Memphis: Friday qualifying report

Schumacher, Bazemore, Connolly and Hines Are Early Qualifying Leaders at The O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Tony Schumacher led all Top Fuel competitors Friday at the 17th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South ...

Schumacher, Bazemore, Connolly and Hines Are Early Qualifying Leaders at The O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals

MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Tony Schumacher led all Top Fuel competitors Friday at the 17th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Whit Bazemore (Funny Car), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Bike) also were the provisional qualifying leaders of their respective categories at the $1.6 million race, the 17th of 23 races in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Schumacher blasted the U.S. Army dragster down the track in 4.581 seconds at 318.92 mph to lead the 16-car field after the first day of qualifying. The final two rounds of professional qualifying are schedule for Saturday at 3 and 6 p.m.

Schumacher, the current leader of the POWERade point standings, has a memorable history at the Memphis quarter-mile. In 2000 and 2003 Schumacher's dragster went out of control near the finish line, resulting in spectacular crashes on both occasions. Following the 2003 incident, which occurred during the second qualifying session, the Chicago native earned some redemption by using a backup dragster and eventually winning the race.

"Teams can get momentum and then lose it and no one knows that better than us," Schumacher said. "Because in 1999 (the year Schumacher won the championship), coming into this race, we fought off a huge potential shift in momentum. I remember we had one qualifying run that year, and smoked the tires. We weren't (qualified at that point) and then it rained like hell and we thought we were done. Joe Amato was 20 points behind us in the standings. But (NHRA) gave us one more qualifying session Sunday morning and we ran a big number and got in. We could have crumbled, but we didn't.

"It seems like every season has those types of situations. I don't know if we've had it yet but I know that win last week in Brainerd was big and coming in here and getting the No. 1 spot tonight is big. The pressure starts to mount as you come down the stretch. We had a good first run today and that was key to our success, because it gave us a chance to run last in the night session."

Bazemore sped to the finish line in 4.862 at 309.77 to put his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T atop the Funny Car order, giving Schumacher Racing the No. 1 spot in both nitro categories. Bazemore, the defending event champion, has been mired in a mid-season slump following a streak of four straight final round appearances and two victories which catapulted him atop the POWERade Funny Car point standings for the second time in his career.

"We've had a tough couple of months," Bazemore said. "We had an 80-point lead in the standings and we've given it all back and then some. But this is a never-say-die team. It's a very tight group and we all have the same goal; win the POWERade championship. Two good runs tonight doesn't mean we're back in the hunt just like that, but it does mean we're going in the right direction, which is very encouraging."

The 21-year-old Connolly covered the quarter-mile in 6.790 at 202.58 behind the wheel of the Bullet Motorsports Chevy Cavalier to pace the Pro Stock field. Connolly continues to build momentum following his first career victory last week at Brainerd, Minn. To earn the win the Ohio, native outran Greg Anderson in the final round. Anderson has dominated the Pro Stock category this season but Connolly has been improving over the past few weeks, appearing in the final round at the last three NHRA events (Brainerd, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle).

"It's surprising to be outrunning Greg again," Connolly said. "I saw him down [in the shutdown area] and he thought he had made a good run with that 6.81. He asked me what I ran and when I said 6.79 he looked very surprised. Our team's a lot like his, we tasted victory and now we're working harder then ever to taste it again."

Anderson has nearly secured his second consecutive NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championship by winning 12 of the first 16 events this season, but the final order of the Pro Stock standings is far from set.

"This season's far from over. We could work our way up to second place if we keep this up. The team is strong and the guys are doing a great job. We won't catch Greg this year but we'll try to get some more wins from him. I just wish we could start next season right now."

Hines rode his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson to the finish line in 7.132 at 188.17 to lead the two-wheel category. Hines's second qualifying pass of 7.183 was the quickest time of the round. Surprisingly, Hines' leading time was ran during the first round of qualifying, when the track temperature was noticeably higher than during the later qualifying session.

"I think a lot of people overestimated the track tonight," said Hines. "I lined up against my teammate GT [Tonglet] so we were really racing each other and having fun, trying to put on a good show for the fans. My bike just didn't leave as hard as it did in the first round. That 7.13 was the best pass we've made since [the rules committee] added 40 pounds to the V-Rods."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Greg Anderson , Andrew Hines , Dave Connolly