CONNOLLY, HIGHT, SCHUMACHER EARN NO. 1 QUALIFIERS, CRUCIAL POINTS ENTERING SUNDAY'S RACE NEAR SEATTLE KENT, Wash. - Tony Schumacher has been in the final round in Seattle every year since 2004. Out of four consecutive final rounds here, he's...
CONNOLLY, HIGHT, SCHUMACHER EARN NO. 1 QUALIFIERS, CRUCIAL POINTS ENTERING SUNDAY'S RACE NEAR SEATTLE
KENT, Wash. - Tony Schumacher has been in the final round in Seattle every year since 2004. Out of four consecutive final rounds here, he's won three. He looked primed to add a fifth after qualifying No. 1 Saturday at the 21st annual Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals, piloting his U.S. Army dragster to a 3.802-second pass at 316.90 mph in prime conditions Friday for his fourth No. 1 qualifier of the season and the 51st of his career.
"We've been lucky at a lot of tracks," Schumacher said. "Indy's (O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis) another good track for us, and this is one. If you can hand-pick a few, the Western Swing is a beautiful place to have a good streak on and so is Indy. I'm not going to complain about it and I'm sure not going to look for answers. I'm just going to let them ride out the storm here and enjoy it. It's fantastic."
Robert Hight and Dave Connolly also will lead their respective categories into Sunday's eliminations on the power of the No. 1 qualifiers they earned during prime weather conditions of the first day of qualifying, on Friday.
Schumacher and competitors in every category got a sneak preview Saturday of what race conditions may be like on Sunday at the Pacific Raceways dragstrip in the NHRA POWERade Series event when final eliminations start at 11 a.m.
"I guess I'd have to say I'm real glad it got hot out (Saturday), and we got to make that run because it's not going to be the conditions we've had all weekend (on race day)," said Schumacher of his final qualifying pass. "We're good when it's hot out. We backed it down (on the fourth run), we just didn't back it down enough, but had that been the first round we would have been in trouble. It's always good to get that tire smoke out. I've always said it - I love that full throttle, going down the track four times -- but we've got to find the limit when we do that. It's good to be able to do that, good to have good computer data on that run on this track and we'll be able to go back and evaluate it."
Hight also hung on to the No. 1 qualifier spot with his Friday performance of 4.056 at 304.39 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang for his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier in Seattle. Hight faces NHRA POWERade Series points leader Tim Wilkerson in the first round of eliminations. Wilkerson became the second driver to secure a spot in the 2008 Countdown to the Championship, and the first this year in Funny Car, by entering this event.
Hight's boss, team leader and driver John Force, did not qualify for the event. It was the first time since Sept. 3, 1979 that he will not start in Seattle on Sunday.
"It's not that big a deal when you haven't capitalized on (qualifying No. 1), and went on to win on Sunday," Hight said. "A lot of times you get four shots in qualifying, and sometimes you can throw one down and get at the top, but that doesn't mean you can win on Sunday, and that's what this whole game is about. Luckily this week we have a pretty big chance here. It's no secret Tim Wilkerson is way out in the points lead, but if we can capitalize on how he qualified - we can't rely on the other guys to take him out, and he took me out last week so I didn't do my job either. If we can get him tomorrow first round and win this race, it's a little more realistic in catching him before this Countdown.
"With John not qualifying, I feel like it's mine and Neff and Ashley's job to try to stop some of these guys and make this as little bit of a damage to his team as we can, because we want all four of our cars in this Countdown and he could take a bit hit tomorrow if some of these guys behind him win. So we've got to do our jobs and try to take them out."
Connolly was just 53 points out of playoff contention entering this event despite missing the first five races of the season. He took advantage of Friday's conditions to drive his Charter Communications Chevy Cobalt to a 6.573 at 209.49 for his second consecutive No. 1 qualifier in Seattle, his second of the year, and seventh of his career. Perhaps more crucial are the points he earned for leading the pack.
"We'll see what happens tomorrow," Connolly said. "Sunday's the most important day...We're playing catch-up right now, so we have our work cut out for us, but by way things are going this weekend, we just hope to continue making good runs like we have. What a difference a week can make, from last week to this week. Our team morale is at a high right now, so for GM and Chevy, we got to keep this Cobalt in the No. 1 spot and we'll see what tomorrow brings."
Greg Anderson became the first Pro Stock driver to secure a spot in the playoffs by qualifying No. 2. He needed only to qualify higher than 12th to secure his position in the Countdown.