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Schumacher Roars To Provisional Pole In Arizona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 21 2015

Tony Schumacher made a big pass on Friday at Wild Horse Pass near Phoenix. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

Ambushed by teammate Antron Brown during the NHRA season-opener two weeks ago, Tony Schumacher rallied with a career-best pass during Top Fuel qualifying Friday for the 31st annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.

Schumacher recorded a 1,000-foot performance of 3.722-seconds at 325.61 mph during the final pairing of cars in the second session at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix. The ET is the quickest of the eight-time/reigning world champion’s career dating to 1996 and a track record for time. Schumacher’s previous personal-best ET was 3.735-seconds set at Reading, Pa., last fall.

Schumacher qualified sixth for the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., but was upset by Don Schumacher Racing teammate Brown and his Matco Tools dragster in Round 1. The 2012 world champion, Brown’s run of 3.732-seconds at 326.87 mph bested Schumacher’s 3.787-second pass at 323.66 mph. In the process, Brown improved his career won/loss record against “The Sarge” to 27-22.

None of that set particularly well with Schumacher, who posted three of his five victories in 2014 in the U.S. Army dragster during the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“If I had a dollar for every time somebody beat me with a low ET for the round like that, well, what can I say?” said Schumacher, who won the 2014 title by 131 points over J.R. Todd. “It seems like cars come out against us and run incredible, and that’s OK. I feel that is a show of respect.

“Mike Green (crew chief) and Neal Strausbaugh (assistant crew chief) didn’t like what they saw in Pomona and made some changes. We had a great end-of-the-year run and you start the new season with new parts and pieces like we do it every year. We knew coming here that we had to make some changes.”

Schumacher is on the cusp of earning the 77th pole of his career and fifth at the track formerly billed as Firebird International Raceway, where he won event titles in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2013.

Two rounds of qualifications Saturday will determine the 16-car fields in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock. Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) also claimed provisional poles Friday in Race No. 2 of the 24-event Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“This is a great racetrack,” Schumacher said. “I just ran my quickest run ever. Right here. Right now. I think the track is spectacular, but I don’t kid myself to think this is going to be an easy race. There are no easy races in NHRA anymore. The cars that are going to show up on Sunday are going to be outstanding. Every round that you win it’s going to take sacrifices.

“The racing is getting better and better and better. The fans are getting their money’s worth. (Doug) Kalitta, (Shawn) Langdon, and our team cars can pull off miracles. But barring a miracle, I think that (ET) is going to hold.”

Kalitta, the No. 1 qualifier in this event last season, was second with a 3.733-second pass at 329.02 mph in his Mac Tools dragster. Todd took the third spot at 3.753-seconds and 323.12 mph in his Red Line Oil/Kalitta Air dragster. Brown _ the 2014 event champion _ posted numbers of 3.753-seconds at 318.69 mph to place fourth.

In Funny Car, Force put down a 3.996-second pass at 321.58 mph in her Traxxas Chevy Camaro SS during the second session to take the top spot and pound out a track record for speed. Force was the only Funny Car driver to record a run quicker than 4-seconds on the first day of qualifying. In the season opener at Pomona, Force sprinted to a 3.995-second run in the third round of qualifying to enter race day at No. 1.

“It’s only Friday, but it feels great to be able to get down there and make a good solid pass running in the 3.0’s,” Courtney said. “It definitely makes you feel good as a driver knowing that you’ve got a car that can run that number and put it on the board, not just once at the first race of the season, but we did it again out here. It’s fun for the team. We’ve never had the best luck here, so we’re trying to turn that around.”

Competing in her fourth professional season, Force has seven national event wins and eight poles.

Defending event winner Alexis DeJoria sits second after a run of 4.000-seconds at 313.58 mph in her Patron XO Café Incendio Toyota Camry. DeJoria claimed her first career victory at this race last year, becoming the fourth woman driver to win a Funny Car national event.

