Doug Kalitta (NHRA photo)
Surging Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta earned his second No. 1 in the last four races Saturday at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
The other No. 1 qualifiers at the 17th of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Series season – and final race in the Countdown to 10 regular season – were Ashley Force Hood (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Also on Saturday, Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence, Pro Stock driver Johnny Gray and Pro Stock Motorcycle riders Eddie Krawiec, LE Tonglet and David Hope secured their berths in the Countdown to 1. That leaves only five positions left to be decided on the final Sunday of the Countdown to 10 regular season – one each in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock and two in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Kalitta, who is coming off his first win of the season at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, paced the Top Fuel field with a 3.842-second pass at 305.49 mph in his Kalitta Air dragster that moved him around overnight leader Brandon Bernstein and the Copart dragster team.
“We managed to get down both lanes today so I think the track is pretty good,” said Kalitta, a two-time Brainerd winner. “(Sunday) is supposed to be a little cooler so I think the fans are going to be in for a treat with the performances. (Team owner) Connie (Kalitta) won this race in 1985 and I've had some luck here as well, so hopefully we can have a good day,”
Torrence secured the ninth Top Fuel berth in the Countdown to 10 and the final berth will be determined Sunday as Dave Grubnic must go at least as far as Terry McMillen to hold on to the 10th position. Grubnic opens with Terry Haddock and McMillen will face Tony Schumacher in Round 1.
Funny Car was the only category that remained unchanged as Force Hood retained the top qualifying position with the 4.102 at 302.55 that she ran on Friday in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
“We won the last race before the Countdown (to 1) last year, so we're trying to start a little tradition,” Force Hood said. “We can move up to sixth (place in the Funny Car point standings) and we really utilized our qualifying here. It was only a handful of points but they might be the ones we need later this year.”
“We hope to gain some more points (Sunday) and win some rounds and even the race because your confidence goes through the roof if you can do that,” said Force Hood, who's currently in eighth place, but only 11 points behind Tim Wilkerson and 12 points behind Bob Tasca.
Meanwhile, just below Force Hood in the Funny Car standings are three drivers competing for the 10th and final berth in the Countdown to 1. Tony Pedregon is 31 points ahead of Jeff Arend and 77 points ahead of his brother, Cruz Pedregon.
None of the three will face off in the first round – Tony Pedregon has Robert Hight, Arend faces Tim Wilkerson and Cruz Pedregon will meet Bob Bode.
In Pro Stock, Edwards passed Allen Johnson's 6.702 from Friday with a 6.644-second pass in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP that was plenty to give the Pro Stock points leader his NHRA-leading 11th No. 1 qualifier of the season.
“We're not the man anymore, we're just holding on and trying to be as good as we can. There are a lot of cars faster than us right now. We're real fortunate to be No. 1,” Edwards said. “(Sunday), Pro Stock is going to be awesome. All the Full Throttle fans are in for some great side by side racing. I'm excited.”
Also in Pro Stock, Rodger Brogdon can clinch the 10th and final Countdown to 1 berth by winning a round, although he qualified 16th and will open with Edwards. Kurt Johnson still has an outside chance: if he wins the race – he qualified 13th and opens with Jason Line – and Brogdon loses in Round 1, KJ would move around Brogdon and secure the 10th and final playoff berth.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines claimed the pole by improving on his category-leading 6.977 on Friday with a track record 6.915 on Saturday at 193.40 mph on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
“Everybody picked up (on Saturday),” Hines said. “Matt Smith picked up pretty good, he was right in front of me and when he was going down the track I'm like, ‘Oh he's going No. 1.' But as soon as I popped the clutch and felt my bike leave I'm like, ‘Oh he's done.'
“This is a big stepping stone for our Countdown this year. Our engine combination in each bike is a little bit different and it looks like mine is working a little better, so we'll throw my spare motor into (Harley-Davidson teammate) Eddie (Krawiec)'s bike for tomorrow and send him down the track and hopefully he'll be a rocket ship just like mine.”
Three more drivers –Krawiec, Tonglet and Hope – clinched Countdown to 1 positions Saturday, Karen Stoffer is a virtual lock and Craig Treble has a 56-point lead over Shawn Gann for the 10th position.
Final eliminations at the 29th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday.