By Lee Elder
CONCORD, NC (Oct. 13, 2018) – Brittany Force accomplished everything she could have when she stormed down the ZMAX Dragway and snagged the Top Fuel top qualifier position for Sunday’s eliminations in the NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Force’s run was a dramatic charge down the track, to be sure, and it gave the defending Top Fuel champion a piece of good news during a Countdown to the Championship playoffs series which brought her to North Carolina ninth in points with time running out in the season.
Beyond what she accomplished for herself and her team, Force also put Countdown leader Steve Torrence and his immediate challenger, Clay Millican, on the same side of the Top Fuel ladder. The potential for playoff drama lurks as of the opening salvo of Sunday’s racing because Torrence and Millican could race in the semi-finals.
“We’re looking good going into race day,” Force said. “Our team has really been struggling this year in qualifying and we made some changes with the car the last few weekends. This weekend, I’m really hoping we’re going to turn the corner.”
The top qualifiers were Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock), Force (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car).
When Johnson claimed the top spot in Funny Car with his 3.873-second, 329.10 mph run, he capped an interesting final session. Jonnie Lindberg started the session unqualified but jumped safely into the field with a 3.959-second pass, leaving Bob Gilbertson the odd driver out. Gilbertson and Dave Richards, who was on the bump spot, were the next pair to run and Gilbertson missed the field.
Johnson said, “I would say the only thing we have to change is semifinals (where he has lost three of the past four races). We have to fix that this weekend. We’ve had a good car for the last 6-7 races and we just keep building on it.”
It marked the first time Johnson has qualified first in consecutive Funny Car events in his career. Ron Capps and Tim Wilkerson qualified second and third, respectively.
Skillman went into Sunday’s final session fourth on the Pro Stock ladder, but he jolted the program with a 6.509-second, 211.30 mph pass to grab the top spot during Saturday’s late session. Erica Enders qualified second, Tanner Gray was third.
“We’re trying our best to finish as strong as we can this year,” said Skillman, who entered the weekend fourth in points. “We didn’t have the best year all year, but the racecar is really coming together at the end of the season when it needs to. We’re going to try to get three more wins this year and this is a great start. We definitely feel very comfortable here.”
The Pro Stock category drew a 14-car field and one of those cars, the one campaigned by Australia’s Shane Tucker, was not expected to race Sunday due to mechanical issues. The resulting 13-car field will create more open spaces in the 16-berth Pro Stock bracket.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying results gave that category a chance to really shake things up in the Countdown standings Sunday. The top four drivers in the Countdown, LE Tonglet, Krawiec, Matt Smith and Hector Arana Jr., all earned berths on the same side of the elimination ladder.
Krawiec’s top qualifier pass was 6.806 seconds and 197.83 mph. Chip Ellis was second, followed by Jerry Savoie.
“I was fortunate enough to keep the No. 1 spot,” Krawiec said. “One of my teammates, Chip Ellis, almost knocked me off, but we were able to get it done. Rolling into tomorrow, I think it should be some good racing. It’s definitely going to be a game-changer. You have to be on this weekend and whoever comes out of here going the most rounds is probably going to be the most comfortable in this points battle. It’s do or die time, really.”
NOTES: The non-qualifiers: Pro Stock Motorcycle – Ron Tornow, Kelly Clontz, John Hall, Mark Paquette, Anthony Vanetti, Maurice Allen. Top Fuel – Lex Joon. Funny Car – Bob Gilbertson. … The PSM race for the bump spot went according to pencil. None of the six riders who started the final session out of the field were able to bump in.