BRAINERD, Minn. – official release — NHRA photo — Top Fuel driver Antron Brown raced to his third No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd Int’l Raceway.
John Force (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the penultimate race in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season.
Brown will try to score his sixth win of the season and continue to chase series leader Doug Kalitta when he faces J.R. Todd in the first round of eliminations. Brown, who won this race in 2011, took the 37th No. 1 of his career and his third Brainerd top qualifying effort with a performance of 3.810 seconds at 318.77 mph in his Matco Tools dragster.
“We were pushing to run better,” said Brown, who edged Kalitta for the top spot in a thrilling side-by-side pass to close out Top Fuel qualifying. “The cloud cover came in, and we were trying to run quicker. My guys did an incredible job. We’ll take that No. 1. Those are three more bonus points for the run and a couple points for qualifying No. 1.”
With only two races remaining before the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins, Brown knows that he doesn’t have much time if he’s going to grab the top seed in the class for the playoffs.
“We’re going to focus on that tough first-round matchup with J.R. Todd,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a really good race. We’re going to go after it and take it one round at a time.”
Kalitta will start second in his Mac Tools dragster with his Friday leading run of 3.812 at 322.96 and defending world champ Shawn Langdon qualified third in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with a 3.815 at 321.27.
Force powered to his fifth No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 151st of his career in Funny Car after an afternoon rain shower cooled off the track and set the stage for his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to sprint to a weekend-best performance of 4.060 at 315.27. The 11-time Brainerd winner will face Bob Bode in the opening round.
“It cooled down and we knew everybody would step up,” said Force, who has advanced to the last four final rounds, winning twice. “We knew it was there. I told the TV camera I was going for No. 1. I have never said that in 30 years because it just don’t work that way. I have to start making a move now. I have to get this hot rod to where it will win and build the confidence in myself and all the kids around me. I laughed about it that I said it. It’s very simple, [crew chief] Jimmy Prock is on his game. That car makes big horsepower and he always swings for the fence.”
The brief rain delay helped to shake up the Funny Car ladder as four-time Brainerd winner Ron Capps moved to the second spot with a 4.064 at 314.17 in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger and his teammate Matt Hagan improved to third with a 4.068 at 311.99 in his Rocky Boots / Mopar Charger. Friday leader Robert Hight fell to fifth in his Auto Club Mustang with a 4.081 at 307.37.
In Pro Stock, Johnson claimed his fifth No. 1 of the season and 36th of his career with his Friday run of 6.614 at 207.98 in his Magneti Marelli / Team Mopar Dodge Dart. The Tennessee driver hopes to follow his first Brainerd top qualifying effort with his first win here. He was runner-up in 2012 in his only final round appearance at this event.
“I’ve had a great car all weekend and the new Dodge Dart really likes this surface at Brainerd,” Johnson said. “It’s our best start here at Brainerd. I think we’ve got a good game plan for tomorrow. That last run was pretty nice. Having a good shot at the track tomorrow (with the first round bye run) will pay dividends for us because we will be able to get after it a little more than we normally would if there was a car in the other lane, so that will tell us how far we can push it tomorrow.”
Minnesota native Jason Line made Saturday’s quickest run in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro with a 6.622 at 207.91 to move to second overall and he will try to win his hometown race for the first time. Series leader Erica Enders-Stevens qualified third with a 6.630 at 207.85 in her Elite Motorsports Camaro and three-time BIR winner Greg Anderson qualified fourth in his Summit Racing Camaro with a 6.632 at 208.39.