Defending Pro Stock champion Mike Edwards raced to the No. 1 qualifying position Sunday at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil, the NHRA's most prestigious drag race. Larry Dixon, Matt Hagan and Andrew Hines also were No. 1 qualifiers and will lead their categories into Monday's 11 a.m. eliminations at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, the first of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Edwards powered his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP to a track record time of 6.579sec at 209.26mph to take his 12th top qualifying position of the season, 34th of his career and second at historic O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. Edwards, who edged out three drivers including Saturday's low qualifier Jeg Coughlin for the top spot, will face Justin Humphreys in the opening round.
"There's a lot of fast cars that are bunched up together [at the top of the qualifying order], and I feel that we were very fortunate that Allen Johnson had to run in the first pair this morning," said Edwards. "If it hadn't been for that, you probably would have been talking to him instead of me as the No. 1 qualifier. There is more pressure because this is the first race of the Countdown. It's hard to get there for your first championship [as Edwards did in 2009] and it's even more difficult to defend it. I'm trying to take some of the pressure off of myself by talking with my wife a lot. You just try to have fun. [10-time Pro Stock champ] Bob Glidden came over this morning and told me to just 'quit thinking and do it.'"
Johnson was second in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger with a 6.580 at a track record speed of 210.28, while Jason Line was third, also posting a 6.580 at 209.95. Coughlin will start fourth in his JEGS.com Chevy Cobalt with his 6.580 at 209.39.
In Top Fuel, Dixon's track record time of 3.776 at 324.36 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster from Saturday stood as the quickest of the weekend, giving the three-time Indy winner his sixth No. 1 effort of the season, 46th of his career and third at this event. He will face Bruce Litton in the opening round.
“The championship is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the champion will be determined in two months; the only thing we can decide tomorrow is who wins Indy,” said Dixon. “A lot has been made of Tony [Schumacher] and myself, and they put us on the cover of Drag Illustrated. I think someone ought to put Cory Mac on there, too. Maybe it gave that team a chip on their shoulder, because they're running strong. I'm not looking past Bruce Litton in the first round tomorrow, to be honest. He has a good car, and we have to be on our game.”
McClenathan will start second with his 3.784 at 323.66 and eight-time Mac Tools U.S. Nationals winner Tony Schumacher will try to tie Glidden's nine-win record here when he faces Terry Haddock in the opening round.
Hagan claimed his third top qualifying position of the season and fifth of his career with a track record time of 4.039 at 299.86 in his DieHard Dodge Charger. He will face Tony Pedregon in the first round.
“It feels great to come out here and qualify No. 1,” said Hagan, who qualified No. 16 here in 2008 and No. 15 last year. “I remember back when I was racing the IHRA and we'd come over here and qualify 16th and that would feel like we won the race. To go from that and, in two years, qualify No. 1 here is a huge step in the right direction for my career and for our whole program out here. I owe it all to [crew chief] Tommy DeLago. This guy, he gets smarter every day. I just don't know how he puts it all together up there, but he does. The track's been great. We owe a lot to the track being great and being able to run those kind of numbers out here. The weather just kind of worked out in our favor. It was warmer today, and that plays into tomorrow. It's supposed to be warmer tomorrow if the weatherman's right, but who knows.”
Ron Capps qualified second in his NAPA Charger with a 4.049 at 309.77 and two-time Indy winner and defending world champ Robert Hight qualified third in his Auto Club Ford Mustang with a 4.055 at 310.98.
Hines led all five Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying sessions on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson and earned his second No. 1 of the season and 28th of his career with his national record run of 6.185sec at a track record speed of 196.76mph. Hines will face Wesley Wells in the first round as the three-time world champ tries to win at Indy for the first time in his career.
"I don't know if I got 15 points in the whole Countdown last year," said a smiling Hines, who claimed three points for each of the five qualifying sessions he led this weekend. "It's great to take every point on the table because it came down to a couple of 'little points' last year for Eddie [Krawiec, teammate]. I love this track. We live just two miles from the track and our shop is two miles the other direction, so we've tested a lot here in the past. I've probably made more passes here than any other Pro Stock Motorcycle rider. I probably make 60 or 70 runs a year out here so I know how to get down the track. This is definitely the best chance in my career to win the U.S. Nationals."
Auto Club Road to the Future candidate LE Tonglet qualified second in the two-wheel category with a career-best run of 6.847 at 195.05 on a Suzuki, while Hines' teammate Krawiec was third with a 6.867 at 195.25 on his Screamin' Eagle V-Rod.