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Nitro Leaders Hold Serve in Seattle

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, July 18 2009
Tony Pedregon held onto his No. 1 qualifying position Saturday in Seattle.

Tony Pedregon held onto his No. 1 qualifying position Saturday in Seattle.


Friday’s nitro qualifying leaders, Larry Dixon in Top Fuel and Tony Pedregon in Funny Car, remained atop their fields at the close of qualifying Saturday at the 22nd annual NHRA Northwest Nationals.

In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson raced to the head of the Pro Stock pack with a track-record effort.

The event at Pacific Raceways near Seattle is the second of three consecutive weekends of racing on NHRA’s Western Swing and, following its conclusion Sunday, there will be just four races left for teams to either qualify for the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs or better their position among the elite 10 drivers in each class who will battle over the season’s final six events to claim NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series championships.

The Top Fuel teams battled traction woes worse than any Pro class Saturday and, as a result, Dixon’s 3.89-second leading time from Friday was never seriously challenged. Dixon’s Jason McCulloch-tuned Al-Anabi/Alan Johnson Racing dragster scored its fourth No. 1 berth of the season and its second in the last three races. Shawn Langdon got the closest to Dixon’s Friday best, but his 3.920 in his John Stewart-tuned Lucas Oil entry was only good enough to boost the rookie driver into the No. 5 spot.

“The first run we made today, they were pressing pretty good,” said Dixon. “To see Langdon run a 3.92, I thought that was a really good run. We were pressing it to see how good we could go, and we spun the tires so we calmed her all back down to a setup we thought we could get down the racetrack, and we got down the track in the final qualifying session so we’ll take that and see what we can do with it tomorrow.

“There are no gimmees, you gotta go up there and earn your place, and I like that. You gotta go up there and be sharp on the starting line and get your car down the track. Racing somebody, especially like Joe Hartley, will keep you honest. They’re fighting for top 10. They’re not a slacker car and they’ve beat us before, so we’ll just go up there and see what we can do.”

Langdon’s teammate, Morgan Lucas, remained No. 2 behind Dixon with his Friday 3.909, and is followed on the qualifying sheets by Cory McClenathan (3.914), Spencer Massey (3.914), and Cory McClenathan (3.915), all on the basis of their Friday efforts.

Joe Hartley failed to make it down the track on any of his four passes over two days, but nonetheless fills the final spot in the field and will face off against Dixon in the first round. Hartley is 1-1 against Dixon so far this season.

Friday qualifying really shook up the Funny Car field Saturday, but one thing that stayed consistent at the end of both days was Tony Pedregon’s dominance of the field with his special-edition Conquest Boats Quaker State Impala. Pedregon, who led Friday qualifying with a 4.182, bettered that in the morning qualifying session with a 4.174 to solidify his lead. Pedregon has been among the top three qualifiers at the last six races on the tour, including a No. 1 in Chicago and a No. 2 last weekend in Denver.

“It was a great effort in qualifying and it really reminds me of our Chicago race,” said Pedregon. “That was really the first race that we put a sting of runs together and had a little bit of a performance advantage. My expectations are the same that they were in Chicago; I would be disappointed with anything less than winning the race. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that anything can happen, but I also know what it takes to win one of these events. I knew we’d have a good setup coming in here. Dickie [Venables, crew chief] makes a lot of power at sea level and we’re surrounded by trees so there’s a lot of oxygen. We had some temperature in track again today, but somehow we managed to find the right combination to get down the track. Tomorrow, if the weatherman is right, it’ll be a little cooler and that means the times will be a little quicker, and I feel better going into those kinds of conditions versus it warm up.”

“There are some good cars out there. Qualifying is one thing, but we need to continue what we did in qualifying on Sunday. I look for some of the other teams to pick up in the performance department; a lot of them did in that last session. But we’ll go toe to toe with any of them any time, and I think we’re going to have great conditions. It really has been a great race for us, but we need to be great on Sunday and that’s our goal.”

Mike Neff, who like Pedregon had been hot in qualifying with a top four berths at four of the five races preceding this one, rebounded nicely from an off-pace No. 15 berth last weekend in Denver to put his John Medlen-tuned Drive One Mustang in the No. 2 spot with a 4.216, the best pass of the final session; Pedregon had the second-best run of that round, a 4.228. Rookie Matt Hagan also ran 4.216, but Neff’s superior speed, 290.26 to 286.32 earned him the higher ranking but Hagan had to be pleased with his second straight No. 3 spot in the Tommy Delago-tuned Shelor.com Dodge.

Friday’s No. 2 qualifier, Bob Tasca III, could not improve on his 4.228 and slipped two spots to fourth with the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford. John Force, who has won this race seven times in his hall of fame career, showcased that experience by moving up to the No. 5 spot Saturday with a 4.229 while Ron Capps, who entered the event in a tie with Force’s daughter, Ashley Force Hood, at the head of the points back, gained one more point than her in qualifying with a sixth-best 4.25. Force Hood qualified eighth. Grant Downing, making his second start of the season, qualified No. 16 and will oppose Pedregon in round one.

Johnson rocketed past Friday leader Mike Edwards into the top spot with a dual track-record blast of 6.571, 210.21 from his Mopar Dodge Stratus in Saturday’s first qualifying session. It’s the first No. 1 qualifying of the year for Allen and crew chief/father Roy, who have been the No. 2 qualifiers three times this season, including at the season’s two most recent events.

“Right now our entire team feels as good as we’ve ever felt in our racing career,” said Johnson. “The last three or four weeks everything has really jelled. The car is just absolutely fabulous right now; Dad has picked up a little bit of power, and we’re running the back half in top speed and we haven’t done that in awhile. We’ve got the best of both worlds right now.

“I didn’t even know, but somebody pointed out that I’ve been to the last three final rounds here. We’ve had fun here, we love it here like we love Denver, and hopefully we can take that consistency and confidence we’ve built the last few weeks and do two in a row, something I’ve never done.”

Edwards had the quickest pass of the evening session, a 6.596, but it was not better than his earlier 6.576 and his A.R.T./Young Life Pontiac remained in the No. 2 spot.

Summit teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line finished qualifying 3-4 in the lineup with respective passes of 6.582 and 6.598, also both registered in the day’s fist session. All four drivers bettered Edwards’ Friday-best e.t. of 6.606 and Line became the latest driver to lock up a spot in the Countdown playoffs. 

World champ Jeg Coughlin, whose points-leading Jegs.com Cobalt didn’t make it down the track on either Friday passes while the team tested new components, looked solid with passes of 6.60 and 6.61 and settled into the No. 5 spot.

– Courtesy NHRA

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, July 18 2009
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