Two-time Mello Yello champ Steve Torrence earned the top spot in Top Fuel for the 25th time in his career thanks to a solid 3.779 blast in his Capco Contractors dragster during Saturday’s second qualifying session at the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals. Torrence managed to outrun all of his competitors, and a late-afternoon thunderstorm, to claim the green low qualifier hat.
Torrence, who was the low qualifier five times last year and stared from the No. 2 spot in his most recent appearance in Phoenix five months ago, will face off with Luigi Novelli in Sunday’s opening round. Clay Millican and points leader Doug Kalitta entered the final session in the No. 1 and No. 3 spot, respectively, but did not get a chance to improve before the rain hit.
“Those bad-to-the-bone Capco Boys made it fly during Q2 and we’re headed into race day No. 1,” Torrence said. “Now the fun begins. You can’t take anyone lightly. If we make a mistake, Luigi has proved he’s capable of just stepping up and slapping us. That said, I’m just glad to be back racing. I’ll be even better once we can get all our fans back in the mix.”
One of the highlights of the Indy race has been the return of eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, who returned after a two-year layoff. Schumacher, driving a Global Electronic Technology branded dragster, landed in the No. 7 spot with a 3.877 and will be paired with DSR teammate Leah Pritchett on Sunday morning.
Tommy Johnson Jr, winner of the most recent NHRA event in Phoenix nearly five months ago, qualified No. 4 at the first two events, is the qualifying leader in Funny Car after opening Saturday’s action with a 3.983 in his MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge. Johnson did not improve in the second session, but his 4.122 provided a competitive baseline heading into Sunday’s final eliminations. Johnson has the top spot for the 19th time in his career, but his reward for the top spot will be a round one match-up against his DSR teammate, Ron Capps.
“To be able to carry that momentum from Phoenix into this race and not miss a beat is great,” said Johnson. “It looks good. We’ve had a really good race car and it continues to be. It’s going to be a tough day tomorrow because conditions are going to be so much different but it’s good to know we have a good baseline and we’ll go from there. Testing on Friday was so valuable you can’t put a price on it. We probably wouldn’t have qualified if we hadn’t tested because we had issues with our new body. We also found a problem with one of our controllers for the clutch and the fuel system. To find those issues on Friday and come out and run so good on Saturday just shows you that we needed a couple of runs to work everything out after being off for four months.”
Jonnie Lindberg, entered as a substitute driver in the Motorcraft Ford while Bob Tasca III continues his recovery from a bout with COVID-19, has an excellent shot to score points for his new team with a pair of solid runs including a second-best 3.987 and a 4.032. Lindberg has appeared in four final rounds in his nitro career but has yet to win a Wally as a professional. He’ll face Bob Bode in Sunday morning’s opening round.
Current points leader “Fast Jack” Beckman was in danger of missing the field for just the eighth time in 327 starts but the Infinite Hero team rallied with a competitive 4.050 run to move into the top half of the field. Beckman’s heroics relegated Jim Campbell and Terry Haddock to the outside of the 16-car field.
A mechanical malfunction prevented Jason Line from making his second run during Pro Stock qualifying, but the Summit driver needed just one run to secure the top spot for the 56th time in his career. Line, who opened his 2020 campaign with a runner-up at the Winternationals and a semifinal in Phoenix, kept that momentum going with a 6.626 that was not bettered by any of the other 21 Pro Stock drivers on the ground at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis. Five-time champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., who like Line has announced this as his final season as a full-time Pro Stock driver, earned the No. 2 spot with a 6.635 while reigning champ Erica Enders also racked up a few bonus points with a third best 6.637.
“I finally shifted right,” Line joked. “Actually, I have to give Greg [Anderson] the credit for that because he worked way harder than I did,” said Line. “Obviously this is a strange time and none of us really knows how to handle it. We just did the best we could. We’re much better than we were when we left off from [testing in March]. I made a good run. Of course we didn’t get to make two but we got it fixed and we’re ready for tomorrow.”
The battle for the final spots in the Pro Stock field was a see-saw battle with the bump spot changing hands several times before Alan Prusiensky finally secured his spot in the field with a 6.700 in his Hemi-powered Dodge. Rookie drivers Kyle Koretsky and Troy Coughlin Jr. made the field with runs of 6.66 and 6.67, respectively while fellow debutante Mason McGaha just missed with a 6.706 best in his Harlow Sammons Camaro. The new two-qualifying session format helped make for a few intriguing round one match-ups including a battle between world champs Enders and Bo Butner.
In the first event of the season for Pro Stock Motorcycle racers, Eddie Krawiec picked up the 47th low qualifier award of his career with a 6.897 on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson FXDR. Krawiec, who also sits on 47 career wins, held off a late charge by three-time world champion Matt Smith to claim the top spot. Krawiec last led a Pro Stock Motorcycle field at the 2019 Norwalk event more than a year ago. He will be paired with David Barron in Sunday’s opening round.
“It’s great to be back to racing,” said Krawiec. “To come out the way we have today I believe the downtime efforts are showing. We just need to shift focus to race day now and keep the bikes running consistently and fast each round.”
Krawiec’s teammate, reigning champ Andrew Hines, finished as the No. 3 rider in the field and Scotty Pollacheck is fourth on his Strutmasters.com EBR. One of the most intriguing matchups of the first round will feature No. 6 qualifier Angie Smith against the White Alligator Suzuki of Jerry Savoie, who qualified in the bottom half of the field with an 11th quickest 7.054.