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Gray Powers To Funny Car Pole At Firebird

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, February 18 2012

Funny Car driver Johnny Gray collected the second pole of his career on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)


Johnny Gray held on to the No. 1 spot in Funny Car Saturday as qualifying came to an end at the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway.

Shawn Langdon and Mike Edwards also were qualifying leaders in the Top Fuel and Pro Stock categories respectively at the second of 23 races in the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing season.

Gray powered his Service Central Dodge Charger to a 4.074-second pass, the quickest lap of the weekend, at 298.93 mph Friday night and kept the top spot through Saturday qualifying to secure his second career No. 1 qualifying position.

“Rob (Wendland, crew chief) backed the thing down and got it ready for tomorrow,” said Gray. “He said we ought to run about a 4.12, and that’s what we ran, so we’re real confident going into tomorrow that we’ve got the Service Central/Big O car ready to compete. The car really ran good at the end of last year, and we runner-upped here last year. We just missed it by a hair in the final, so hopefully we can end up back there and learn from the mistake we made here last year and go ahead and win this thing.”

Gray will face Grant Downing in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. Recent race winner John Force qualified fifth in the field, while defending event winner Jack Beckman qualified sixth. Rookie driver Courtney Force raced to the 12th qualifying spot in the category, while Kalitta Motorsports driver Alexis DeJoria’s pass of 4.296 was not strong enough to secure her a spot in Sunday’s eliminations.

Qualifying second in Funny Car was John Force Racing’s Mike Neff.

Neff’s 4.096 second pass with the quickest of not just the last session but the entire day of qualifying on Saturday. It earned the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang driver three valuable qualifying bonus points.

When Neff looked back at the weekend with his crew chief hat on that final run was just want the two-time world championship wrench turner was looking for.

“That last run was what we have been looking for all weekend. The conditions have been great here. We were on a pretty good run Friday night and something happened and it ran lean and blew up. We made quite a few changes to make sure that didn’t happen again,” said Neff. “When it didn’t go the first run today, that put us up against the wall a little bit. We really needed to go down the track that run to make sure all the changes we made were going to work out. We hit it all pretty close and I am really pleased with that run.”

After setting the track record Friday night, Langdon kept his Al-Anabi Racing dragster in the top spot in Top Fuel through Saturday qualifying. Langdon’s Friday night pass of 3.754 at 323.12 stayed strong enough to secure him his second career No. 1 qualifying position.

“It feels great to qualify No. 1 in just the second race of the year,” said Langdon. “I’m still trying to process all this stuff and catch up with these (Al-Anabi team) guys. They are so good. Giving me such a good race car helps my confidence as a driver. Race day will be different than qualifying. There’s a lot more pressure. But it’s nothing that this team can’t handle. As a driver I will try to do the best job I can. I hope to move forward and get my first win.”

Langdon will pair up against Top Fuel pilot Troy Buff in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Three-time Firebird International Raceway winner Tony Schumacher secured the second spot in the field while Schumacher’s teammate Antron Brown locked in the fifth spot in the category.

“We definitely took care of business in qualifying, but now it’s time to have a perfect race day,” Schumacher said. “We’re thirsting for a victory and, rest assured, we’ll be shooting for just that on Sunday. We don’t want to accept anything less. I think it’s just a question of breaking the ice and then we’ll be on our way.”

Schumacher is also hoping he can take over the Top Fuel class lead for career wins at Firebird. With three Arizona Nationals trophies in his possession, he’s tied with Larry Dixon and Cory McClenathan on the list.

“That really hasn’t been on my radar screen,” Schumacher said. “We just want to see the win light go on four times tomorrow. Everything else is secondary at the moment.”

In Pro Stock, Edwards took the top spot away from Friday qualifying leader Jason Line when he powered his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP to a 6.536 at 210.80. The pass not only set the track record for time, but also secured Edwards his 40th career No. 1 qualifier, fourth consecutive at Firebird International Raceway and fifth overall at the track.

“There’s something about the desert,” said Edwards. “Our car seems to run really good here. I can’t put my finger on why this happens, but we even ran good in the heat here last year. Anytime that you can qualify No. 1, it’s really good for us. But we’ll have to work hard to stay up there, because Jason (Line) and Greg (Anderson) really came on strong in the final qualifying session.”

Edwards will face NHRA legend Warren Johnson in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. Line qualified second for the event and recent race winner Anderson qualified fifth. Eliminations for the NHRA Arizona Nationals begin Sunday at 11 a.m.

Sunday’s first-round pairings for professional eliminations for the 28th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway, the second of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.754 seconds, 323.12 mph vs. 16. Troy Buff, 7.720, 299.66; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.783, 324.44 vs. 15. Mike Strasburg, 4.069, 245.32; 3. Steve Torrence, 3.788, 321.19 vs. 14. Brandon Bernstein, 3.871, 314.46; 4. Spencer Massey, 3.795, 323.81 vs. 13. Cory McClenathan, 3.864, 314.61; 5. Antron Brown, 3.796, 320.36 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.857, 313.73; 6. David Grubnic, 3.803, 321.96 vs. 11. Clay Millican, 3.846, 316.60; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.804, 317.19 vs. 10. Bob Vandergriff, 3.824, 320.20; 8. Morgan Lucas, 3.813, 315.64 vs. 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.823, 316.15.

Funny Car — 1. Johnny Gray, Dodge Charger, 4.074, 301.07 vs. 16. Grant Downing, Charger, 4.250, 289.63; 2. Mike Neff, Ford Mustang, 4.096, 307.51 vs. 15. Bob Bode, Chevy Impala, 4.224, 296.24; 3. Jim Head, Toyota Solara, 4.107, 297.29 vs. 14. Jeff Arend, Solara, 4.201, 298.54; 4. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.110, 305.56 vs. 13. Todd Lesenko, Impala, 4.195, 289.51; 5. John Force, Mustang, 4.115, 307.51 vs. 12. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.180, 297.75; 6. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.124, 303.43 vs. 11. Tony Pedregon, Impala, 4.142, 293.86; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Solara, 4.129, 297.75 vs. 10. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.134, 296.05; 8. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.132, 304.32 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.134, 307.72.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Alexis DeJoria, 4.296, 291.82; 18. Gary Densham, 4.348, 275.73; 19. Tim Wilkerson, 4.435, 242.36; 20. Jeff Diehl, 4.610, 201.04.

Pro Stock — 1. Mike Edwards, Pontiac GXP, 6.536, 211.76 vs. 16. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.626, 207.50; 2. Jason Line, GXP, 6.539, 211.10 vs. 15. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Avenger, 6.624, 209.04; 3. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.543, 211.16 vs. 14. Greg Stanfield, GXP, 6.604, 209.75; 4. Vincent Nobile, Avenger, 6.549, 210.70 vs. 13. Shane Gray, GXP, 6.603, 208.46; 5. Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.556, 210.64 vs. 12. Kurt Johnson, GXP, 6.602, 209.49; 6. Allen Johnson, Avenger, 6.564, 210.44 vs. 11. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.597, 210.01; 7. Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.567, 210.41 vs. 10. Steve Kent, GXP, 6.596, 209.07; 8. Ron Krisher, GXP, 6.573, 210.21 vs. 9. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.593, 209.39.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Grace Howell, 6.645, 206.54; 18. V. Gaines, 6.666, 207.66.

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, February 18 2012
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