Sonoma Pontiac Qualifying Report

12th ANNUAL AUTOLITE NATIONALS SEARS POINT RACEWAY SONOMA, CALIFORNIA SONOMA, Calif. (Saturday, August 6, 1999) - Qualifying was completed today for the 12th annual Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson ...

12th ANNUAL AUTOLITE NATIONALS SEARS POINT RACEWAY SONOMA, CALIFORNIA

SONOMA, Calif. (Saturday, August 6, 1999) - Qualifying was completed today for the 12th annual Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson waited until the last qualifying session to put his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird in the field. He will start tomorrow's eliminations qualified in the No. 2 spot with an elapsed-time of 6.925 seconds at a track-record top speed of 200.77 mph. Jim Yates jumped all the way to the No. 3 position. The Splitfire/Peak Firebird had an elapsed time of 6.930 seconds at 198.88 mph in today's morning session. Mark Pawuk and the Summit Racing Firebird improved from 27th to fourth with a 6.932 second run at 198.90 mph. Outlaw Pontiac Firebird driver Bruce Allen qualified eighth with an elapsed-time of 6.948 seconds and a career-best top-speed of 199.43 mph. That broke his previous career-best mark of 198.90 mph set earlier this year at Englishtown. Mike Thomas is ninth, George Marnell is 11th, Richie Stevens is 12th, and Greg Anderson is 13th. Tom Martino was 20th and Steve Schmidt was 26th. The No. 1 qualifier was Kurt Johnson in a Camaro with a track-record elapsed time of 6.898 seconds at 199.91 mph.

In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson's Interstate Batteries Firebird is qualified in the No. 3 position with a final-round elapsed time of 4.989 seconds at 307.09 mph. It was the quickest run of the session. Al Hofmann is qualified 10th, Gary Densham is 11th, Del Worsham is 12th, Dale Creasy Jr. is 13th and Cruz Pedregon is 16th. The No. 1 qualifier was Whit Bazemore in a Camaro with a track-record elapsed time of 4.931 seconds at 305.77 mph.

In Top Fuel, MBNA/Pontiac driver Cory McClenathan improved from 15th to fifth with a quarter-mile run in the first session this morning of 4.610 seconds at 307.51 mph. Bob Vandergriff is the No. 1 qualifier with a track-record elapsed-time of 4.552 seconds at 317.49 mph. Kenny Bernstein is second, Gary Scelzi is third and Doug Kalitta is fourth.

Qualifying highlights of the Autolite Nationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, August 7, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT. First-round coverage of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, August 8, beginning at 1:30 p.m. EDT, with final eliminations starting at 7:30 p.m. EDT.

PRO STOCK

Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird) We have absolutely taken a good race car and screwed it up. That's about all you can say. The tires start shaking uncontrollably about one-half second into the run. There is nothing wrong with the race track - Kurt's car ran 6.98 and guys are making career-best runs out here. We just haven't adapted to the track, and that's all there is to it.

Second Session: We weren't feeling any more pressure than normal. Anytime you go up to make a qualifying pass, there's always pressure to qualify, so we just wrapped it all up in one run instead of in the first run. It eliminates some of your experimenting from the standpoint that if you qualify on your first run and learn from that, then you can make minor tune ups, and hopefully get quicker and more consistent. When your first three runs are non-qualifiers that means that you're going to have to go in with a setup that's obviously completely different from what didn't work. So that narrows the amount of experimenting you can do in the effort of running quicker on race day. It just shuffles the deck a little bit that's all. I haven't had a chance to look at that last run on the computer. I'll take a look at it and see what it looks like. It felt pretty good. I was expecting it to start moving around in third gear right where there had been a bunch of oil downs, but I felt if the GM Goodwrench Firebird could hold it right there, then it would be all right and we would qualify.

