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Pedley: Doping Out Week 1 Of The NHRA Season

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 14 2012

Spencer Massey has the look of a big-time winner after his performance at Pomona. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Looking back at last weekend’s season-opening NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals in Pomona, the view from here indicates that:

– Spencer Massey has the makings of being an all-timer.

Pass after pass, qualifying and eliminations, Massey impressed in Top Fuel. His most impressive moment was the run when the front wheels lifted, the wheelie bar slammed the track and Massey softly lowed the rail back down to keep the car pointed straight down track.

The kid from Fort Worth has the big-time look.

His big competition will come from in-house at Don Schumacher Racing;  Antron Brown and his DSR team were impressive at Pomona as well. With Al-Anabi going through an early season of transition, the DSR teams could be able to big a strong foundation this spring.

“After the DNQ in Phoenix last year in the Countdown,” Massey said, “it kind of killed us for the championship. But now, coming off this win we have momentum. We have a racecar that can win Phoenix. It would be awesome to go back-to-back, but now we have a big target on our back. We’re No. 1 in points and everyone is gunning for us but that’s what we want. I’d like to have that bull’s-eye on my back all year long.”

Count on that.

– Morgan Lucas has moved up to the top tier in Top Fuel.

He was more than merely solid in qualifying and took the pole with an incredible 3.783-second run at

Morgan Lucas at Pomona.

325.06 mph pass.

Lucas gave a lot of credit to Aaron Brooks, his new crew chief, and Rod Centorbi, his new assistant crew chief.

Lucas said, “We adopted the motto ‘If it’s not perfect, it’s not right.’ The way the car is running is a reward for the hard work and extra hours they put in.”

But Lucas did his part as well.

He was a killer leaving the line with reaction times sub-.050 in all three of his elimination runs.

Adding Brandon Bernstein to the Lucas Oil team also appears to have sweetened the recipe. Better racing through chemistry.

The team has been good the last several years but this year, they have the look of being really, really good.

– The Sarge be back.

Perhaps only Massey’s mad dash through Pomona kept Tony Schumacher from adding another Winternationals Wally to the collection.

Schumacher posted a very respectable 3.809-second pass at 322.88 mph, but in the semifinals, Massey countered with a sizzling 3.745-second run at 328.62 mph. Massey’s elapsed time was the second-quickest in NHRA history since the sanctioning body moved to 1,000-foot racing. His speed was a national record.

“We got down the track cleanly, but they really put up a great lap right there,” said Schumacher, who now has a 24-race winless drought. “You have to tip your hat to Spencer and his guys – they did a terrific job. It really was a thing of beauty.”

On the way to his match up with Massey, the Chicago-area resident took out Doug Kalitta and Bob Vandergriff with a pair of 3.790-second runs at 324.67 mph and 324.83 mph, respectively.

“Needless to say, we wanted to get a win here this weekend,” Schumacher said. “But, you are not going to get any complaints from me. We performed well and we know we have a car quite capable of winning a bunch of races. Our time will come.”

– John Force will have a legitimate shot at winning his 16th Funny Car championship this season.

It wasn’t just numbers that led to this conclusion. The determination showed in his look. When he talked

Courtney Force had a successful career launch at the Winternationals.

about his high hopes for the 2012 season and the possibility of winning another championship, he didn’t sound like a person trying to convince himself of something.

The last several seasons, his tone and look was one of wishful thinking. When he loudly ascerted that he had a “great hot rod” that could win the championship in 2012, it was eminently believable.

Force has his band back together and the 2012 tour could be boffo.

“I just have so much confidence in my team,” Force said. “We realize it is the big leagues, but we are capable of having a good car. We are up there with them (tough competitors) and I think we can be a competitive car. We can be a great team if we all stick together. We just want to learn from every run and try and make it go quicker. I think we can definitely have a good car in Phoenix.”

– Courtney Force could, indeed, have more potential for success than older sister Ashley.

She held up well to the pressure and the competition. Getting a good qualifying spot was big. It gave her a good chance to get her first round-win and the absolutely necessary confidence that comes with it.

She took advantage of that chance as she beat fellow Ford driver Bob Tasca III, who was a tick off on the weekend, in her first pass in anger.

“(Tasca) is a tough competitor,” Courtney Force said. “Our car was consistent all weekend. That is the only thing you can really ask for. We lucked out on that run. Something happened to his car and we were able to drive around him and get the win. I was pretty shocked. I was yelling at my guys on the radio with excitement. I was screaming when I saw that win light. When I popped out of the roof hatch I was a little unsure and I wanted to make sure that I won before I got too excited. It was a big deal. You have to go back to the pit and regain focus.”

– Ken Black’s Summit Racing Pro Stock boys represent the strongest one-two punch in the NHRA.

Jason Line had elimination runs at 212.46 mph, 212.13 mph and  211.83 mph on Sunday. And he didn’t

Greg Anderson and his Summit Racing team have a championship look.

make the finals. That was because he and teammate Greg Anderson lined up on the same side of the bracket and in the semi’s, Line’s .031 ET was topped by Anderson’s .021.

Anderson went on to win the Wally.

“Going into the final, I knew how well Jeggie (Coughlin, his opponent in the finals) had been doing, but I tried to put it out of my mind, just as I had been all day,” Anderson said. “I had good, consistent, lights all day, and we were able to get my car to perform, and when we do that, I have a good shot at winning the race, and today it all turned out good. It was great to be back in the winner’s circle.

“Obviously, we’re very proud of the product we brought out here and the work that went into it during the winter. It looks as if we had as good, if not a better season of development than our competitors, and to get this first win of the season just feels great. It’s going to be a battle royal all season, but for now I am the only one who can say I’m going to win a race this year and it feels pretty darn good.”

Pontiac’s days may be numbered in Pro Stock, but the Summit team’s dominance clearly is not.

– There was no rust on Jeg Coughlin.

Jeggie was, perhaps, the biggest surprise of weekend. After taking the year off and also switching to Dodge, Coughlin went hiccup-free on Sunday.

From his 14th-place starting spot, he clubbed veteran Ronnie Humphrey, youngster Vincent Nobile, former champion Mike Edwards. He then posted an RT of .017 in his finals loss to Anderson.

It will be very interesting to watch the four-time champ at Phoenix this weekend. If this Sunday is like last Sunday, the Pro Stock division could be in for a great year.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 14 2012
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