Brown leads U.S. Nationals qualifiers
Antron Brown raced to the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil, the world's most prestigious drag race.
Robert Hight, Mike Edwards and Matt Smith also will lead their categories into Monday's 11 a.m. eliminations as the No. 1 qualifiers of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
Brown scored his seventh top qualifying position of the season with his performance of 3.835 seconds at 319.22 mph in his Matco Tools dragster. A two-time winner of this event in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Brown will try to win it for the first time in Top Fuel tomorrow at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis when he faces rookie Spencer Massey in the opening round.
"You wouldn't think of (Spencer) qualifying No. 16, so we're going to have to race him like it's the final round," Brown said. "Racing Spencer this year, he'll cut a light on me then I'll cut a light on him. I don't look to go up there and give anybody an advantage. I want to leave on everybody. There are a handful of guys in the class that are great leavers, so you always have to bring your 'A' game."
Clay Millican claimed the 10th spot in the Countdown to 1 in Top Fuel when 11th place Joe Hartley, who came into this race trailing Millican by three points, failed to qualify.
Hight took his first top qualifying award at this race and the second of the season with his run of 4.082 at 309.20 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Defending winner Hight, who has won this event two of the last three years, will face Grant Downing in the first round.
"That was four pretty impressive qualifying runs that the Auto Club Ford Mustang put down; that's just stout," Hight said. "It's hard to run one of these fuel cars, especially a Funny Car, that many times down the track in a row. Dating back to last weekend when John [Force] was in the car in Reading, that's nine runs in a row down the racetrack without dropping cylinders and all the little things that can go wrong, so that's very, very stout. It's better late than never I guess because we've struggled all season long, and we've never been that messed up; we've always been close."
Hight is one of three drivers, including defending series champ Cruz Pedregon and rookie Matt Hagan, who are locked in a tight battle to make the Countdown to 1, NHRA's playoffs. Following this event the top 10 drivers in each pro category will compete in the six-race championship playoffs, which begin Sept. 18 at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
Hagan will face Hight teammate Ashley Force Hood in the first round, while Pedregon will race Hagan teammate Ron Capps in the opener.
"Going into tomorrow, we have a big day ahead of us," Hight said. "We're basically No. 12, and we did what we needed to do in qualifying: We out-qualified Cruz and Hagan. Now, we have to go two rounds further than Cruz and a round further than Hagan. Ashley has Hagan first round, so that's good for us. Basically, when I look at the ladder, if we win the race tomorrow, we're in the Countdown because we would have raced Cruz in the semis or else he was already out, and that's the two rounds we need. If I beat him in the semis, that gives me one round.Then if I go on and win the final, that gives us a second round, and that puts us in the Countdown. That's huge."
In Pro Stock, Edwards earned his 10th No. 1 effort of the season and first at this event with his run of 6.581 at 209.01 in his ART/Young Life Pontiac GXP. Edwards, who won here in 1998, will face Rickie Jones in the first round.
"I have to pinch myself, because qualifying No. 1 at the U.S. Nationals, that's pretty special," said Edwards of his 16th career No. 1 position. "It's just another great weekend for my team. I know I sound like a broken record, but we're just making such very good runs on this race track. We had some difficulties there on Saturday morning but the guys at the shop got [a new engine] together and brought it up last night, and we've got everything in place. It looks like everything is good. I want to thank my guys and tell them how much I really appreciate them. It's the team, it's not just one person. It takes everybody to do this. And I give God all the glory because it's all up to him."
Six-time Indy winner Warren Johnson failed to qualify, which automatically ensures that 10th place qualifier Johnny Gray and 16th place qualifier Rickie Jones will earn the final two spots in the Countdown to 1 in the 200 mph category.
Smith claimed his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 16th overall in Pro Stock Motorcycle, covering the quarter-mile distance in 6.918 at 192.38 on his Nitro Fish Ultimate Gear Suzuki. Smith, a three-time finalist here and 2006 winner, will face Junior Pippin in the opening round.
"I won this race before and this is my third low qualifier in the last four years at this track so for some reason we seem to shine here," said Smith. "We hurt an engine in the Ringers [Pro Bike Battle] yesterday and last night, Steve [Tartaglia, crew chief] took our engine back to Don Schumacher Racing up the road in Brownsburg and he worked until 2 a.m. to get it right and today, it was a rocket ship. We have six engines and he could have used any one of them but this is Indy and he wanted our best one in the bike today so he rebuilt it. He deserves all the credit. That run was really fast. It pulled the front wheel when I plugged sixth gear and the Suzuki's almost never do that. It's great to be No. 1 and now I know we have a good tune-up for tomorrow."
In the Countdown battle in the two-wheel category, Steve Johnson gained two points on Karen Stoffer, so they enter tomorrow's eliminations tied in the point standings. He will face Chip Ellis, while Stoffer faces L.E. Tonglet in the first round.