On Friday, provisional low qualifier Steve Torrence expressed some doubt that his 3.73-second run would be quick enough to withstand two more Top Fuel qualifying sessions on Saturday. As it turns out, he was right to be concerned. There were plenty of competitive Top Fuel runs on Saturday, but the one that was most impressive to the huge Brainerd crowd was the 3.722 that Brittany Force used to claim the top spot for the fifth time this season and 15th time in her career. Force was four-hundredths quicker than any other Top Fuel driver in the fourth session and will take on legendary Chris “the Greek” Karamesines in Sunday’s opening round of eliminations.
“That was a clean run all the way down and that put us No. 1,” said Force. “Grubby [David Grubnic, crew chief] said we were going to push to see if we could move up and we did. He told me a number that he wanted to see. He [Grubnic] is awesome. I love working with him and [assistant crew chief Mac Savage. He’s been behind the wheel before, so he understands the stress and pressure that goes with it. After a run I can come back and have a conversation with him and he understands it. It’s no secret that we’ve been struggling the last few weeks and this puts us in the best spot we could be in going into race day.”
On Friday, Force did not make it to the finish line on either run, but her Advance Auto Parts/Carquest team seemed to find their footing with a solid 3.80 in Q3 that was good for two bonus points. That run gave crew chief David Grubnic all the ammunition he needed to take a big swing.
In 16 starts this season, Force has qualified in the bottom half of the field just twice, but she’s earned the pole in Gainesville, Houston, Atlanta, and Norwalk. Force won in Houston and also reached the final in Atlanta, where she lost to Torrence so not surprisingly, she’s managed to parlay strong qualifying performances into race-day success. Another byproduct of her monster run on Saturday, was a big move up the ladder that prevented a round one match-up against her teammate, Seattle winner Austin Prock.
“Yeah, before we ran I heard them say that if nothing changed we’ve have to race,” said Force. “I knew it would be tough but when you have David Grubnic anything is possible. I really felt like we’d make a move.”
As for Torrence, he’s been ranked lower than fifth in qualifying just three times this season. He started sixth in Charlotte and ninth in Epping, and still managed to win both of those events. The only event this year that Torrence would likely want to forget is Phoenix, where he qualified No. 14 and dropped his round one match to his buddy, Antron Brown’s Matco Tools dragster.
In Saturday’s first session, Torrence missed the set-up while Mike Salinas was able to flex his muscles with a 3.778 that was easily the quickest pass of the round. Salinas locked up three bonus points while Force and Richie Crampton, also earned merit badges with runs of 3.803 and 3.809, respectively.