Reading: Saturday qualifying report

FIVE DRIVERS CLINCH AS FULLER, WORSHAM, ANDERSON AND SAMPEY HANG ON AS TOP QUALIFIERS MOHNTON, Pa. - Whit Bazemore, Bob Vandergriff, Kurt Johnson, Chip Ellis, and Karen Stoffer finished qualifying for the 23rd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals ...


MOHNTON, Pa. - Whit Bazemore, Bob Vandergriff, Kurt Johnson, Chip Ellis, and Karen Stoffer finished qualifying for the 23rd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals Saturday by securing positions in the Countdown to the Championship, the new playoff-style format to decide the 2007 POWERade Drag Racing Series champions.

The next phase of the Countdown -- the Countdown to Four -- begins Aug. 29 at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. The final seven open slots will be filled during Sunday's elimination racing at Maple Grove Raceway.

Top Fuel points leader "Hot Rod" Fuller, Funny Car Countdown hopeful Del Worsham, three-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson, and Pro Stock Motorcycle maven Angelle Sampey remained in control of their respective categories in Day 2. Sampey impressed the most in Saturday's cooler conditions, running a 6.901 on her Suzuki, which is tied for the second quickest elapsed time in history.

Top Fuel leader Fuller will try to break the curse of the No. 1 qualifier -- none have won this year -- for the fourth time this year. Fuller's Friday night pass of 4.521 at 327.19 mph in the Ransome Caterpillar dragster was mostly unchallenged Saturday.

The only bummer for Fuller is that he'll face his David Powers Motorsports teammate Whit Bazemore in Round 1 of eliminations. Bazemore is 16th here in his Matco Tools rail after a 4.668 at 320.28 mph but managed to clinch a Countdown spot because of the way the ladder sets up.

"I'm here to race," Fuller said, when asked about racing his teammate in Round 1. "We're teammates but we both have sponsors to answer to. We're trying to get Caterpillar on full-time and they're excited to be with us this race and he's got all the Matco people pulling for him. We're all on one team but there's a lot of pride between the two sides."

Countdown hopefuls Dave Grubnic and Melanie Troxel are fourth and fifth, Grubnic with a 4.545 at 330.88 mph in his Zantrex-3 dragster and Troxel with a 4.549 at 326.08 mph in the Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA rail. Troxel faces teammate Morgan Lucas in Round 1. Either Troxel or Grubnic will earn the final Countdown spot.

Filling in for Brandon Bernstein, who had surgery to remove a kidney stone at 11 a.m. this morning at Reading Hospital and Medical Center, Rit Pustari is 13th in the Budweiser rail with a 4.607 at 323.35 mph, the fastest pass of his career.

Worsham's supporters are holding out hope that the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen driver can somehow pull off a miracle win in his Chevrolet Impala SS, which qualified on top of the Funny Car ladder for the first time this year with a 4.800 at 323.97 mph. Should Worsham win the race and No. 12 qualifier Jim Head lose in the first round, Worsham would earn the last Countdown spot. Tommy Johnson Jr., who could face Worsham in Round 2, is also alive in the chase. Worsham squares off against teammate Jeff Arend in Round 1.

"This weekend is huge," Worsham said. "Coming into this race, I don't want to say I had completely lost hope but I had just put the whole Countdown thing out of my head. It was just driving me crazy. Then we got the No. 1 qualifier yesterday for just the fourth time in my career and it was like, 'Maybe there's something there.' It's gonna take a miracle but we do have a chance.

"We've been talking about [our race with Arend] but we haven't made any decisions. It's a tough, tough call. I hate team orders. We've had the best car all weekend but it's so hard to say what we're going to do. I don't want to say it's not going to happen and make a liar of myself but I'm leaning towards racing him straight up."

Anderson used a double-track record pass of 6.583 at 209.88 mph to secure the No. 1 qualifying position for the 10th time this year and 61st time in his career. As it turned out, the driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac GTO wasn't overly happy to be No. 1 when he discovered he'd be facing teammate Jason Line in Round 1 of eliminations. Line qualified 16th with a 6.647 at 208.78 mph.

"I had no idea how good it was going to get today," Anderson said. "I woke up this morning and the barometer had jumped up four-tenths of a point and the humidity had dried up from 60 to 20 percent, we knew right then it was going to be a good day. We hit our tune-up on the bulls-eye with my car but missed it twice with Jason's. He's lucky to have made the show at all."

Victor Cagnazzi racing teammates Dave Connolly and Jeg Coughlin Jr., who have managed to keep pace with Anderson and Line this year, are second and fourth on the ladder. Connolly's Torco/Seelye Wright Chevrolet Cobalt is second with a 6.606 at 208.75 mph, while Coughlin's Chevy is fourth with a 6.610 at 208.33 mph.

Sampey matched the second quickest Pro Stock Motorcycle run of all time in the final session of qualifying to re-take the No. 1 spot in the elimination field. Sampey's 6.901 at 193.96 mph on her U.S. Army Suzuki reset Maple Grove's elapsed time record and marks her fifth low qualifying effort of the season and 44th of her career.

"I was determined to get that No. 1 spot," Sampey said. "I did a poor job of riding in the first session and I really wanted to make up for it because I knew I had a bike capable of being No. 1 in the field. I need to do a better job of riding overall if I want to win the championship this year."

Chip Ellis had surged into the lead in Saturday's opening session with a career-best 6.906 at 192.03 mph on his Drag Specialties S&S Buell V-Twin, but Sampey answered back in the fourth round.

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Kurt Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Greg Anderson , Karen Stoffer , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Jeff Arend , Chip Ellis , Angelle Sampey , Dave Connolly , Tommy Johnson Jr.