O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals
Australian hopeful Dave Grubnic, a six-time runner-up in the Top Fuel class, will again try for his first NHRA win from the top position after a Saturday evening blast of 4.58 seconds. He'll join Funny Car leader Whit Bazemore, Pro Stock stunner Dave Connolly, and Pro Stock Bike pro Andrew Hines as the early favorites vying for the title of the O'Reilly Mid-South NHRA Nationals in Memphis. A finalist in four of the last five races on tour, Grubnic used the last pairing of the day to steal away the top slot from teammate Doug Kalitta. Bazemore was challenged in Funny Car but responded with a big 4.85 in Round 4. Connolly took the same tact in Pro Stock, improving to a 6.77 at the end, while Hines' Friday pass of 7.13 held on in Bike.
Riding a streak of three successive final-round appearances in Top Fuel -- all runner-up endings -- Grubnic put himself in position to win for the first time in his career yet again with his fifth Budweiser low qualifying effort of the season. The Red Line Oil driver matched teammate Doug Kalitta's 4.580 in the final pairing of the final session but pocketed the $4,000 bonus check based on his superior top speed of 315.34 mph.
"The car has run the numbers to win," Grubnic said. "More than once in fact, but I let everyone down last week [with a holeshot loss in the final] and even though it wasn't a bad light I've still been carrying a brick around in my gut. It's tough to take.
"This run of ours is 100-percent the people behind me. It all starts with Connie [Kalitta, team owner and chief tuner] and goes through Rahn Tobler, Jim and Jon Oberhofer and all the crew guys. Everyone's important and everyone's working so hard. To have our car's one, two, and four on the grid is a real testament to this team.
"It's cool to do this here because I got my first No. 1 qualifier at this track in 1999 when I was with John Mitchell Racing. Also, Tim Kerrigan, the owner of Red Line Oil is here with us this weekend and I know he's excited."
After starting the day outside the top 16, Kalitta and his Mac Tools crew were more than happy to take second place with a 4.580 at 309.63 mph. The only driver Kalitta trails in the points, Tony Schumacher, ended up one-thousandth-of-a-second behind with a 4.581 at 318.92 mph in his U.S. Army rail. Scott Kalitta helped Kalitta Motorsports surround Schumacher with a fourth-best 4.582 in his Jesse James dragster.
Budweiser's Brandon Bernstein has top speed of the meet so far with a 320.51 during a fifth-place 4.583, while rookie Morgan Lucas has the Lucas Oil car sixth with a 4.605.
Trying his best to please his sponsor, O'Reilly Auto Parts, Scott Palmer stayed in the field in the final position with a 4.799 at 295.59 mph. John Smith and Bill Ancona missed the cut. Top Fuel results
Bazemore watched his top mark from Friday evening get matched by Gary Densham and bettered by teammate Gary Scelzi, but when his turn came around he responded like a champion, coaxing a quicker 4.856 at 306.26 mph out of his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T to regain the No. 1 qualifying position. Bazemore earns another $4,000 from Skoal, the fourth time this year he's cashed their check.
"Contrary to popular belief, there is no controversy on this team," Bazemore said. "I firmly believe that you find out people's strengths when you're struggling and we found out the true fabric of this team over the last two months. Most of us have been together now for at least four year with this team so we all know what we're capable of.
"Everything is still out there and possible to attain. We haven't done ourselves any favors lately but there are still seven races left and we must do everything we can to take advantage of every opportunity. The championship is within reach if all goes as planned. People get criticized for stating their goals and then coming up short later. Not us, we hang it all out there. We tell everyone our goal. We want the championship."
Scelzi, a runner-up last weekend in Minnesota, is still contending here with a second-best attempt of 4.863 at 310.20 mph in his Hemi Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T. Densham would try to repeat his 2001 Memphis victory from the No. 3 slot after qualifying with a 4.866 at 308.99 mph.
Skoal's Ron Capps used a 5.036 to lock up the 16th position. He'll square off with Bazemore in the opening round for the fifth time this year. He's 0-4 versus Bazemore so far in 2004. Funny Car results
Connolly and his Bullet Motorsports teammates follow their first national event win in Brainerd, Minn., with their first King Demon Crown low qualifier honor one week later here in Memphis. The effort, secured with a final-round blast of 6.777 at 201.97 mph, is worth $3,000 to the 21-year-old upstart.
"We saw that we had a chance to move up in that final round and we went after it," Connolly said. "Grump [engine builder Bill 'Grumpy' Jenkins] actually predicted we'd run a 6.775. He was off by just two-thousandths of a second. That's some pretty good guessing.
"The more and more laps you have when your car is running like this, the harder and harder you want to work because you just want more. This is really cool to be No. 1. The only thing that sucks is we have to race our buddy Stevie [Johns] in Round 1. That's just the way it shook out this week."
The No. 1 qualifier one year ago at this event, Jeg Coughlin shot up to second place in the last session with a 6.787 at 201.64 mph in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevrolet Cavalier. A pair of Team Mopar Dodge Stratus R/Ts, those of Larry Morgan and Allen Johnson, wound up third and fourth, respectively, with a pair of 6.794s.
Mr. Everything, Greg Anderson, actually improved to a 6.799 at 201.61 mph in Saturday's first round, but his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac Grand Am dropped to fifth place on the ladder. It's his worst qualifying effort since the 2003 season opener in Pomona. Anderson's teammate, Jason Line, also had a 6.799, slotting him sixth.
Steve Johns barely made the ever-quickening field with a 6.828 in his Livin' It Cavalier. Johns, the No. 1 qualifier just three races ago in Seattle, will race fellow Grumpy Jenkins engine customer Connolly in Sunday's opening round.
The puzzling struggles of six-time series champion Warren Johnson continue here as the 92-time national event winner fails to qualify for the third race in a row. His best run of 6.859 left him in 22nd place. Pro Stock results
No other Pro Stock Bike rider, not even Hines himself, could catch or match the 7.132 at 188.17 mph Hines posted in the opening session of professional qualifying Friday afternoon. Therefore, the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod rider walks away with his seventh low qualifier award of the first 11 races and a $1,000 bonus from K&N Filters.
"We're taking it easy on the motors," Hines said. "I don't know that we could have improved on the 7.13 but we could have been in the teens on both runs. I just clicked it off at 1,000 feet. The 40 pounds they added to our bikes forces us to run the motors much harder than before and it bit us last week. So there was no need to push it today.
"I can't wait to get our V-Rod on the track tomorrow. We have a championship to win and it's all about going rounds at this point. We know what we need to do, I feel confident in my riding, and the Vance & Hines team is working real hard. We hope to have a big day tomorrow."
No. 2 runner Antron Brown did slightly improve, trimming a few thousandths of a second off his provisional time with a 7.191 at 185.00 mph in Saturday's first session. His U.S. Army Racing teammate Angelle Savoie, the only two-time Pro Stock Bike winner at this track, stayed third with a 7.200.
Lloyd Straus successfully defended the bump spot with his Day 1 run of 7.333 seconds holding through the day. He'll line his Gotham City Suzuki GSXR up against Hines' Harley in Round 1 of eliminations. Pro Stock Bike results
Canadian Al Billes made the quantum leap from non-qualifier to the top spot in the final qualifying session of Pro Mod with a 6.204 at 228.15 mph. The balance of the top-half field also improved in the same session with Billes followed on the grid by Mike Castellana (6.218), Shannon Jenkins (6.225), and Richie Stevens (6.227). Tommy Gray anchored the eight-car field with a 6.297.
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