Del Worsham is third in his DHL Toyota at 4.005-seconds and 318.27 mph. Matt Hagan, the two-time/reigning world champion from Don Schumacher Racing, is fourth at 4.025-seconds at 316.60 mph in his Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T.

In Pro Stock, reigning world champion Enders-Stevens took the qualifying lead with a quarter-mile pass of 6.545-seconds at 211.20 mph in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.

“I’m just so excited for our performance today,” said Enders-Stevens, who was trailered by rookie teammate Drew Skillman at Pomona in the semifinals. “After not making a pass in Pomona on Friday, this is definite progress. There was also definitely more left in that run after we went back and looked at the data. We’ve been a little bit conservative this weekend because we don’t have the data that we’re used to having with the other parts and pieces. With hindsight being 20/20, obviously we’ll go in and make those changes this evening and try to get after it a little bit tomorrow.

“With how crazy our test went here in Phoenix, we’re clearly taking some steps in the right direction in regards to the new rules that were implemented on tires and fuel. We’re still learning, trying to acquire some data, and having some team cars out there really helps. We’ve got four guys in Pro Stock, including myself, that are running Elite Performance power and three of us are 1-2-3, so I’m very proud of my team. I’m happy to be on top here after Friday, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Rodger Brogdon is second after a 6.545-second pass at 210.90 mph in his RoofTec Camaro. Skillman, runnerup in his first career start to two-time world champion Jason Line at Pomona , qualified third at 6.548-seconds and 211.03 mph in his Camaro. Allen Johnson, the 2012 world champion, won this event in 2014 and sits fourth in the qualifying order with a 6.551-second pass at 211.36 mph in his Magnetti Marelli Dodge Dart.

ESPN2 will air two hours of qualifying coverage at 1 a.m. (EST) Sunday and re-air that show at 6 p.m. The network has scheduled three hours of eliminations on a delayed basis at 8 p.m. (EST) Sunday.

Friday’s qualifying results after the first two of four rounds of time trials for the 31st annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel _ 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.722-seconds, 325.61 mph; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.733, 329.02; 3. J.R. Todd, 3.753, 323.97; 4. Antron Brown, 3.753, 318.69; 5. Shawn Langdon, 3.755, 319.37; 6. Larry Dixon, 3.784, 321.42; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.790, 323.27; 8. Brittany Force, 3.792, 323.81; 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.808, 317.72; 10. Terry McMillen, 3.844, 310.27; 11. Troy Buff, 3.905, 306.81; 12. Richie Crampton, 4.016, 219.86.

Not Qualified _ 13. Jenna Haddock, 4.037, 257.14; 14. Steven Chrisman, 4.343, 218.90; 15. Spencer Massey, 4.638, 162.08; 16. Dave Connolly, 5.549, 122.23; 17. Clay Millican, 8.102, 82.71.

Funny Car _ 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.996, 321.58; 2. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.000, 313.58; 3. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.005, 318.17; 4. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.025, 320.13; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.032, 306.60; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.034, 312.21; 7. John Force, Camaro, 4.035, 315.05; 8. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.038, 301.00; 9. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.060, 310.13; 10. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.066, 311.20; 11. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.076, 314.39; 12. Chad Head, Camry, 4.078, 309.13.

Not Qualified _ 13. Shane Westerfield, 4.125, 273.22; 14. John Hale, 4.212, 299.06; 15. Jeff Diehl, 6.329, 113.66; 16. Jack Beckman, 10.584, 58.48.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.545, 211.26; 2. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 211.63; 3. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.548, 211.03; 4. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.551, 211.36; 5. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.559, 210.54; 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.562, 211.16; 7. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.565, 211.00; 8. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.569, 211.89; 9. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.578, 210.34; 10. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.586, 210.87; 11. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.588, 210.67; 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.620, 209.95.

Not Qualified _ 13. Matt Hartford, 6.621, 209.14; 14. Deric Kramer, 6.637, 208.55; 15. Jimmy Alund, 6.654, 207.91; 16. Joey Grose, 6.672, 207.05; 17. Jeff Isbell, 9.326, 99.68.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 21 2015
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