When it comes to qualifying, few drivers in any class have been more reliable than reigning Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith who put his Denso EBR into the top spot for the seventh time this season. Smith’s 6.815 pass from Friday endured through both of Saturday’s runs. As a result, Smith earned the green low qualifier hat for the 38th time in his career.
“I feel good about tomorrow we were low E.T. of every round except for second round on Friday and we lost out by a thousandth of a second to Karen Stoffer,” said Smith. “We’ve been good all day long. I know my bike has been smoking a bit but we’re just trying something different with our [piston ring] package. It’s smoking, but it’s not affecting the performance at all.
Smith entered the season finale in Pomona as the fourth-ranked rider in the class, but passed rivals Eddie Krawiec and Jerry Savoie by gaining 14 qualifying bonus points on Friday and Saturday. He trails Hines by 114 points and remains in contention for what could be his fourth championship. Smith also admits that he’s a longshot to pass five-time champ and current points leader Andrew Hines. Smith must win the race and hope that Hines loses in the opening round of eliminations in order to win the title. He will be paired with Katie Sullivan to kick off Sunday’s eliminations. For the record, Smith has failed to make it out of the first round just three times in 15 events this season and has a 26-13 record in elimination rounds.
“As for the Championship scenario, it doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “I just need to turn on win lights tomorrow. If I get lucky and turn on four win lights and Andrew loses in the first round, I’ll be the champion. Otherwise, I’ll have to settle for second. That’s really all I can do. I did tell the rest of the class that I’ve got a bounty on Andrew. I’ll give $1,000 to anyone who can beat him in the first round and if I go on to win the race and the championship, I’ll give them an additional $5,000. It’s all fun and games and all, but I’ll make good on it if it happens.”
On Saturday, Smith wasn’t able to match Friday’s pace, but he made the quickest pass of the final session with a 6.845 to set the tone for eliminations. The next quickest bike in the session was Steve Johnson’s Slick 50 Suzuki with a 6.850. Hines also scored two bonus points with a 6.863. Ryan Oehler was one of the few riders to improve in the final session with a 6.876 on his EBR.
Savoie also remains alive for the title but much like Smith, he must win the event and hope that Hines loses his round one match against rookie of the year candidate Jianna Salinas. Savoie, the third-quickest qualifier, is paired with Angie Smith in round one.
Hines qualified his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson in the No. 4 spot which means he’ll be paired with Freddie Camarena in the first round after running a best of 6.845. Hines is enjoying the best season of his long career in 2019 with eight wins and ten final rounds in the first 15 events. Hines has been ranked No. 1 in the Mello Yello standings after 14 of 15 events and has a 44-7 record in elimination runs.