Kalitta Wins Pole, Sets Sights On Schumacher At Gateway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 28 2014

Doug Kalitta is looking for some momentum this weekend.

Veteran Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta ramped-up his pursuit of point-leader Tony Schumacher Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park, racing to his sixth pole position of the season as qualifications concluded for the third annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis.

Kalitta powered his Mac Tools dragster to a 1,000-foot performance of 3.758-seconds at 325.45 mph to take the top spot away from rookie Richie Crampton in the final qualifying session. Kalitta, who led the series standings for most of the regular season, will try to reverse a recent trend of first-round losses over the past three races when he opens eliminations against drag racing legend Chris Karamesines.

“We kinda struggled in the first two Countdown races, but we know we can go rounds,” said Kalitta, a three-time winner at Gateway Motorsports Park, most recently in 2004. “We’re real confident about that and now we need to go out there and prove it. We’re real excited for (Sunday). The car is running good, the track is holding up good, the lanes are both pretty even and the conditions are really good. I’m looking forward to it.”

John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also will lead their categories into Sunday’s eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at the third of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.

Kalitta said from the cockpit his top qualifying effort was particularly smooth. “It went down through there real nice and straight,” Kalitta said about the 42nd pole of his career. “When they run real quick like that they’re for some reason easier to drive. It was a great effort for the Mac Tools guys.”

Kalitta hopes to take advantage of his strong qualifying effort and convert it into a victory as he scrambles to pull back into the Countdown title conversation. Kalitta entered this race third in points, 107 back of seven-time world champion Schumacher. Given the category’s competitiveness, Kalitta said being No. 1 qualifier is no guarantee of success.

“With this group in Top Fuel I don’t think you can relax regardless of who you are running against,” Kalitta said. “I run ‘The Greek’ (Karamesines, in the first round) and you can’t take him lightly either. I’ve got beat by him, too. We’re planning on going to the final and getting a win. We’ll see how that goes.”

Crampton’s Friday-best of 3.764-seconds at 322.73 mph in his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster left him second in the final qualifying order. Schumacher, who won the first two Countdown playoff races, will start third in his U.S. Army dragster via numbers of 3.768-seconds at 326.16 mph. Kalitta Racing teammate J.R. Todd, who qualified No. 1 at the first two Countdown races, will start fourth in his Optima Batteries/Advance Auto Parts dragster at 3.779/325.37.

In Funny Car, Brut Force earned his sixth No. 1 of the season and 152nd of his career with his 1,000-foot Friday run of 4.022-seconds at 319.52 mph in the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. Force will race category newcomer Brian Stewart in the opening round.

“I’m going to watch him,” said Force, alluding to his first head-to-head meeting with the former nostalgia Funny Car driver. “It’s no different than racing (Matt) Hagan. I used to be an unknown, and every now and then I would whip somebody like (Kenny) Bernstein or ‘The Snake’ (Don Prudhomme). Maybe I was just lucky. But luck is what it’s all about.”

Force, 65, who is seeking a record 17th world championship, is still trying to get back on-track following an uncharacteristic red-light start during the delayed Pep Boys Carolina Nationals final round at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis last weekend. Force followed that effort with a second-round loss last Sunday to Tommy Johnson Jr. during eliminations for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals.

“I choked it last week and gave away 20 points,” Force said. “I got 16 back here during qualifying and I owe that to my team. We’re really focused. You can look at history and see where people made mistakes, dropped the ball and fumbled it and you don’t want to live with that. Last week it was just driver error and I screwed up. I did that years ago and made that mistake. There’s four races to go starting (Sunday). I’m going to keep my act together and see if I can pull it off.”

Two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon will start second in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry with a Friday pass of 4.022-seconds at 314.02 mph, while 2009 world champion and Force teammate Robert Hight moved to third in his Auto Club Ford Mustang at 4.040-seconds and 316.15 mph. Motorplex winner Courtney Force, John’s daughter, qualified fourth in her Traxxas Ford Mustang at 4.047/317.87.

Enders-Stevens will go for her third consecutive Pro Stock victory at this event from the top spot as she claimed her fourth No. 1 of the season and 10th of her career with a quarter-mile pass of 6.511-seconds at 213.03 mph in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. She will face veteran Larry Morgan and his Lucas Oil Ford Mustang in the first round.

“We were trying to be consistent and have a nice race-day setup,” Enders-Stevens said about her quickest pass of the weekend in her final attempt. “The conditions were definitely conducive to run that number. I’m proud of my team for giving me a consistent race car and a fast one at that.”

Enders-Stevens is hoping a three-peat at this event will move her back to the top of the points order. With her stellar qualifying effort _ she was quickest in all four rounds _ Erica was able to trim away a bit of series leader Jason Line’s point advantage.

