Top Fuel driver Antron Brown raced to his third No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
John Force (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the penultimate race in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season. Pre-race ceremonies begin at 10 a.m.
Brown will try to score his sixth win of the season and continue to chase series leader Doug Kalitta when he faces J.R. Todd in the first round of eliminations. Brown, who won this race in 2011, took the 37th No. 1 of his career and his third Brainerd top qualifying effort with a performance of 3.810 seconds at 318.77 mph in his Matco Tools dragster.
“We were pushing to run better,” said Brown, who edged Kalitta for the top spot in a thrilling side-by-side pass to close
out Top Fuel qualifying. “The cloud cover came in, and we were trying to run quicker. My guys did an incredible job. We’ll take that No. 1. Those are three more bonus points for the run and a couple points for qualifying No. 1.”
With only two races remaining before the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins, Brown knows that he doesn’t have much time if he’s going to grab the top seed in the class for the playoffs.
“We’re going to focus on that tough first-round matchup with J.R. Todd,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a really good race. We’re going to go after it and take it one round at a time.”
Kalitta will start second in his Mac Tools dragster with his Friday leading run of 3.812 seconds at 322.96 mph and defending world champ Shawn Langdon qualified third in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with 3.815 seconds at 321.27 mph.
Force powered to his fifth No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 151st of his career in Funny Car after an afternoon rain shower cooled off the track and set the stage for his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to sprint to a weekend-best performance of 4.060 seconds at 315.27 mph. The 11-time Brainerd winner will face Bob Bode in the opening round.
“It cooled down and we knew everybody would step up,” said Force, who has advanced to the last four final rounds, winning twice. “We knew it was there. I told the TV camera I was going for No. 1. I have never said that in 30 years because it just don’t work that way. I have to start making a move now. I have to get this hot rod to where it will win and build the confidence in myself and all the kids around me. I laughed about it that I said it. It’s very simple, [crew chief] Jimmy Prock is on his game. That car makes big horsepower and he always swings for the fence.”
The brief rain delay helped to shake up the Funny Car ladder as four-time Brainerd winner Ron Capps moved to the second spot with a 4.064-second, 314.17-mph run in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger and his teammate Matt Hagan improved to third with a 4.068-second, 311.99-mph run in his Rocky Boots/Mopar Charger. Friday leader Robert Hight fell to fifth in his Auto Club Mustang with 4.081 seconds at 307.37 mph.
In Pro Stock, Johnson claimed his fifth No. 1 of the season and 36th of his career with his Friday run of 6.614 seconds at 207.98 mph in his Magneti Marelli/Team Mopar Dodge Dart. The Tennessee driver hopes to follow his first Brainerd top qualifying effort with his first win here. He was runner-up in 2012 in his only final round appearance at this event.
“I’ve had a great car all weekend and the new Dodge Dart really likes this surface at Brainerd,” Johnson said. “It’s our best start here at Brainerd. I think we’ve got a good game plan for tomorrow. That last run was pretty nice. Having a good shot at the track tomorrow (with the first round bye run) will pay dividends for us because we will be able to get after it a little more than we normally would if there was a car in the other lane, so that will tell us how far we can push it tomorrow.”
Minnesota native Jason Line made Saturday’s quickest run in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro at 6.622 seconds and 207.91 mph to move to second overall and he will try to win his hometown race for the first time. Series leader Erica Enders-Stevens qualified third with a 6.630-second, 207.85-mph run in her Elite Motorsports Camaro and three-time BIR winner Greg Anderson qualified fourth in his Summit Racing Camaro with a 6.632 at 208.39.
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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 33rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, the 17th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.
1. Antron Brown, 3.810 seconds, 318.77 mph vs. 16. J.R. Todd, 3.988, 268.06; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.812, 322.96 vs. 15. Chris Karamesines, 3.945, 305.98; 3. Shawn Langdon, 3.815, 321.27 vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 3.906, 318.99; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.820, 320.97 vs. 13. Steve Torrence, 3.904, 303.16; 5. Bob Vandergriff, 3.835, 318.84 vs. 12. Morgan Lucas, 3.883, 286.98; 6. Tony Schumacher, 3.836, 323.43 vs. 11. Leah Pritchett, 3.872, 297.48; 7. Spencer Massey, 3.838, 320.28 vs. 10. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.860, 311.77; 8. Larry Dixon, 3.842, 320.13 vs. 9. Brittany Force, 3.845, 319.07. Did Not Qualify: 17. Clay Millican, 4.012, 294.75; 18. Luigi Novelli, 4.078, 250.88; 19. Tim Cullinan, 4.202, 215.10.
1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.060, 315.27 vs. 16. Bob Bode, Toyota Camry, 5.003, 235.19; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.064, 314.17 vs. 15. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.243, 278.00; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.068, 311.99 vs. 14. Chad Head, Camry, 4.215, 301.33; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.078, 309.27 vs. 13. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.154, 304.53; 5. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.081, 313.29 vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.151, 305.70; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.082, 306.12 vs. 11. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.138, 310.27; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.093, 308.21 vs. 10. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.115, 309.70; 8. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.110, 299.06 vs. 9. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.111, 307.44. Did Not Qualify: 17. Brian Stewart, 5.850, 273.50; 18. Dale Creasy Jr., 9.718, 290.76.
1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.614, 208.04 vs. Bye; 2. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.622, 208.49 vs. 15. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.806, 203.00; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.630, 207.85 vs. 14. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.793, 204.23; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.632, 208.39 vs. 13. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.756, 205.04; 5. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.636, 207.91 vs. 12. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.723, 206.32; 6. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.643, 207.78 vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.669, 207.43; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.645, 207.82 vs. 10. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.669, 207.98; 8. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.654, 207.40 vs. 9. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.666, 207.75.