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Shawn Langdon, Tommy Johnson Jr., Greg Anderson, and Scotty Pollacheck earn top spots in Indy pro qualifying

Qualifying is complete for the 66th annual Denso Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals and Shawn Langdon, Tommy Johnson Jr., Greg Anderson, and Scotty Pollacheck are the leaders in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively.
05 Sep 2020
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Tommy Johnson Jr.

Qualifying is complete for the 66th annual Denso Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals and Shawn Langdon, Tommy Johnson Jr., Greg Anderson, and Scotty Pollacheck are the leaders in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively. Langdon and Anderson held on to the top spots following strong performances on Friday night while Johnson Jr. and Pollacheck took advantage of Saturday's two runs to out-pace the competition.

The Top Fuel field for the 2020 event is set after a wild two days of qualifying, the final result of which was in doubt until the final pass. As the final Top Fuel qualifying session rolled up, delayed by oildowns ahead of it, the track and weather cooled, and fans were treated to quite a show.

Eight of the 14 teams who ran made their best passes of the event and six of them were in the 3.70s, but no one could dislodge Friday leader Langdon’s 3.728 from the No. 1 spot.

Langdon’s DHL dragster was one of the cars to run in the .70s, belting out a 3.759 to solidify his credentials for winning the U.S. Nationals for the third time.

“The DHL/Kalitta Air Toyota dragster is fast,” said Langdon, who won the 2013 U.S. Nationals Top Fuel crown. “We were fast last night even though we didn’t have the top end speed after dropping a cylinder.  Today we took a little bit of a conservative approach. We went after it in Q3, but we had a planned shutoff. We actually projected it to run a 3.69 or a 3.70. We’ve been working really hard and doing some testing trying to get this car turned back around. Our recent results don’t show anything of what this car is capable of.  We feel good with what we were able to accomplish in qualifying. I’m just glad we got everything back in sync in time for these last races.”

Billy Torrence got closest to Langdon with a best-of-session 3.733 with defending even champ Doug Kalitta a tick behind with a 3.734.

Leah Pruett, who entered the event in third place in the Mello Yello standings, entered the final qualifying session not qualified after losing the blower belt on her SRT Hellcat Redeye entry on both of her first two passes, leaving her with a best of 4.42 against a 4.08 bump spot. Crew chief Todd Okuhara obviously cured whatever was ailing them as the red rocket fired off to a 3.742 on its final run to claim the No. 5 spot.

Joey Haas, making his class debut in Terry Totten’s dragster, also pulled off some last-minute heroics, bumping Cameron Ferre’s 4.01 with a last-ditch 3.99 for the No. 16 spot. He’ll face low qualifier Langdon in round one.

Johnson vaulted the Reilly Children’s Hospital Dodge to the top of the field early in Q3 with a 3.87, an improvement of a full tenth of a second over his morning pass to take the top spot from teammate Ron Capps’ 3.895. Capps had a chance to answer later in the session but fell just short with a 3.881 for the No. 2 spot.

It’s Johnson’s third No. 1 of the season and the 21st of his career.

Several other teams look to have their combinations squared with three-second runs on two of three passes, including Tim Wilkerson, Bob Tasca III, Matt Hagan, Alexis DeJoria, Jack Beckman, and J.R. Todd, who occupy spots No. 3 through 8.

Hagan collected the rain-delayed final-round win against Beckman in the final pair of the final session, 3.91 to 3.94 with a run that jumped him into the No. 5 spot

Nine drivers qualified in three-second range with Blake Alexander’s ninth-ranked 3.983 giving up first-round lance choice to Todd.

Greg Anderson’s 6.549-second run from Friday night held up as the best run in Pro Stock qualifying but that doesn’t mean that Saturday’s two runs didn’t provide a lot of drama and excitement. Anderson is the top qualifier for the 105th time in his career, and he also made a pair of competitive passes on Saturday in his Summit Racing Camaro. Anderson also made the best run of Q2 with a 6.563 and he picked up an additional bonus point in the final session with a 6.583 as he prepares to chase his sixth U.S. Nationals title and first since 2006.

"My Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro is really happy right now, and we made a couple of really good runs this weekend in qualifying," said Anderson. "I don't know if we could be more ready for tomorrow. It won't be easy tomorrow, but I feel good. I'm due. It's time to quit messing around and get 'er done."

Chris McGaha, the 2016 U.S. Nationals winner, came into Saturday as the No. 2 qualifier and remained there following a 6.553 best in his Harlow Sammons Camaro. During Sunday’s opening round of eliminations, McGaha’s will be paired with his son, 18-year old rookie Mason, who qualified for the first time in his career.

Deric Kramer also earned a solid starting spot on Friday when he drove his American Ethanol Camaro to a 6.570. Kramer, seeking his fourth Pro Stock win, also made the quickest run in the final session with a consistent 6.578 to earn three bonus points.

On Saturday, there was a lot of shuffling at the back of the pack as 22 racers jockeyed for one of the 16 available starting spots. Val Smeland, last year’s tenth-ranked Pro Stock driver, held on to the bump spot with Friday’s 6.630-second run. Smeland provided a bit of drama in Q3 when his Camaro experienced a flash fire on the starting line. The fire was extinguished quickly and Smeland was able to emerge unscathed. Troy Coughlin Jr., runner-up to his uncle, Jeg Jr., at the most recent Indy event, missed the quick field.

Scotty Pollacheck red-lighted by a thousandth of a second in the final round of Saturday’s Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle, but he earned a couple of nice consolation prizes when he qualified his Strutmasters.com EBR in the top spot for the second time in his career. Pollacheck ran a career-best 6.789 on Q2 to earn his first green low qualifier hat since the 2017 Reading event, and he also became the fourth member of the Denso 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle Club with a 200.29-mph top speed.

“It’s been an awesome day, going 200 mph, getting the No. 1 spot and getting to race in the final round of the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle,” said Pollacheck. “It’s already been an awesome weekend and this has been a really good day for us.”

Pollacheck was joined in the 6.7s by Eddie Krawiec, Matt Smith, and Steve Johnson, all of whom are past U.S. Nationals winners. Krawiec was just a thousandth of a second off the lead at 6.790 on his Harley-Davidson FXDR, while Pro Bike Battle winner Smith finished third at 6.792 aboard his Denso EBR. Johnson, who has enjoyed some of the best days of his career at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, made a strong move in Saturday’s final session to claim the fourth spot with a 6.799 on his Suzuki. Friday’s leader Angie Smith was bumped to fifth when she did not improve on her earlier 6.807 although Smith did make the fastest run of her career with a 199.55-mph effort on her Denso EBR.

Michael Phillips, who made his return to the Pro Stock Motorcycle class after more than a year on the sidelines, was outside the field until the final qualifying session before he rode to a 7.021 to earn the final starting spot for Sunday’s final eliminations. Phillips will be paired with Pollacheck in round one.