Jim Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird) I feel pretty good about what we were able to do today. We qualified well in Seattle, and now we've come down here and qualified No. 3, so I think our program is moving forward. I think what we are lacking is a little consistency, but we're using each run to try a little different combination on the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac, and we were happy with the way this Firebird ran this morning. We knew this afternoon would be like a tune up run so we moved the combination around a little bit for this afternoon. Obviously it didn't work very well. It looked really good in low gear, but it started shaking out there in the middle, but a lot of cars were shaking out there. It's not as good as the combination we used this morning, so what we'll do for tomorrow is go back to the combination we ran first thing this morning, go out and try and lay down another 6.92 or 6.93. If the cloud cover comes in here and it stays cool, we'll have one race track. If we wake up in the morning and have sunshine, then we'll have another race track. You can't plan on it today. This track varies from hour to hour and we'll just have to wait until morning to see what the day brings. If it's cloudy we'll do one combination, if it's sunny we'll go to another combination. There are a lot of tough cars out here right now, and how we prepare will depend on what the weather does and what the lanes give us. I think for tomorrow, we're in a real good spot. We're No. 3 and in the top half of the field, we get lane choice in the first round, and if we do our job, we might get lane choice in the second round. We'll just keep working on it.

Mike Thomas (Pennzoil Pontiac Firebird) That was pretty good but we definitely left some elapsed time on the table. The Pennzoil Firebird went left again right at the starting line and the correction of that problem cost me a couple of hundredths of a second. Still, the good news is that in my mind, qualifying is over. With the exception of Warren Johnson, I don't see anything changing. I sure hope we're able to stay in the top half of the field.

Second Session: The Pennzoil Firebird appears to be running fine as far as the engine goes. We just need to find a way to be more consistent on this tricky race track. I really don't know why it gets so crazy in certain spots, but it does. Not having lane choice could hurt us depending on what the weather is like. We just need to take these races one at a time and try to beat the track. It's a shame that we open against Bruce but I can't really worry about that. I need to win.

Bruce Allen (Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird) It's very rare to have a perfect run and we still had a little room for improvement in that one because we did encounter a little bit of tire shake that probably slowed us down just a tad. But all in all, we couldn't be happier with that lap. When you start Day 2 out of the field you don't always know how to attack the track. Should you go for it, or be conservative and just get in the field? That's the question you keep asking yourself. Fortunately we made the right call this time.

Second Session: It's funny because no matter how well you run you always want to go quicker. That's the case here. It's awesome that we ran a career-best speed and that we're in the top half of the field, but all that really shows me is potential. We need to run better tomorrow to capitalize on the successes we've had here in qualifying. At the very least, I'm very optimistic that we now know what we need to do to win some rounds.

Mark Pawuk (Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird) I have nothing to complain about. We made an ugly run but still, this track is so tricky that you just have to thank God that we're in the show. When you look at Warren (Johnson), you know he has a lot of power, but there's such a small margin of error of here, and such a tiny window to tune from that I guess we just made the right calls to get the Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird down the race track. I knew that once I got past second gear we were going to be all right. But this is not the way this car ran at Seattle. It was bouncing all over the race track and shaking in low gear. I know we can run faster but I'm sure not complaining. The track's real rough, but it always has been here. You're dealing with a combination of really good air and a marginal racetrack. There was a real good starting line out there and now all of a sudden that's gone away. Because you make so much power, if you don't put enough in it initially to get it moving, then you put yourself in a bind down track. But if you over tune to get it to leave the starting line, you're too aggressive down track and the car goes crazy. We were a little on the aggressive side, but we got through there and we're in. I think a 6.93 will stay in the show. We really didn't run good on the back half because the car was moving around so much. But when you have horsepower and your whole combination comes together, you can make more of a marginal run and still run fast.

Richie Stevens (Valspar Pontiac Firebird) It's great feeling to put a brand-new motor out of the box and have it perform that well. It's exactly what we wanted to see. We're hoping that this new Kaase engine will become a real contender on this circuit. There are a bunch of things to be positive about. We own our own motor now, which is something we have never been able to say before. That's an awesome feeling. Also, even though we don't have lane choice, we posted quick laps on both sides of this track during qualifying. Earlier today we had the 6.95 on the right side and last night we ran 6.96 on the left side. So I think we have a good chance of winning if I just take care of my driving and let the Valspar Refinish Firebird show its stuff. I'm ready.

