Facing a triple-digit deficit, Matt Smith knows he’s a longshot to defend his 2018 Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle championship so he figures the best he can do is qualify No. 1 and win the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals. So far, Smith is on target with the quickest run of the day at Auto Club Pomona Raceway including a 6.815 on his Denso EBR that is good for the provisional pole.
“Our Q1 run felt good,” said Smith. “The track is a little green but it will get better and my Denso bike is pretty hateful. We made a good run in the first round and on the second run it blew the rear tire off. I guess we were too aggressive. We’ve got something for them this weekend, though. We got to second place after the first run and that was our first goal. Like I said, the championship is a long shot and I really can’t worry about that [points leader] Andrew Hines is doing. We won this race last year and we want to duplicate that same scenario. If Andrew loses in the first round, we want to be able to capitalize on it. If I can’t be first I want to be second.”
Smith’s V-twin was easily the best bike in Las Vegas where he qualified No. 1. On Sunday, he won his 24th career national event and second this season. Smith was using the same engine that he used to win the 2018 Finals. That engine is also in the bike this weekend and it has been freshened.
“This bike is hateful right now,” Smith said. “This is my best engine and I try to save it for when it matters most. I ran it a few times this year but I really wanted to save it for the Countdown. I had it in the bike in Charlotte but we had a broken chassis and that’s when it wouldn’t shift. I feel good about what we’ve got right now.”
Smith finished the day with seven qualifying bonus points, while Karen Stoffer, the provisional No. 2 qualifier, finished with four after her 6.834 pass led the second session. Stoffer’s teammate, Jerry Savoie, finished the day in the No. 3 spot after a 6.837 best. Incoming points leader Hines, who is in pursuit of his record sixth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, was fourth-quickest after a 6.845 on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson. Hines is having the best season of his career with eight wins and two runner-up finishes in 15 races. He’s also got a 44-7 win loss record this year.
With two sessions remaining tomorrow, there are 11 bikes in the six-second zone and the current bump spot is a 7.061 by Freddie Camarena.