POMONA, Calif. — official release — NHRA photo —
Doug Kalitta raced to the qualifying lead in Top Fuel Friday at the 50th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the final race of the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
Kalitta, who has had one of the quickest cars on the circuit this year, is in position to claim his seventh No. 1 qualifying position of the season if his performance holds through Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions (11:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m.).
“That was a nice run for us tonight,” Kalitta said. “The temperatures are great here this weekend. There should be some good qualifying runs the rest of the weekend, and it should be exciting for the fans. I love running at this place because it has so much history. We’ll try to qualify up front and let it all hang out on Sunday and see how it goes.”
Kalitta, who led the series standings for most of the regular season and entered the Countdown as the top seed, has been officially eliminated from title contention because series points leader Tony Schumacher is already qualified near the top of the 16-car field. Kalitta took the top spot with a performance of 3.754 seconds at 326.87 mph in his Mac Tools dragster.
“The pressure is off; we’re just here to win this thing on Sunday,” Kalitta said. “It’s one of the best years we’ve had, and we’ll keep at it. I’m real proud of my guys.”
Johnson powered his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger to a 4.003 at 317.34 to take the qualifying lead in Funny Car.
“We were shooting for the threes,” Johnson said. “We were hoping the conditions would’ve been a little better. We had a tune-up in there to run [a three-second time]. We got close. I am having a good time, enjoying myself. The car’s running great. We have a very steady car that’s getting better and better. All season long, we’ve gotten better. The team is starting to jell, and the team chemistry is coming together.”
Meanwhile, John Force trimmed Matt Hagan’s points lead by two by posting the second-quickest time in the first qualifying session. Force qualified fourth in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang at 4.015 at 316.60, and Hagan sits eighth in his Mopar Express Lane Charger with a 4.063 at 314.83. Following the first two sessions, Hagan leads Force by 19.
Ron Capps raced to the No. 2 spot in his NAPA Auto Parts Charger with a 4.005 at 317.79, and two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon is anchoring the third spot in his Snap-on Tools Toyota with a 4.011 at 311.77.
Gray paced the Pro Stock field with a performance of 6.522 seconds at 211.26 mph in his Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro. Gray is one of the drivers still in contention for the championship in the 200-mph factory hot rod category, but he trails series leader Erica Enders-Stevens by a large margin. She qualified second with a 6.526 at 211.99 in her Elite Motorsports Camaro as she attempts to become the first female driver to win an NHRA Pro Stock world championship.
“I’d like to win kind of like we did it here in 2010,” Gray said. “We’re here to have fun. If you stress yourself out to where it’s not fun anymore, then you need to rethink the game. I want to be out here and race for multiple years. I thought I would change my attitude and outlook and start having fun. When you do that, things start happening a lot easier for you.”
Second-place Jason Line qualified third at the controls of his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro with a 6.532 at 211.46. Line, who entered the race 17 back of Enders-Stevens, now trails by 19 points following today’s two sessions. Defending world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. is fourth with a 6.538 at 211.13 in his JEGS.com Dodge Dart.
Arana led the two-wheel category with a 6.832 at 197.62 on his Lucas Oil Buell. If the time holds, it will be his third No. 1 of the season and 16th of his career.
“My goal was to solve our issues leaving the starting line,” said Arana. “Because we’ve done that, we were more consistent, and we’ve been able to jump back to the top of the field. It’s still not over since it is Friday. There are a lot of bikes out there that can catch us. I still want to get a win since this is the last race of the season and finish on a good note.”
Series points leader Andrew Hines qualified third on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.859 at 195.99, and his closest competition for the championship, Eddie Krawiec, qualified second on his Harley-Davidson with a 6.834 at 195.76.