“We’ve had four really nice runs that we’re proud of,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ve got a stout group of players out there and we’ve got our work cut out for us. Our side of the ladder is packed with all of the Gray Motorsports cars. I know I say this all the time, but we’re just going to focus on one round at a time. You can’t get ahead of yourself.”

Five-time/reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified second in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart at 6.522-seconds at 212.53 mph. Line, a two-time world champion, qualified third in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro at 6.522/212.39.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec improved upon his Friday elapsed time with a Saturday best quarter-mile run of 6.810-seconds at 194.60 mph aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod to claim his ninth pole of the season and 23rd of his career. He will race Shawn Gann in the opener.

“Every run you make down the track you learn,” said Krawiec, a two-time winner at this event and three-time world champion. “Sometimes you go backwards and sometimes you go forwards. We got after it a little harder and we sort of overpowered the track (in the final session).

“On our first run of the day, we killed it. We picked up a lot early and powered to a 6.810, so I know I have a great motorcycle. Now we have our threshold of what the track will take. We have our window. We know where we need to be and that should make for some great racing.”

Jerry Savoie qualified second with a 6.838-second pass at 197.16 mph aboard his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki. Hector Arana Jr. will start third on his Lucas Oil Buell via a 6.851-second pass at 197.68 mph. Series point-leader Andrew Hines, also a three-time world champion, is fourth on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley at 6.863/195.22.

ESPN2 will broadcast 60 minutes of qualifying highlights Sunday at 3 p.m. (EDT), followed by three hours of elimination round coverage from Gateway starting at 4 p.m.

First-round pairings for the third annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, the 21st of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and third of six playoff races in the Countdown to the Championship. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel _ 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.758-seconds, 325.45 mph vs. 16. Chris Karamesines, 4.054, 293.79; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.764, 322.73 vs. 15. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.965, 291.70; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.768, 326.16 vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 3.899, 321.65; 4. J.R. Todd, 3.779, 325.37 vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.878, 314.61; 5. Shawn Langdon, 3.780, 322.11 vs. 12. Pat Dakin, 3.826, 317.72; 6. Antron Brown, 3.782, 319.14 vs. 11. Brittany Force, 3.809, 323.81; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.786, 324.90 vs. 10. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.806, 319.98; 8. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.798, 323.89 vs. 9. Spencer Massey, 3.801, 323.50.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Scott Palmer, 4.116, 286.92; 18. Clay Millican, 6.621, 106.03; 19. Luigi Novelli, 10.285, 171.84.

Funny Car _ 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.022, 319.52 vs. 16. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 4.181, 300.06; 2. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.022, 314.39 vs. 15. Jeff Arend, Dodge Charger, 4.169, 304.67; 3. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.040, 316.15 vs. 14. Chad Head, Camry, 4.168, 292.27; 4. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.047, 317.87 vs. 13. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.157, 307.23; 5. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.049, 314.75 vs. 12. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.136, 300.80; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.053, 315.78 vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.117, 302.21; 7. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.071, 315.49 vs. 10. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.108, 298.93; 8. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.071, 313.00 vs. 9. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.078, 311.49.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Tony Pedregon, 4.187, 302.48; 18. Dale Creasy Jr., 4.301, 294.63.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.511, 213.03 vs. 16. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.612, 209.85; 2. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dodge Dart, 6.522, 212.53 vs. 15. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.589, 210.41; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.522, 212.39 vs. 14. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.584, 211.56; 4. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.525, 212.33 vs. 13. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.575, 211.00; 5. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.528, 212.06 vs. 12. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.565, 211.00; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.529, 212.36 vs. 11. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.558, 211.53; 7. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.531, 212.26 vs. 10. Richie Stevens, Camaro, 6.552, 211.56; 8. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.532, 211.96 vs. 9. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.542, 212.13.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Dave River, 6.734, 205.32.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.810, 196.53 vs. 16. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.006, 193.52; 2. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.838, 197.16 vs. 15. Craig Treble, Buell, 6.978, 190.67; 3. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.851, 197.68 vs. 14. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.956, 192.99; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.863, 195.22 vs. 13. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.948, 194.30; 5. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.872, 194.83 vs. 12. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.938, 192.30; 6. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.874, 196.42 vs. 11. Angelle Sampey-Drago, Buell, 6.931, 191.70; 7. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.878, 192.96 vs. 10. John Hall, Buell, 6.905, 194.55; 8. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.894, 194.94 vs. 9. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.905, 194.94.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Mike Berry, 7.041, 189.90.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 28 2014
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