I said 'other rednecks.' That was meant to be all-inclusive."

Known for his hands-on approach to the sport, Johnson has now qualified first at each of the 20 tracks on the 23-race, $50 million POWERade series.

After a disappointing 204 campaign where Johnson failed to earn a single No. 1 qualifying award, Johnson has now been the top qualifier at the last two NHRA POWERade events (Houston and Las Vegas).

Kalitta's Friday-night effort was enough to hang on to the top qualifying spot in Top Fuel. Kalitta blasted his Mac Tools dragster to a 4.496 finish in 329.34, in front of Miller Light-backed Larry Dixon (4.504, 330.39) and the Lucas Oil dragster driven by Morgan Lucas (4.548, 325.69), who qualified second and third in the class respectively.

"We had a real strong run last night and that's a tribute to the facility because the track was there for us to take advantage of the cooler air," Kalitta said. "But to win you have to run in the heat and the fact we went 4.60 in Round 1 shows me that we can be competitive when it's hot. We're not nervous about the sunshine. We're heading into tomorrow with confidence.

"We would love to gain some ground on [Tony] Schumacher (who qualified for the field in the fourth and final qualifying session). Any time you see that team struggle you know that you need to do whatever you can to take advantage of it. That's a great team and they got us last week. It wouldn't be a shock if they came to life tomorrow. But maybe we can pay them back instead."

Scelzi piloted his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus Funny Car to a No.1 effort of 4.797 at 325.06 mph to lead the field into Sunday's big show. Force (4.809, 325.53) and Tim Wilkerson (4.809, 315.49) qualified second and third, respectively.

Scelzi has gone into eliminations in the top spot 37 times in his career, but this weekend marked the first of the season for the Fresno, Calif., resident.

"I'm not a big fan of opening up against Eric Medlen because that team shares information over there and they have data from John [Force's] and Robert [Hight's] runs that will help them," Scelzi said as he quickly switched to the cockpit of the Alcohol Funny Car he's also running this weekend. "But we're just as good as them so I'll get my elbows up in the cockpit and we'll race."


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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Warren Johnson , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Ron Krisher , Larry Morgan , Tim Wilkerson , Morgan Lucas , Eric Medlen