FUNNY CAR

Tommy Johnson Jr. (Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird) I think we're ready to race tomorrow. We have the Interstate Batteries Firebird back on track and back to sea level. That last pass was a real good run. The car pulled hard all the way down the track. Each time out we've run quicker even though we smoked the tires earlier today, but that was just for a little bit. Every session it keeps running a little quicker, a little quicker, a little quicker, and it pulls harder and harder every time out. It's definitely more fun this way and I think we'll be right there tomorrow. That 4.89 was low elapsed time of the session and was just a couple of hundredths off the guys who ran so well this morning. It's nice to post a big number like that with your last shot because it will give the rest of the guys out here something to think about. We're definitely on track for tomorrow. We stumbled a little bit but now we're ready to go.

Del Worsham (Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Pontiac Firebird) Boy, I hate to do it this way. Not only is it stressful as can be, for me, our team, and the 300 Checker/Schuck's/Kragen people here, but it forces us to play a way that we don't like to play. Obviously, the way to do it is to put a 5.16 on the board during the early session on Friday, then leave yourself three more runs to improve your position and tune to the racetrack. Now, we've juts got the one session left to do that. But that's the way it is so we have to deal with it. It sure is better than having to slam into the field on the last shot.

Second Session: That was a good news/bad news deal. The good news is we didn't get down the track on Friday, and today leading up to the race, we put two solid laps together. The bad news is that after the 5.16, we actually tried to lean all over it and make it either smoke the tires or jump up into the top half. The Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Firebird went out there and did exactly the same thing. It didn't react to the changes we made quite the way we thought it would. The other good news is we've been puffing the tires right off the starting line all weekend. It's clear to see that in the video we shoot of every run. We've been hazing them with each launch, which is really dangerous because you're right on the edge of smoking them completely. This time, the changes we made solved that problem, and it was a clean launch.

Dale Creasy Jr. (Mad Magazine Pontiac Firebird) We didn't expect the Mad Magazine Pontiac Firebird to run that well but we knew we probably could. The way we had it setup it was going to go a low 5.20, and it surprised us with the 5.16 so we're pretty happy with that. We were on the bump with Densham behind us. I knew he would run good so we did what we had to do. When I hit the gas, it left really, really good, and then it started to lay over and I thought, "Oh man it's going to run through the clutch." And then it hooked up and took off like a rocket ship. That's when I knew I was in. Tomorrow we're going to give them every thing we have.

Gary Densham (NEC/AAA Southern California) We're struggling. The car was on a good pass in the first session yesterday, we blew a breather hose off and we had to shut it off. It seems like all we've done since then is smoke the tires off the starting line. We have a pretty good air here and the track should be able to hold it, but we're struggling and hopefully we can run good enough this last session to break into the 16-car field. The game plan tonight is to run fast and quick. We're shooting for a high 5-0 or 5.10 deal on this last run. We're not shooting for low ET, but at the same time we can't back it off too much.

Cruz Pedregon (goracing.com Pontiac Firebird) We want to go out in the last session and try to get this goracing.com Firebird to run on all eight cylinders. On the last run we dropped a cylinder but we feel like we're just a run or two away from making this car a contender. Hopefully just a run away. Ron (Swearingen) and I have talked about what we need to do and we're going to get more aggressive with the engine and see if we can't put up a big number. If it hooks up on all eight cylinders it will be quick. That's why they give us four runs - so we can work our way through the glitches and put together a combination for Sunday. It's like chopping a big tree down. You keep chipping away at it and sooner or later it's going to fall.

Al Hofmann (Hofmann Racing Pontiac Firebird) I'm happy with that. This Pontiac Firebird was controllable, it was a nice run and it's a good point to build on for tomorrow. I think maybe tonight we can pick up a couple of hundredths and have something to race with tomorrow. There's plenty left in this race car but I don't want to get greedy. I just want it to go to the end a couple of times and make some small moves as we go. I think we have the capabilities to make some big improvements. The track was fairly good and I think it will as good if not better tonight. We made very minor moves and last night we reevaluated everything we had done and really didn't change that much. We took two half nuts off of the primary and that was it. Everything else was the same. We did have a new set of tires on it for what that's worth. There isn't three grams of weight difference between hero and zero in this sport.

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Tommy Johnson , Dale Creasy Jr. , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , George Marnell , Bob Vandergriff , Tommy Johnson Jr.