Courtney Force Tames Wild Horse With Record Run

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 27 2016
Courtney Force claimed the provisional pole with a powerful pass on Friday.

Courtney Force claimed the provisional pole with a powerful pass on Friday.

Courtney Force rode a track-record elapsed-time performance to the provisional Funny Car pole Friday during qualifying for the 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals in Chandler, Ariz.

Force led the Funny Car field with a Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park 1,000-foot record ET of 3.930-bugnhranotesseconds at 323.97 mph. Meanwhile, Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) also were top qualifiers at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event near Phoenix, Round 2 of the 24-race schedule.

“It’s definitely what we hoped for,” said Force, driver of the Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS fielded by John Force Racing. “When we came out here and tested a few weeks back, we were running pretty consistently. We stumbled a little bit at first and then kind of got the car figured out and started running pretty consistent in the 3.0s, so I was excited to come back to this track. I was hoping we could carry it over to Pomona (two weeks ago), but I was really excited to get back here because we felt comfortable here.”

A dropped cylinder prevented Force from improving her time during the second session. “In Q2, that’s not what we were looking to do,” said Force, who finished 11th in points last season, one spot shy of qualifying for the six-race Countdown to the Championship. “I hope we get another shot tomorrow to push this car even harder and see what kind of numbers we can put on the board.

“Honestly, I think a lot of these drivers, especially after the two runs today and a couple of them that stepped-up, I think you’ll see some faster runs tomorrow. Our game plan is stepping our own Chevy up and getting it in the top even after those guys run good numbers. We’ll do the best we can. I’m just excited to be out here and back in Phoenix. It’s a good track and I’m ready to put on a show for the fans out here.”

If Force’s time holds through Saturday’s two sessions, it will be her 10th career No. 1 qualifier. Despite narrowly missing the Countdown in 2015, Force kept a firm hold on the record for most Funny Car wins in a season by a female (four) and most Funny Car wins overall for a female Funny Car driver with seven career tour victories.

“Last season was pretty tough, mentally really,” said Force, who is in her fourth season of Funny Car competition. “But we were just pushing through and really just focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel. I think it took a whole new season and coming out with a fresh start. Just seeing the car perform, I don’t care if it’s race day or not, I just love getting it down to the other end of the racetrack. It definitely feels good from a driver standpoint and I think it’s getting my whole team motivated. We’ll see what we can do with it.

“I’ve got a great group of guys on my team and Ronnie Thompson and Dan Hood working on my car as co-crew chiefs. It definitely feels awesome. This is a great start for our season so far and picking up bonus points, every little point counts. I learned that last year with not making it into the top 10. We’re definitely in full focus trying to pick up every point we can and just really try to get this car running more consistent. I think that’s the main thing.”

Eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), two-time world champion Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Rodger Brogdon (Pro Stock) were last year’s event winners.

Two-time/reigning world champion Brown led Top Fuel qualifying Friday with a 1,000-foot performance of 3.765-seconds at 319.45 mph in his Matco Tools dragster, knocking off rival Doug Kalitta’s 3.771-second pass at 323.12 mph in his Mac Tools dragster.

“It felt pretty good to sneak out with that second-round run,” said Brown, whose Don Schumacher Racing machine lost traction during its first qualifying attempt. “We thought that someone would run better than our (3.76) because we were the first pair down the racetrack. You can’t sleep on any of these cars out here because they’ll take your lunch. We’ve just got to keep putting that work in.”

Butner was quickest in Pro Stock, clocking a quarter-mile pass of 6.618-seconds at 208.88 mph in his Jim Butner Auto Sales Chevy Camaro to hold off four-time world champion Greg Anderson by 0.06-seconds. Butner also was the top qualifier after Friday during the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., two weeks ago.

“Just like last race, I don’t think we’ll hold up (Saturday),” said Butner, whose KB Racing stablemates are Anderson and two-time world champion Jason Line. “I’ve got a couple guys with me that are pretty mean and they know what they’re doing, it’s our whole team. We just want to be one, two and three (on the final ladder) and however we end up is great.”

Butner is two sessions away from securing his first career pole position in only his 19th Pro Stock start. “The guys worked on some motor stuff (since Pomona) and it shows,” said Butner, alluding to the NHRA’s new EFI rules for the “Factory Hot Rod” class. “I think there’s a whole lot left for us and there’s a whole lot left in the whole class. We‘re going to keep chipping away at it and try to widen the gap.”

Qualifying continues Saturday afternoon for Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations. Fox Sports 1 will carry two hours of qualifying coverage Saturday at 10 p.m. (EST), with Sunday’s finals airing on the network from 5-8 p.m. (EST).

Friday’s qualifying results after the first two of four rounds of time trials for the 32nd 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. Antron Brown, 3.765-seconds, 319.45 mph; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.771, 323.12; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.772, 322.19; 4. Dave Connolly, 3.794, 309.34; 5. Brittany Force, 3.800, 320.05; 6. J.R. Todd, 3.806, 323.12; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.812, 322.50; 8. Leah Pritchett, 3.859, 314.31; 9. Richie Crampton, 3.865, 302.14; 10. Troy Buff, 3.869, 281.19; 11. Terry McMillen, 3.935, 286.07; 12. Clay Millican, 4.091, 227.69.

Not Qualified _ 13. Scott Palmer, 4.269, 213.87; 14. Shawn Langdon, 6.057, 113.26.

Funny Car _ 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.930, 323.97; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.954, 320.89; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.959, 319.22; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.965, 318.77; 5. John Force, Camaro, 3.973, 321.12; 6. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.973, 319.14; 7. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 3.976, 314.31; 8. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.980, 316.52; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.995, 315.64; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.030, 318.17; 11. James Campbell, Charger, 4.067, 289.20; 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.086, 302.08.

Not Qualified _ 13. John Hale, 4.183, 303.09; 14. Alexis DeJoria, 4.651, 177.58.

Pro Stock _ 1. Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.618, 208.88; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.624, 207.72; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.649, 207.85; 4. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.650, 207.94; 5. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dodge Dart, 6.664, 207.50; 6. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.674, 206.83; 7. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.689, 208.26; 8. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.715, 206.51; 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.722, 207.59; 10. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.772, 206.95; 11. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.829, 208.17; 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 7.237, 204.91.

Not Qualified _ 13. Matt Hartford, 7.638, 164.33.

Point standings (top-10) following the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence, 106; 2. Doug Kalitta, 94; 3. Richie Crampton, 77; 4. J.R. Todd, 72; 5. Clay Millican, 57; 6. Morgan Lucas, 52; 7. Antron Brown, 48; 8. Terry McMillen, 46; 9. Tony Schumacher, 42; 10. Brittany Force, 37.

Funny Car _ 1. Ron Capps, 119; 2. Del Worsham, 97; 3. Robert Hight, 80; 4. John Force, 69; 5. Jack Beckman, 65; 6. Courtney Force, 59; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 55; 8. Chad Head, 54; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 33; 10. (tie) Gary Densham, 32; Matt Hagan, 32; Cruz Pedregon, 32.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, 125; 2. Jason Line, 105; 3. Bo Butner, 84; 4. Drew Skillman, 75; 5. Vincent Nobile, 54; 6. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 53; 7. (tie) Shane Gray, 52; Allen Johnson, 52; 9. Chris McGaha, 35; 10. Alex Laughlin, 33.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 27 2016
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