Brittany Force earned her sixth low qualifier award of the year in Top Fuel while Matt Hagan qualified No. 1 in Funny Car for the fifth time this season as qualifying wrapped up at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd. Force was the low qualifier after Friday’s two runs and improved on Saturday in order to remain No. 1. Hagan took the top spot from Robert Hight on the final pass during Saturday’s fourth qualifying session.
Force followed Friday’s 3.685 with a consistently quick 3.661, 334.64 to seal the top spot, and the round one bye that accompanies it. The run ties Force’s second quickest pass of the year, behind her 3.654 that led the field in Richmond. Force has also been the top qualifier 38 times in her career, and she added six qualifying bonus points to her score.
“We’ve had some killer runs this weekend and the car has been very consistent,” said Force. “On the last run [Q4], we were trying to push hard but we didn’t get the number we wanted. Overall, we kept No. 1. I also love having four qualifying sessions because that is a chance to learn as much as we can. We made three good ones and got the top spot and collected some [bonus] points. We feel good going into tomorrow.”
Force should feel good since her reward for claiming the top spot is a bye run in Sunday’s opening round of eliminations due to the 15-car field. She’s also looking forward to making as stress-free run as her Monster Energy team is debuting a new chassis this weekend.
“The [bye run] gives us a chance to relax going into race day,” Force said. “It’s a little strange to not have someone in the other lane but we’ll take it. This is a new car and as much as we try, we can’t build the exact same car. The view is different and the seating is different and the way the belts fit is different. We brought this car out in Bristol but didn’t make any full runs. The first full run was yesterday [Saturday].”
Force needed to improve as Josh Hart briefly took over the top spot during Q3 with a 3.664 in his R+L Carriers dragster. Justin Ashley is also solidly in the 3.6s with a 3.691 and a 3.679 in the final session while Steve Torrence found the 3.6s in the final session with a 3.694 in the Capco Contractors dragster.
While Force will have a bye run to start Sunday’s eliminations, the opening round might be a bit more stressful for some of her competitors. One of the most anticipated match-ups will feature Leah Pruett and Shawn Langdon, who aren’t exactly best friends. Austin Prock, who is trying to move into the Top 10, will have to beat Billy Torrence in order to do so. Two drivers ranked in the Top 5 will also square off as Steve Torrence takes on Mike Salinas, who finished No. 13 in the field. Finally, Doug Kalitta will take on Tony Schumacher in a battle featuring two of the most experienced drivers in the class.
The lead in Funny Car changed hands several times in the final session as incoming leader Robert Hight was bumped by Bob Tasca III, who ran 3.682 in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang. A few moments later, Hagan delivered a crushing blow with one of the quickest runs of the season, a 3.843 to seal the pole and the accompanying bye run.
“It's impressive to do that, especially with the sun shining. That’s a testament to this track and the NHRA prep. I just think of what we might have been able to run if the cloud cover had stayed out,” said Hagan. “We’re in a great spot tomorrow with a bye run. Every round is big. I don’t think I can catch Robert, but we need to make sure we stay No. 2 and make sure we start the Countdown in a great position.”
While Hagan is happy to have a bye run on Sunday, he’s not about to take anything for granted. He also noted that his team will have to change Dodge Charger bodies after damaging their special Mopar 85th-anniversary Charger during Q4.
“Hey man, anything can happen, even on a bye run,” Hagan said. "You can still do something stupid and lose. We want to run well for the second round to get lane choice even though both lanes are good. I’m also happy that it feels like Fall again. Topeka was like racing on the surface of the sun but here, it’s cooling down and the track is tight and you can apply the power. These are the conditions that Dickie [Venables] loves. We seem to struggle in hot weather. I was happy when we ran two 3.89s in a row but Dickie wasn’t. He went for it and it stuck.”
Hight, the runaway championship leader, finished No. 2 and will race Steven Densham in round one while Tasca, arguably the hottest driver in the Funny Car class right now, will kick off his pursuit of a third win by racing Dale Creasy Jr. The other marquee match-up in Funny Car will feature No. 4 qualifier Ron Capps against John Force, who has won 11 of his 155 wins at Brainerd Int’l Raceway.
Saturday also featured the completion of the D-Wagon Pro Mod Shootout which went to Kris Thorne. The current championship leader wheeled his turbocharged Camaro to a 5.762 in the final round to beat Stevie “Fast” Jackson, who got loose at half-track in his Bahrain1 Camaro.
Sunday’s action will also feature the Mountain Motor Pro Stock class which is led by J.R. Carr with a 6.305.