Pomona: Thursday qualifying report

FORCE FRONTS FIRST DAY OF SEASON-OPENING CARQUEST NHRA WINTERNATIONALS; MILLICAN, LINE ALSO LEAD POMONA, Calif. -- John Force wasted little time showing the rest of the Funny Car class he has every intention of regaining the...

FORCE FRONTS FIRST DAY OF SEASON-OPENING CARQUEST NHRA WINTERNATIONALS; MILLICAN, LINE ALSO LEAD

POMONA, Calif. -- John Force wasted little time showing the rest of the Funny Car class he has every intention of regaining the POWERade championship this season with an opening qualifying performance of 4.742 seconds at 326.63 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. The run was nearly three hundredths of a second quicker than any of his rivals.

Joining Force on top of the qualifying sheets at the 46th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals was Clay Millican and Jason Line. Millican guided team owner Ken Koretsky's Werner Enterprises dragster through a steady 4.528 at 312.86 mph, while Line fronted Pro Stock with a 6.743 at 205.10 mph in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO.

Although he struggled with his new Mustang bodies throughout the off-season, Force looked fine Thursday, powering through a solid pass on a hot and green racetrack. It was just the second complete run for Force under the updated Mustang design.

"We want to win championships," the 13-time titliest said. "That's what we do. We got whupped last year and none of my guys liked it. They all came back early from vacation because they wanted to get after it. We're getting focused on what we have to do.

"I think that run showed the potential of these new Mustang bodies. It went A-to-B just like in testing. She was soft, but she made a run, and it's just a good feeling to get that out of the way. The body collapsed a few times in testing so we took it back to Metalcrafters to strengthen it. Mine was fine but Robert (Hight's) needs some work."

Auto Club Road to the Future winner Hight, one of Force's teammates, had trouble with his new Auto Club Mustang body during his opening pass and took out the top-end timing cones, which negated his and Tommy Johnson Jr.'s initial runs.

Millican celebrated his 40th birthday by grabbing the provisional top slot in Top Fuel. The run was a welcome relief for the Drummonds, Tenn., racer, who has dominated the IHRA tour but has yet to win a race at the top level of drag racing.

"It was a thrill just getting to pull the 'chutes," Millican said. "We struggled so much in testing. We made 20 passes and all we did was frustrate ourselves. It was really unusual for us. We may not be the quickest car but we're always very consistent. I have so much faith in [crew chief] Mike Kloeber and I knew he'd figure it out."

Tony Schumacher, the back-to-back Top Fuel champ, is a distant 10th after the motor in his U.S. Army dragster dropped several cylinders down track.

New father Line, who welcomed son Jack into the world Jan. 24th, looked very sharp despite his extremely abbreviated off-season testing schedule. The 36-year-old from Terrell, N.C., guided his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO to the top qualifying position in Pro Stock with a quick 6.743 at 205.10 mph, even though his testing ledger showed just 12 runs logged earlier this week in Las Vegas.

"I wasn't so worried about the car because Greg (Anderson, teammate) had been making runs in both our cars while I was off," Line said. "You do wonder how sharp your driving is going to be. I was a little worried about that but I felt a lot better after making those runs earlier this week. I've had a great start to the year so this just continues it."

Three-time and defending series champion Anderson had big problems at the starting line and shut his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO off just after the launch. He has three more chances to make the field.

Qualifying resumes Friday with one professional session at 2:30 p.m.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Clay Millican , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Tommy Johnson