Sonoma: Saturday summary

Pro Stock great Johnson fails to qualify for first time in 303 events. Dixon, Force, Anderson and Hines claim top qualifying positions at FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals. SONOMA, Calif. -- NHRA Pro Stock great Warren Johnson failed to qualify for...

Pro Stock great Johnson fails to qualify for first time in 303 events. Dixon, Force, Anderson and Hines claim top qualifying positions at FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals.

SONOMA, Calif. -- NHRA Pro Stock great Warren Johnson failed to qualify for the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals Saturday at Infineon Raceway, ending a streak of 303 consecutive starts, dating back to March 1987.

Larry Dixon, John Force, Greg Anderson and Matt Hines will lead their respective pro categories into Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations for the $1.8 million race, the 15th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Johnson's quickest pass was a 6.848-second effort, which was a tick slower than the 6.836 required to make the 16-car field. Johnson, who has six series championships, 88 victories and 125 No. 1 qualifying positions to his credit during his storied career, said he just couldn't figure out the tune-up this weekend for his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am.

"There was nothing wrong with the race track, we just never adapted this weekend," said three-time Infineon winner Johnson of his fifth career DNQ in 401 starts. "It's a bummer we won't be racing on Sunday. Obviously it's tough. You've got to be good in the good sessions and we weren't this weekend."

So how does Johnson plan to spend his first Sunday off in more than 15 years? "I wouldn't pay to see a race," Johnson said with a grin. "I'll be at the track tomorrow to see if we can find out what's wrong with the car."

Anderson, who earned his second top qualifying effort of the season and third of his career with a track record performance of 6.791 seconds at 203.34 mph in a Chevy Cavalier, got his start in the sport as a crew chief for Johnson and enjoyed several championship runs by his side. Like many in the Pro Stock community, Anderson was stunned that Johnson failed to qualify.

"You always hate to see the stars on the sideline on Sunday," Anderson said. "That's not good for the sport. It's really tough to qualify in Pro Stock these days and that's going to happen to all of us from time to time. Knowing Warren, he will get mad, work harder and come back and win a few races. We're just glad to get the top spot and we have to take advantage of his absence and try and make a move in the point standings."

Dixon earned his seventh top qualifying position of the season and the 19th of his career in Top Fuel, covering the distance in 4.608 seconds at 317.94 mph in his Miller Lite dragster.

"We made four smoke free runs this weekend, so I'm happy," Dixon said. "I'm cautiously optimistic about tomorrow. It's been a great race so far. I'm really enjoying being back on the West Coast."

Dixon is trying to put an end to a slump that has included a DNQ and first round loss in the last three races. During that time rival and defending series champion Kenny Bernstein has cut Dixon's lead to 97 points. Dixon says he isn't going to sweat the day to day grind of the points chase, but wants to focus his energy on having the lead at the end of the season.

"At this point I'm not even thinking about the points," Dixon said. "The fact is that you are going to lose and gain points each week. I want to have the lead after Pomona. That's what I am after. Last year I held the points lead after Indy and that didn't buy me anything. This team is just focusing on winning rounds and races from here on out."

Force raced to his fourth top qualifying effort of the season and 110th of his career in Funny Car, powering his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a track record time of 4.864 at 309.20.

"This is going to be a close race tomorrow," Force said. "Usually there's one or two cars that are the leaders of the pack. There's a bunch of cars that are right there this weekend. I enjoy racing like that, it's a lot of fun."

With Johnson's miscue, Force moves to the top of the list for qualifying streaks among NHRA's active drivers with 292 straight starts without a DNQ.

"Man, the biggest surprise is that Warren didn't qualify," Force said. "That's hard to believe because he's the best out here. It just shows you how tough it is. Some days your old hot rod just doesn't want to work for you. But he'll be back."

Hines scored his third No. 1 effort of the season and 42nd of his career in Pro Stock Motorcycle, clocking a track record run of 7.105 at 189.44 on his Eagle One Suzuki.

Hines will try to continue his recent hot streak, which included a victory in Denver, as he chases points leader Angelle Savoie, second quickest in the lineup with a 7.107 at 187.47, also on a Suzuki.

"Our momentum started in Chicago and it took a couple of races to get the win in Denver, so far so good," said Hines, who offered high praise for the new racing surface at Infineon. "The starting line here is the best I've seen at a national event."


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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , John Force , Greg Anderson