Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon is rounding into championship form as he raced to his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season at the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts. Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all will lead their categories as the No. 1 qualifiers at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event. Eliminations begin Sunday at noon for the first of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA's playoffs.
Pedregon retained the No. 1 qualifying position in his Toyota Camry Funny Car with his run of 3.980 seconds at 319.22 he posted Friday. Pedregon can certify the run from Friday as a national record on Sunday if he posts a run of 4.020 or quicker. The two-time Funny Car world champion will face Bob Gilbertson in the first round of eliminations.
“We're still excited that we were able to run that 3.98,” Pedregon said. “We feel great to run the second quickest run in Funny Car. To be at 278mph at halftrack is great. In the big picture tomorrow is going to be the day that we all forget about that 3.98 and hopefully have a good day and have the race round wins and points to show our efforts for the weekend.”
Matt Hagan, the No. 1 seed in the Countdown to the Championship will enter eliminations qualified second in the field and his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger will face Grime Boss / Jim Dunn Racing Dodge Charger driver Jeff Arend.
In Top Fuel, no one bettered Lucas's performance of 3.749 at 324.51 in his GEICO / Lucas Oil dragster from Friday. Lucas earned his 10th No. 1 of his career and second of the season in his new in-house constructed dragster. He faces Terry McMillen when eliminations begin on Sunday.
“I'm really proud that the guys put in so many hours before, around, and after Indy,” Lucas said. “They really want it right now. I feel like we're on the right track. Tomorrow is the day when all the pressure is going to be on.”
Antron Brown's bid to defend his 2012 Top Fuel world championship took a hit as he did not qualify for the race. This is only the third career DNQ for the Matco Tools dragster racer in his career and breaks a 110-race qualifying streak. His first DNQ came at the season-ending event at Pomona in 2008.
“You never imagine this kind of thing happening,” Brown said. “We just went out there and we were trying to run hard. Things just didn't go our way. That's how racing can be. You can do all the right things and they still come up wrong.
“There are five races left in this Countdown. It's never over,” Brown continued. “We won three races last year but had other things that went wrong, too. It's still anybody's championship to win. We've just got to stay focused, stay with the same mindset we've had, and attack it.”
In Pro Stock, defending event winner, Line earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season with his pass of 6.541 at 211.93 he posted Friday night. This is the 34th No. 1 in his career and his fifth at zMAX Dragway. Line, in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro, will face six-time Pro Stock world champion Warren Johnson when eliminations begin.
“We need to go rounds if you want to contend for the championship, especially starting from the deficit we are starting with,” said Line, who is sixth in points . “That goes for both Greg [Anderson, teammate] and myself. This is a must-win deal, and tomorrow is going to be a hard day.”
Mike Edwards, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs in his Interstate Batteries / I am Second Chevy Camaro, will face Steve Kent in the first round of eliminations.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith will lead the two-wheel category on his Viper Motorcycle Company Racing Buell into eliminations with his performance 6.874 at 192.90. This is his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 22nd of his career. Smith, who is second in Pro Stock Motorcycle points, will face Jim Underdahl when eliminations begin.
“We're feeling good about our team MSR Viper team. We have a mean bike right now,” said Smith, who cut playoff top seed Hector Arana's lead from 30 to 13 points during qualifying alone. “It's fresh and its showing. It keeps going faster and faster. We are just trying to do the best we can to try and gain all the points we can.”
Arana Jr. qualified 10th in the 16 motorcycle field and will face Steve Johnson in the first round of eliminations.