UPDATED THROUGHOUT THE DAY
With the sun making its first heavy appearance of the weekend — blasting through the semi-cloudy skies — teams had to try to adjust for the difference between qualifying and raceday, and the first pairs were an example of those perils.
Winternationals champ Justin Ashley who came into eliminations in third place and within striking distance of leader Brittany Force and second-place Mike Salinas, lost a crucial first-round race with Tony Schumacher, smoking the tires at the hit. Salinas then expanded that gap with a savvy driving job to beat Antron Brown in a pedalfest, 5.38 to 5.83.
“The lane just didn’t hold it, and I’m not sure why,” said Salinas crew chief Rob Flynn. “These are very similar conditions to Charlotte [the Four-Wide Nationals, which they won], and the track’s actually cooler.”
The conditions also befuddled low qualifier Brittany Force, who smoked the tires right behind Salinas, but, fortunately, she had the bye run.
No. 2 qualifier Austin Prock wasn't having any issues, blasting to a 3.727 in the left lane against tire-smoking Lex Joon. Crew chief Mike Green had his pick of lanes and where everyone else was going right, he went left. Steve Torrence also switched to the left and was rewarded with a 3.77 against Scott Palmer, who successfully negotiated the right lane with a 3.96.
Clay Millican, who had a magical trio of qualifying passes, making full pulls on each of the three, came into raceday full of confidence.
“Jim O [Oberhofer, crew chief] is just picking away at it and really starting to get a handle on it, just a little here and a little there,” he said this morning. “We’re really happy with where we’re at.”
That optimism faded in almost immediate tire smoke in what was the favored left lane and he watched Josh Hart streak to a 3.80 in the maligned right lane.
The track continued to throw monkey wrenches into the plans of many. Doug Kalitta, whose Mac Tools dragster made three very impressive and consistent passes in qualifying, locked horns in a pedalfest with Leah Pruett as both lanes rejected the tune-up. Kalitta, making his 551st race start, showed that experience to nab the win, 5.99 to 7.25.
The Funny Cars, usually harder to restrain than the Top Fuelers, had much less trouble, and even a side-by-side three-second race between Bob Tasca III and Alexis DeJoria. Tasca, who surprisingly did not make it down the track on any of his three qualifying runs, fired off a 3.94 to DeJoria's 3.96, but the race had already been decided on the line on DeJoria's -.026 red-light.
No. 2 qualifier Ron Capps smoke the tires and escaped with a 5.48 win when Mike McIntire Jr. smoked the tires worse, crew chief Dean Antonelli later explained that they have a hard time slowing down their NAPA Auto Parts Toyota under hot-track conditions and tipping his hat to his veteran owner/driver for turning on the win light.
John Force, who like Tasca had a tough time in qualifying, got the ship righted and blasted to a 3.92 in the first round to defeat J.R. Todd's 3.99, the crew chiefs running later in the round obviously adjusting their tune-ups, one of the few benefits to a slower qualifying position. Force's teammate, Robert Hight, followed him down the track and also won an all-three-second battle with Tim Wilkerson, 3.91 to 3.94.
Dale Creasy Jr. made a mic-drop qualifying memory Friday, racing to a career-best 3.974, then sitting out the final two qualifying sessions, conserving the team’s precious resources and parts and figuring, correctly, that Sunday’s conditions would be way different than those of qualifying.
“There wasn’t a lot of reason to go out there again, and we knew we’d have to improve four-hundredths or so to even move up a position, and that probably wasn’t going to happen,” said Creasy, who finished eighth, well behind Tim Wilkerson’s 3.938 in seventh. “The parts all looked pretty, nipped a piston or two, but I can live with that. I’d have liked to run, but it didn’t make a lot of sense. We’re trying to be in this for the long haul.”
The team, which finally switched to a six-disc clutch last year to be able to continue to receive relevant data from the John Force Racing team, from whom he has bought parts, and he continues to get advice from Force crew chief and longtime friend Danny Hood, who worked on the Creasy family car years ago. They got their first three-second pass last year, in Dallas, and have continued to build on it. “We’ve been a 4.0 car for years and now we can run in the threes; that makes it easier for me sitting in there and knowing I have a decent car,” he said.
Creasy's hopes ended in early tire smoke in a winnable race against Chad Green, who won with a cylinder-dropping 4.13.
Scrappy Ron "the Rat" Tornow gave it a ride in round one of Pro Stock Motorcycle, cutting a .007 light against Marc Ingerwersen, and holding on to just before the stripe, where Ingwersen eked by for the win by a razor-thin .0005-second.
Whatever Matt Smith might have been experimenting with on wife Angie's first-round bye run certainly didn't work, as she ran just 7.00 at 197 mph on her 200-mph Denso Buell, and will surrender second-round lane choice to Eddie Krawiec, who beat red-lighting Joey Gladstone with a 6.95. Matt had much better luck with his Suzuki, charting a 6.87, an impressive feat considering he only got one qualifying pass. Smith lost his second qualifying attempt with an electrical problem and Q3 was canceled due to dew.
No. 2 qualifier Angelle Sampey had low e.t. of the round on her Mission Foods/Vanes & Hines Suzuki with a 6.784 in defeating Jianna Evaristo, who was making her season debut. Seven of the top eight incoming points leaders advanced to round two, the exception being Gladstone, who already has lost fourth place to Angie Smith.
