Sonoma: Saturday qualifying report

ASHLEY, HERBERT, ANDERSON AND SAMPEY CLAIM NO. 1 QUALIFYING POSITIONS AT FRAM-AUTOLITE NHRA NATIONALS SONOMA, Calif. -- Currently third in the POWERade points, Funny Car racer Mike Ashley took a big step towards securing one of the...


SONOMA, Calif. -- Currently third in the POWERade points, Funny Car racer Mike Ashley took a big step towards securing one of the seven remaining spots in the Countdown to the Championship field with a top qualifying performance Saturday at the 20th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals.

Ashley (4.743) and Top Fuel leader Doug Herbert (4.556) both used their Friday night passes to wrap up their No. 1 spots at Infineon Raceway, while Pro Stock front man Greg Anderson needed to improve to a 6.605 to stay on top. Angelle Sampey shocked the Pro Stock Motorcycle class with her final-round run of 6.924, which came in the heat of the day. Final eliminations begin Sunday at noon (PT) with three-hours of television coverage provided by ESPN2 at 8 p.m. (ET).

This is Ashley's fourth No. 1 qualifying effort of the season and fourth of his career. His Friday night run of 4.743 at 326.79 mph in his Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger was completely unchallenged Saturday with the quickest run of the day John Force's 4.870 in his Castrol High-Mileage Ford Mustang.

"It's exciting to qualify No. 1," Ashley said. "With the conditions the way they are, I figured Friday's run would hold. This is our fourth one and that's a real testament to our team. Making the Countdown requires points and we got the most you can get in qualifying, but they add up a lot faster when you're winning rounds on Sunday."

Riding a streak of two straight victories, "Fast Jack" Beckman is second on the Sonoma grid with a 4.759 at 324.67 mph. He was second quickest of Saturday's action with a 4.873 in his Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger.

The monster match-up of Sunday's first round in Funny Car will pit Ashley Force against her 14-time champion father John. Ashley has the higher-qualified car and will enjoy lane choice over her dad, whom she beat earlier this year in Atlanta in their only previous head-to-head match-up.

A veteran of 301 drag races, this is just the fourth time Herbert has qualified No. 1 in Top Fuel. Now he'll try to convert his quick start into his ninth career victory. His Snap-on Tools dragster ran a 4.556 at 315.64 mph Friday night in a session that was called off midway through the round due to a local noise curfew.

Herbert hopes the No. 1 effort leads to going more elimination rounds, which in turn will increase his chances of getting a spot in the top eight of the POWERade Countdown to the Championship.

"The Countdown has added so much excitement," Herbert said. "Normally at this time of the year if you're 10th in the points or whatever you're thinking, 'oh well, we'll try to finish in the top 10, I guess.' Now we're thinking about making the Countdown field and then making a real run at the title. I think it's a great deal."

Points leader "Hot Rod" Fuller made the biggest move of the day in his Peterson CAT dragster, going from out of the field to the No. 3 spot with a 4.562 at 323.66 mph.

Anderson knew Pro Stock would collectively be quicker Saturday as San Francisco's cool morning fog lingered over the quarter-mile track. He also knew he'd need to improve if he wanted to retain his No. 1 ranking in the qualifying field. He was right on both accounts and he responded perfectly with a track-record 6.605 at 208.20 mph to earn his Summit Pontiac GTO team its ninth No. 1 start of the year, fifth at this track and 60th of his career.

"We needed a 'get well weekend' and it's great to get it done here," said Anderson, who now has 60 low qualifying efforts in his career. "It's not over yet but we've taken a step in the right direction. Our confidence has been down over the last four races and it feels good to get back on track. It was starting to get embarrassing."

The super summer of Allen Johnson continues here with a No. 2 qualifying effort, courtesy of a 6.612 at 207.21 mph in his J&J Racing/Team Mopar Dodge.

Sampey's run was a shocker as it took place when Saturday's temperatures were at their highest in the fourth and final qualifying session. Still, the three-time champion seemed unaffected by it all, running a 6.924 at 193.40 mph on her U.S. Army Suzuki to earn her fourth No. 1 qualifier award of the season.

"A 6.92 out there in that heat is pretty awesome," Sampey said. "We'll have to change our tune-up throughout the day tomorrow if, hopefully, we are lucky enough to go four rounds. It'll be cool in the morning like it was today, then it'll get hotter and I'm sure there'll be a little humidity to deal with. That's the crew chiefs job to deal with all that. I just need to concentrate on my lights and my riding."

After improving to a 6.929 at 190.70 mph in the morning session, Friday leader Andrew Hines looked to be a lock for the Pro Stock Motorcycle pole, but the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson rider will have to chase the race trophy from the No. 2 slot instead.

Three female riders are in the top half of the field. Sampey is on top, Peggy Llewellyn is fifth with a career-best 6.963 on her Klement Motorsports Buell, while Karen Stoffer is sixth with a 6.976 on her Geico Suzuki.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , John Force , Greg Anderson , Peggy Llewellyn , Karen Stoffer , Ashley Force , Allen Johnson , Mike Ashley , Andrew Hines , Angelle Sampey