Friday leaders Larry Dixon, Robert Hight, Mike Edwards and Craig Treble maintained the top spots in their respective classes after the second day of qualifying for the United Association Route 66 Nationals.
The heavy rains that limited pro racers to a single qualifying session on Friday dissipated by Saturday afternoon, allowing both sessions as well as the JEGS Allstars competition, to be completed as scheduled. Warm and humid conditions remained which prevented many racers from improving although several were able to buck the trend, particularly in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Despite the best efforts of the 18 other Top Fuel teams in Joliet, Dixon’s 3.814 from Friday night was not bettered during qualifying. The two-time NHRA Champ claimed the top spot for the 43rd time in his career and will face Chicago’s “Turbo Tim” Cullinan when eliminations get underway. On Saturday, Dixon was consistent with runs of 3.842 and 3.912.
“As in most cases during the year, you have to fire your shot on Friday to try and get on pole,” said Dixon. “Yesterday, as late as we ran, we wanted to make a good run and fortunately it stuck. Today, it was a little warmer and the track was a little looser. Fortunately we stayed on pole. We ran good in the first session and then had a belt come off on the second run. That cost us three bonus points but all and all it was a great job by Alan [Johnson] and Jason [McCulloch].
The sun came out today and the track temperatures came up and those conditions were more like what we’ll be facing tomorrow so we needed to make sure we had a handle on it.”
Fellow championships contenders Cory McClenathan and Tony Schumacher remained second and third with runs of 3.827 and 3.841, respectively while Brandon Bernstein is the fourth-seed after Friday’s 3.843. McClenathan also posted low elapsed time of the day on Saturday with a 3.822 and has the only two 320-mph runs of the event thus far.
The abbreviated qualifying created a few tense moments for Antron Brown and Dave Grubnic, who were not qualified heading into the final session. Grubnic posted a 3.915 to make the field in the 13th spot while Brown posted a 3.872 to move into the top half of the field. As the No 8 qualifier, Brown will face another fan favorite, Chicago native T.J. Zizzo in round one.
No one came close to Hight’s 4.067 from Friday night but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of drama and excitement in the Funny Car class. The team Force cars occupy the top two spots as Hight is followed by Ashley Force Hood’s 4.092 from Friday.
"It was trickier but in all honesty, doing so well last night gave us a chance to go out and flex our muscles," said Hight. "Today Jimmy tried to run the thing like we did last week see what the track would take. Up till this morning, we had made 15 striaght runs, but we smoked the tires now we know what not to do tomorrow. We know where the limit is and we can adjust and go from there."
At one point during the final session, at least half of the field was either outside the top 16 or in danger of being bumped from the starting field. Hight and Force Hood were followed by Matt Hagan and Bob Tasca III, with runs of 4.12 and 4.13, respectively. Rounding out the top half of the field were Jack Beckman (4.15), Ron Capps (4.17) and hometown hero Bob Bode (4.20).
Justin Schrieffer, driver of Dale Creasy’s Tyrant entry, was originally not qualified but was later inserted into the field after Cruz Pedregon’s final run was disqualified when it was determined that a low hanging part of the body resulted in a false elapsed time.
Jeff Diehl was involved in one of the most bizarre incidents in recent memory when his Rimz One.com entry went airborne at half track. The car made contact with both retaining walls before finally rolling to a stop. Diehl exited the car under his own power, was checked by on-site medical personnel and then released with no serious injuries.
Edwards’ near total domination of Pro Stock qualifying continued in Joliet as he claimed the top spot for the 17 time in the last 19 races with a 6.629 Saturday morning. Edwards also picked up three additional bonus points in the afternoon session with a 6.645 in his Penhall Pontiac to lead the field. He will be paired with Richie Stevens in tomorrow’s opening round of eliminations.
“Conditions were pretty much the same for both runs today; we dodged all the rain drops and we just tried to make the best runs we could for the conditions we had,” said Edwards. “We made a really nice run this morning. Hats off to my guys for making the right call. They impress me all the time and the same goes for the guys back at the engine shop. It is so competitive and it gets tighter and tighter at every race. We’ve been making consistent runs and we’ve just been fortunate a few times. I’m impressed that we’ve been able to come to sea level tracks and run good and also run good at other tracks like Topeka where the wind was blowing hard.”
Jeg Coughlin maintained the second spot with a 6.638 from his Jegs Mail Order Cobalt with Mopar Dodge driver Allen Johnson third with a 6.645. Other top half qualifiers include Rodger Brogdon (6.647), Ron Krisher (6.649), Kurt Johnson (6.655), Rookie of the year contender Shane Gray (6.659) and his father, Johnny (6.664). Stevens posted a 6.692 for the 16th and final spot in the field.
Surprise non-qualifiers in Pro Stock included Atlanta runner-up Rickie Jones, who had previously qualified for every field since the season-opener in Pomona and Greg Stanfield, whose last DNQ came at the 2009 Houston event more than a year ago.
Treble improved to a 6.932 on Saturday morning to maintain his lead in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings and claim his first pole since the 2003 season-ending Pomona event. Later in the day, he returned with a 6.983 in the second session, indicating that he has the bike to beat in Sunday’s final eliminations on Reigning champ Hector Arana is close behind Treble with runs of 6.948 and 6.950 on Saturday.
“They told me this was my first [pole] in seven years and I had no idea it had been that long,” said Treble. “I’m with the right team to make it happen. Steve [Tartaglia, crew chief] worked so hard to make it happen and this is the fruits of his labor. After Atlanta, he went into his laboratory and did what he does best. It was a lot wetter last night, but it dried out today. The humidity dropped this morning and everybody picked up. We tried a gear change on the last hit to see if it would like it and it didn’t. If we had gotten bumped to No. 2 or No. 3 that would have sucked, but we would still have been solidly in the show.
“This is big because we are uncertain to where this team is going,” Treble said. “We’re not sure if the rig is getting parked. We’re just going to keep working hard and plugging away until Don [Schumacher] says enough. We’ve been behind the eight-ball all year. We thought we had it in St. Louis but it blew up. We’ve finally recovered from that.”
Several other riders found the six-second zone including Shawn Gann who is third with a 6.96 and Rookie of the Year contender LE Tonglet, who will start fourth after posting a 6.971. Redell Harris rode to a 7.166 which is good for the bump spot.
Surprisingly, championship contenders Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith will start from the bottom half of the field. Krawiec finished tenth and will be paired with Angie Smith while Matt Smith encountered an electrical problem in his Al-Anabi Buell and finished 11th with a best of 7.027. He will be paired with Steve Johnson when eliminations begin.
Friday: Dixon, Hight, Edwards and Treble lead after long day in Chicago