Mike Salinas won another round with the tires ablaze, battling for traction against similarly affected Josh Hart. Salinas almost got the Pep Boys car sideways but recovered for the win with a 6.68. Hart pedaled a few times and either gave up or had something mechanical go afoul.
Steve Torrence was right behind him and got away with little luck, too, after double-stepping the throttle against Tony Schumacher. The world champ advanced with a 4.40 and will cede lane choice to Austin Prock, who blasted to a 3.83 to show that the track was there for those with the right recipe. The good news for Torrence is that the win light moved him past Justin Ashley and into third place in the standings despite the fact that he still has yet to win an event this season.
The two John Force Racing Top Fuelers were the only two to make full-power runs, with Austin Prock running 3.38 to beat tire-smoking Doug Kalitta and low qualifier and points leader Brittany Force running low e.t. of the round -- recovering from her first-round misstep -- with a 3.78. Prock's win moved him past first-round loser Clay Millican and into fifth place in the standings.
Bob Tasca III, whose three qualifying runs were 14.830, 15.170, and 8.165, ran his second straight three-second pass of eliminations, a 3.94, to defeat tire-smoking Blake Alexander. "We were so bad Friday and Saturday I didn't think they would even let us run today," joked Tasca, who reported that the team overnight had found some clutch issues that had been haunting them.
Watching Alexander light the hoops ahead of them, John Force's crew switched to the left lane, which proved to be a wise move as Pedregon lit the tires just off the line and Force chugged to a 3.99 victory. Force deep-staged as always, and had a too-lose-for-comfort .008 reaction time. "I may have pushed that one a bit too much," he admitted.
Low qualifier Matt Hagan continued to look invincible, running 3.96 to defeat birthday boy Chad Green's solid 4.02. Hagan will have semifinal lane choice over Force while Robert Hight will pick his lane against Tasca after a 3.93 triumph over tire-smoking Ron Capps.
Eddie Krawiec got a big round win, driving around Angie Smith's .027 to .084 holeshot after her pink Denso machine went silent just past half-track, negating her chance for a semifinal race with husband Matt, who had just defeated Jimmy Underdahl. It's the third straight semifinal appearance for Krawiec, but Matt will have lane choice after their respective 6.860 and 6.869 runs.
Marc Ingwersen's career day continues as he got past three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, who let the clutch fly .086-second too soon. Ingwersen's 6.88 carried him into his first career semifinal, where he will face points leader Steve Johnson, who defeated second-place Karen Stoffer, 6.81 to 6.89. No matter what happens the rest of the day, Johnson will leave Virginia as the points leader.
World champ Steve Torrence has reached his first two-wide final of the season and is set to break the longest drought of his championship reign if he can beat Brittany Force in the final round. Torrence, who was runner-up behind Force in the Las Vegas four-wide final, ran 3.80 to beat tire-smoking Austin Prock while Force sizzled her way to a 3.77 against Mike Salinas (his third tire smoker in three rounds), which will give Force final-round lane choice. Torrence is 5-3 against her in final rounds, most recently beating her to win last year's U.S. Nationals.
"That would be a big morale boost for us; everyone knows that," said Torrence. "The car is running well, we've just not been able to win any races.
Just as it was in Top Fuel, John Force racing went 1-for-2 in the semifinals. Robert Hight, who qualified just 10th, dusted Bob Tasca III with a 3.90 in the Jimmy Prock-tuned Auto Club Chevy to reach his third final of the year. On the other side of the ladder, Hight's boss, John Force, double-stepped the throttle and red-lighted to Matt Hagan, who followed a pair of 3.96s with a 3.95. Consistent, but not as quick as Hight, who will have final-round lane choice.
Steve Johnson extended his win streak to 10 rounds, defeating underdog Marc Ingwersen in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final and will face off with his nemesis, Matt Smith, in a rematch of the Houston final. Johnson, winner of the last two races on the tour, ran 6.850 to light his win lamp while Smith defeated Eddie Krawiec with a 6.868.
J.R. Carr was the winner of the Mountain Motor Pro Stock exhibition, presented here by Grade A Quality Energy Shots, taking the win with his Camaro after Elijah Morton went -.232 red in his Mustang.
Top Fuel Motorcycle honors went to former world champ Tii Tharpe, who took an easy 6.34 final-round pass when William Jackson's bike went silent just off the starting line. The win will be especially memorable for Tharpe, who lost his first-round race with John Toth but was reinstated after Toth was disqualified for a rules infraction.
LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES WINNERS
David Eaton, Roadster, 6.805, 155.11 def. William Scott, Dragster, 7.669, 136.88.
Bryan Worner, Chevy Camaro, 10.150, 130.28 def. Sterling Simmons, Chevy Cavalier, 9.456, 138.94.
Jeff Longhany, Chevy Corvette, 10.516, 121.03 def. Wallace Dent, Chevy Camaro, 10.700, 121.20.
John Labbous Jr., Dragster, 8.934, 163.35 def. Deb Moses, Dragster, 8.897, 180.77.
Frank Altilio, S-10, 9.977, 153.54 def. Jerry Heffelfinger, Roadster, Foul - Red Light.
Top Dragster presented by Vortech SuperchargerS
Chad Traylor, Dragster, 7.029, 187.89 def. Robert Houston, Dragster, 7.123, 186.82.