St. Louis: Saturday qualifying report

TRACK RECORDS FALL AFTER QUALIFYING RESUMES AT GATEWAY INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY MADISON, Ill. - "Hot Rod" Fuller wants to break a perplexing streak Sunday when he attempts to win his first elimination round out of the No. 1 qualifying position, a...


MADISON, Ill. - "Hot Rod" Fuller wants to break a perplexing streak Sunday when he attempts to win his first elimination round out of the No. 1 qualifying position, a slot he's earned four times in his brief career, including this weekend's 11th annual O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Castrol at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis.

With two of four professional time trials lost to rain, there was a premium on Saturday's final two qualifying runs and Fuller, Funny Car leader Mike Ashley, Pro Stock dominator Greg Anderson, and Pro Stock Motorcycle hot shot Matt Smith all managed to rise to the occasion.

Sporting Fabick Caterpillar livery this weekend, Fuller is the No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel for the second race in a row after zipping to a 4.596 at 313.37 mph. Fuller gains two points on No. 3 qualifier Brandon Bernstein, who passed him in the rankings by 19 markers with his second straight win in Atlanta last weekend.

"We've talked about getting past this deal where we qualify No. 1 and then lose in Round 1," Fuller said. "When you're No. 1 it means you have lane choice and it means you're running the guy that's had the hardest time getting down the track. Instead of burying everyone, maybe we should just back it down enough to make sure we get down the track."

Points leader Bernstein is third in the Budweiser rail with a 4.612 at 326.87.

Ashley made it three low qualifiers in a row in Funny Car by placing his Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger R/T at the front of the class once again with a 4.799 at 331.77 mph. The Melville, N.Y., racer set a GIR track speed mark with his crowd-pleasing run, which came in the afternoon session.

"It's important to qualify No. 1 for positioning purposes but it's much more important to go rounds," Ashley said. "We've found something between the chassis and the clutch that has made us so consistent. That's really exciting to me. Not only have we been No. 1 qualifier three times in a row, we've also had top speed of the meet at the last four races. We have a racecar here."

Hard-charging Robert Hight is second, leading the John Force Racing contingent with a 4.819 at 319.07 mph in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Despite missing a race after the death of teammate Eric Medlen, Hight is just 40 points out of first place.

Hight's sister-in-law Ashley is third, muscling her way down the track in 4.853 seconds at 309.70 mph in her Castrol GTX Ford. Her father John is a solid fifth with a 4.856 at 317.57 in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang.

Runaway points leader Anderson has a slight jump on a fourth victory after qualifying his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO on top for the 55th time in his career. Anderson got the job done with a double-track-record pass of 6.676 at 207.69 mph in Saturday's slightly cooler morning session.

"We only had two shots to get in and that's always a little nerve wracking," Anderson said. "You don't ever want that to happen but you can't control the weather. At least I know I have a team behind me that can totally handle that kind of pressure."

Anderson teammate and reigning champion Jason Line was second with a 6.680 at 207.05 mph. The two men closest to Anderson and Line in the POWERade points -- Dave Connolly and Jeg Coughlin -- are third and fourth here with Connolly posting a 6.692 in his Torco Cobalt and Coughlin a 6.703 in his Slammers machine.

Smith was confident his track-record Friday night run of 6.970 at 188.96 mph would hold through Saturday's daytime sessions and he was right as the Torco Buell V-Twin rider collected his second No. 1 qualifier award of the season. The bikes were the only class to complete a qualifying session Friday.

"The strategy now is to win the race," said Smith, who has two runner-up finishes this year, both to points leader Karen Stoffer. "We've proven we have a fast bike and we're No. 2 in the points. It's time to get a trophy. I always try to just shut out whose in the other lane and just execute the best pass I can and that's what I'll do tomorrow."

Currently 42 points behind Stoffer at the top of the standings, Smith could make a big run at the lead spot in the POWERade rankings Sunday with a potential second-round match-up with Stoffer. She qualified eighth on her Geico Suzuki with a 7.062 at 190.81 mph.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , John Force , Greg Anderson , Karen Stoffer , Brandon Bernstein , Jason Line , Mike Ashley , Matthew Smith , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Dave Connolly