Matt Smith took the first step towards his sixth pole of 2019 behind a crushing blow in the first qualifying session. Smith ran a 6.842-second lap at 198.64-mph to lead the Pro Stock Motorcycle field at the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas.
"I mean, honestly, if we had made a better run in the first round, we should have went 6.82 or 6.83 in the second round," said Smith, who did not improve in his second qualifying attempt. "So, we left a little bit on the table. I did a bad job of shifting in the first run and I did a bad job riding on the second run so I definitely think we could have gone faster."
The defending world champion struggled at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, the most recent stop on tour, but bounced back in a big way in Vegas. He led his closest competitor, Steve Johnson, by three-hundredths of a second and nearly 5-mph.
Smith enters the weekend in fifth place and is still in contention for the world championship, though Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson rider Andrew Hines held a sizable lead at the beginning of the day. Hines ended Friday qualifying in the No. 7 spot with a time of 6.907 at 194.86, the third-quickest of the three Harley-Davidson riders. Angelle Sampey ran quickest of the Harleys (6.877) to claim the No. 3 slot.
Johnson continued his resurgent season with a 6.872, earning bonus points in both the first and second sessions. He is not contending for a championship, but he is looking for his first win of the season after reaching the final of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship opener in Reading.
White Alligator Racing teammates Karen Stoffer and Jerry Savoie qualified fifth and sixth just .001-second apart from one another. Stoffer entered the weekend in second in the Countdown to the Championship standings; she is 81 points behind Hines and chasing her first world championship.
Katie Sullivan ended Friday on the bump spot with a 7.049. She is keeping out Jianna Salinas, Eiji Kawakami and Andie Rawlings.
The second day of professional qualifying begins at 12:45 p.m. Pacific with Pro Stock Motorcycle. That will set the fields for all four pro categories. Race day is scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m. and will begin with Top Fuel.