Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com
Two first-timers outshined the two biggest winners in NHRA history as qualifying for the 53rd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals concluded Sunday evening in shocking style. Funny Car's Jeff Arend and Pro Stock's Max Naylor secured the first low-qualifying awards of their careers, and seasoned veterans John Force (125 wins) and Warren Johnson (96) failed to qualify for this all-important event. It's a tough start to the Countdown to Four for Force and Johnson as well as Top Fuel contenders Whit Bazemore and J.R. Todd, who also failed to make the cut. The focus will now shift to the racers who survived Indy's five rounds of qualifying and will vie for glory Monday, including Top Fuel leader Tony Schumacher and Pro Stock Motorcycle top qualifier Chip Ellis, who have designs on the 2007 POWERade world titles.
Two first-timers outshined the two biggest winners in NHRA history as qualifying for the 53rd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals concluded Sunday evening in shocking style. Funny Car's Jeff Arend and Pro Stock's Max Naylor secured the first low-qualifying awards of their careers, and seasoned veterans John Force (125 wins) and Warren Johnson (96) failed to qualify for this all-important event.
It's a tough start to the Countdown to Four for Force and Johnson as well as Top Fuel contenders Whit Bazemore and J.R. Todd, who also failed to make the cut. The focus will now shift to the racers who survived Indy's five rounds of qualifying and will vie for glory Monday, including Top Fuel leader Tony Schumacher and Pro Stock Motorcycle top qualifier Chip Ellis, who have designs on the 2007 POWERade world titles.
With five wins at this event in the last seven years, Schumacher was probably the favorite to win Top Fuel before qualifying began. He simply added to his U.S. Nationals mystique with his eighth low-qualifying effort of the season. His U.S. Army dragster got the job done early, posting its best pass in the first session Friday, a 4.477 at 333.66 mph.
"It's gonna be hot out there tomorrow, but I really feel great about our chances," Schumacher said. "You know, everything happens for a reason. We lost in the first round at
"I'm excited and pumped up for this race. You know why? Because it's Indy, baby, and nothing is bigger than Indy. The Countdown is great for hoopla and all that, but Indy is still Indy. It won't be easy and I promise you every race will be a monster, but I wouldn't bet against this Army team."
The rest of the ladder stayed pretty much intact from Saturday. Countdown to Four participants Larry Dixon and Bob Vandergriff Jr. did the best job of staying close to Schumacher.
Points leader "Hot Rod" Fuller qualified his Caterpillar dragster sixth with a 4.524, which sets up a first-round date with final Countdown qualifier Doug Herbert, who qualified 11th with a 4.561. Herbert is coming off a win at the last event in
Back from a one-race hiatus brought on by kidney-stone problems, Brandon Bernstein qualified 12th with a 4.568 in the Budweiser dragster.
"To get the first one at Indy is special, obviously," Arend said. "Posting that number in round one and having to sweat it out literally was tough, but once we got to today and I saw the conditions, I figured it would hold. I was just hoping it didn't rain and cool the place off.
"It's still kind of unbelievable. I mean, I know I have a great team, but when you think about the fact you've just qualified No. 1 at Indy, it blows you away. This was also the first time ever that the blue team got the pole, so that's pretty cool for the crew guys as well."
Ashley Force equaled her best qualifying effort by taking the No. 2 slot with a 4.754 at 309.70 mph in the Castrol Mustang.
DSR teammates "Fast Jack" Beckman and Ron Capps are third and fifth on the eliminations ladder, Beckman with a 4.759 at 325.85 mph and Capps with a 4.773 at 324.98 mph. They also raced to the final of the $100,000 26th annual Skoal Showdown, which went to Beckman.
Fellow Countdown to Four participants Robert Hight, Mike Ashley, Tony Pedregon, Gary Scelzi, and Jim Head also earned spots in the field. Hight was fourth with a 4.764, Ashley sixth with a 4.779, Pedregon eighth with a 4.786, Scelzi 10th with a 4.799, and Head 13th with a 4.804.
John Force has overcome a lot this year, moving from 20th to third in the Countdown field. Now he faces the challenge of overcoming a DNQ at the first Countdown to Four event. He is 17th with a 4.856, just his third DNQ at the U.S. Nationals.
"I'm really enjoying this moment, and I wanted to share it with the fans," Naylor said. "I was just telling them thanks for coming out and supporting us and the companies that support what we do, like Jagermeister, because that's what it's all about. We're all here for the same reason -- because we love drag racing, and to be here as the No. 1 qualifier with a track record is something very few people can say they've done.
"We were happy with our first run and happier to back it up Saturday morning. We weren't smart enough to be conservative today and overdid it a little. I sure didn't want to leave anything on the table, and we didn't. It's okay, we've been down tracks like this before, and we'll try again tomorrow. My weekend's already made. The rest is icing on the cake."
Some real drama unfolded in Pro Stock as the final eliminations ladder took shape when it became apparent that half of the eight racers in the Countdown to Four will square off in round one. Victor Cagnazzi teammates Dave Connolly and Jeg Coughlin will face main rivals Jason Line and Greg Anderson from Ken Black Racing in what might become the most pivotal first round of the season. Connolly has lane choice over Line, qualifying third with a 6.659 to Line's 14th-best 6.694, and Coughlin holds a slim edge over
Other Countdown to Four runners are Allen Johnson in fourth place with a 6.661, Kurt Johnson in fifth with a 6.662, and Larry Morgan in seventh with a 6.669.
Warren Johnson failed to qualify his GM Performance Parts Pontiac GTO for the Indy field for the first time in 32 starts at this event. Johnson entered the race seventh in the Countdown to Four.
"I was happy for Hector because he's a customer of S&S Cycles, and I built his bike myself," Ellis said. "I was the first one to ever test it and it went 7.01 the first time ever down the track, so I know it's a great bike. But we looked at the data from our first run today and saw that the bike had shut off twice for a total of three-tenths of a second, so we would have run a 6.91 or a 6.92 that round. We knew we had a chance to get the pole back.
"We're here to run for the championship, and I really think we have a bike that can get it done. The guys have been working very hard to get us perfect for this stretch run, and my riding, well I've just gone back to basics. No more out-thinking myself. I worked with George Bryce a lot here lately on the mental part of this game, and I think I'm where I need to be inside the helmet."
Andrew Hines, who won the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle Saturday, will try to double up from the No. 3 slot after a best of 6.968 at 191.40 mph on his Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod. POWERade points leader Matt Smith is right behind on his Torco Buell, running a best of 6.977.
Other Countdown to Four racers who qualified for the field are Craig Treble (sixth, 6.978), Peggy Llewellyn (eighth, 7.011), Karen Stoffer (10th, 7.018), Angelle Sampey (12th, 7.048), and Eddie Krawiec (14th, 7.069).
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