Grubnic, Bazemore, Connolly and Hines Earn Top Spots at Memphis Heading into Sunday's Eliminations MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Funny Car driver Whit Bazemore earned his 28th career No. 1 qualifying position Saturday at the 17th annual O'Reilly Auto...
Grubnic, Bazemore, Connolly and Hines Earn Top Spots at Memphis Heading into Sunday's Eliminations
MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Funny Car driver Whit Bazemore earned his 28th career No. 1 qualifying position Saturday at the 17th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park.
David Grubnic (Top Fuel), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Bike) also were the No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the $1.6 million race, the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Bazemore scored his fourth No. 1 spot of the season when he sped down the track in his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T in 4.856 seconds at 306.26 mph to lead the 16-car field heading into Sunday's eliminations where he will face No. 16 qualifier Ron Capps. Bazemore has had some good fortune the past two seasons at Memphis Motorsports Park, earning the top spot en route to the victory at last year's event. The Indianapolis resident hopes to build on this weekend's positive qualifying performance and gain some ground on the two drivers ahead of him in the POWERade standings, points leader John Force and his teammate Gary Scelzi.
"Everything is still out there and possible to attain," Bazemore said. "We haven't done ourselves any favors lately (losing in the first round at four of the last six events), but there are still seven races left and we must do everything we can to take advantage of every opportunity. The championship is within reach if all goes as planned. People get criticized for stating their goals and then coming up short later. Not us, we hang it all out there. We tell everyone our goal. We want the championship."
Scelzi's Hemi-powered Oakley Stratus recorded a time of 4.863 to secure the No. 2 spot, followed by Gary Densham, Tim Wilkerson, and defending NHRA POWERade champion Tony Pedregon.
Grubnic powered the Red Line Oil dragster to the No. 1 spot in Top Fuel for the fifth time this season and for the sixth time in his career when he crossed the finish line in 4.580 at 315.34 to pace the field. Grubnic joined Kalitta Racing prior to the start of the 2004 season and once again his dragster out ran teammates Doug Kalitta and Scott Kalitta, who qualified second and fourth respectively.
"The car has run the numbers to win," said Grubnic, who is 0-for-4 in final round appearances this year, including last weekend at Brainerd, Minn. "More than once in fact, but I let everyone down last week [with a holeshot loss in the final] and even though it wasn't a bad light I've still been carrying a brick around in my gut. It's tough to take."
"It's cool to do this here because I got my first No. 1 qualifier at this track in 1999 when I was with John Mitchell Racing. Also, Tim Kerrigan, the owner of Red Line Oil, is here with us this weekend and I know he's excited."
Grubnic will meet sponsor-favorite Scott Palmer and the O'Reilly Auto Parts dragster in the opening round on Sunday. Current POWERade points leader Tony Schumacher qualified the U.S. Army dragster in the No. 3 spot and Brandon Bernstein will begin eliminations in the Budweiser dragster from the No. 5 position.
The 21-year-old Connolly grabbed the No. 1 spot for the first time in his career, steering his Bullet Motorsports Chevy Cavalier to a category-best time of 6.777 at 202.61. Connolly, who has been in the final round at the last three events, continues to impress the rest of the field with his performance, which includes the first victory of his career last weekend at Brainerd, Minn.
"The more and more laps you have when your car is running like this, the harder and harder you want to work because you just want more," Connolly said. "This is really cool to be No. 1. The only thing that sucks is we have to race our buddy Stevie [Johns] in Round 1. That's just the way it shook out this week
Greg Anderson, who has dominated Pro Stock this year in the Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am, qualified fifth, his worst starting position since he qualified ninth at the 2003 season opener at Pomona, Calif. Six-time Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson failed to qualify for the third straight event and for the fourth time this season. Johnson, who qualified for 303 straight events between 1987 and 2002, has failed to qualify 11 times in 449 career NHRA events.
Hines rode his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley Davidson to the top of the qualifying order for the seventh time this season, all coming in 2004, with a time of 7.132 at 188.17 to lead all competitors in the two-wheel category.
"I can't wait to get our V-Rod on the track tomorrow," said the 21-year-old Hines. "We have a POWERade championship to win and it's all about going rounds at this point. We know what we need to do, I feel confident in my riding, and the Vance & Hines team is working real hard. We hope to have a big day tomorrow."
Hines entered the event with a category-best three victories in five final rounds and a 192-point lead over his closest competitor in the POWERade standings with four races remaining on the 15-race Pro Stock Bike schedule following the O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals.