By Lee Elder
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Oct. 27, 2018) – Tommy Johnson Jr. started the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway fifth in the very tight NHRA Countdown to a Championship Funny Car standings and edged closer to the front by taking the number one qualifying position for Sunday’s eliminations.
Clay Millican topped the Top Fuel ladder, Jeg Coughlin was best in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Junior led Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“Our car has been running so great for the Countdown,” Johnson said after collecting his second number one of the season. “We’ve had a good car on Sunday but we’ve had a great car on Saturday.”
Unofficially, Johnson remained in fifth place in the Countdown and trailed category leader Robert Hight by 142 points. J.R. Todd, Ron Capps and Tim Wilkerson are between Hight and Johnson.
“It’s a long shot,” Johnson admitted. “You can’t ever quit. There was a miracle on ice once, maybe there will be a miracle on the drag strip.”
Millican collected his tenth number one qualifier this season, but the dominance of Steve Torrence since the start of the Countdown has left Millican and his team with little to show for their efforts.
“It’s just crazy that the car has been that good in qualifying,” Millican said. “My green to yellow hat ratio is off.” Green ballcaps are awarded to top qualifiers, yellow caps go to race winners.
Coughlin collected his fifth number one of the season and admitted catching Tanner Gray in the standings would be difficult. Coughlin sits second in points but Gray has performed exceptionally well in the Countdown.
“There is no room for error, either in the pits or behind the wheel,” Coughlin said.
Arana Jr. said, “We made a really good pass the first session. That gave us confidence.”
Qualifying session 4
Pro Stock Motorcycle: The riders failing to make the starting field were Karen Stoffer, Katie Sullivan, Cory Reed, Freddie Camarena, Anthony Vanetti and Maurice Allen. … Hector Arana hit two scoring blocks and his run was disqualified. Hector Arana Jr had the best time of the round and went to number one at 6.871 seconds. Eddie Krawiec scored two points and Chip Ellis got one.
Pro Stock: The drivers who did not qualify were Val Smeland, Joey Gross and Tom Huggins. Chris McGaha had the best time of the round at 6.647 seconds. Jeg Coughlin got two point and Bo Butner earned one. Coughlin earned his fifth number one of the season with his third-round run.
Top Fuel: The drivers who failed to qualify were Greg Carrillo and Terry Totten. Clay Millican had the best run of the round and collected the top qualifying spot at 3.714 seconds for the round and 3.699 overall. Steve Torrence was second for the round and Leah Pritchett was third. Torrence can clinch the championship Sunday by advancing one round further in eliminations than Millican.
Funny Car: The non-qualifiers were Gary Densham, Bob Bode and Jeff Diehl. Tommy Johnson Jr. improved on his category-best lap with a quicker 3.874-second pass. Bob Tasca was second best of the session and John Force was third. Force and JR Todd tied but Force had the better speed and won the tie-breaker.
Qualifying session 3
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hector Arana Jr. grabbed the top spot.
Pro Stock: Jeg Coughlin grabbed the top spot and earned three points with a 6.628-second pass. Jason Line was second, both overall and for the session, to get two points. Matt Hartford posted the third-best run of the session and the weekend to collect a point.
Top Fuel: Steve Torrence’s 3.702-second run was the best of the round, but he did not pass Millican for the number one spot overall. Brittany Force got two points and Antron Brown was third.
Funny Car: Tommy Johnson Jr. had the best time of the round and weekend, 3.899 to collect three points. J.R. Todd was second for the round and Courtney Force was third. Todd’s points pulled him within 10 points of Countdown leader Robert Hight.
NOTES: As Saturday’s racing began the Countdown standings in the Mello Yello professional categories: Steve Torrence lead Top Fuel with a 170-point advantage over Clay Millican. Robert Hight led Funny Car with a skinny, 12-point advantage over J.R. Todd. Tanner Gray led Pro Stock with a 129-point advantage over Jeg Coughlin. Matt Smith had a 40-point advantage over L.E.
Tonglet and a 51-point lead over third-place Eddie Krawiec. … 2017 Pro Stock champ has announced plans to leave Pro Stock in 2019 in order to concentrate on his sportsman career. With Tanner Gray, the likely 2018 PS champ, leaving for NASCAR racing, the two most recent PS champs will not be in the field in 2019. … The Pennzoil sponsored cars of Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel) and Matt Hagan (Funny Car) sported Chrome paint jobs. … Jordan Vandergriff will race in Top Fuel next season with D-A Lubricant as his sponsor. He is the nephew of nitro class veteran Bob Vandergriff and will drive for the Vandergriff team.