In this photo provided by NHRA, Antron Brown races to the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel on Saturday at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals drag races at Bristol Dragway. Brown qualified at 3.814 seconds at 323.12 mph. Associated Press photo.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — The more things changed, the more things stayed the same on Saturday, the final day of qualifying for the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
That was great news for Antron Brown, Bob Tasca III and Greeneville native Allen Johnson, whose blistering fast runs on Friday night were never challenged Saturday when cars struggled to get down a slippery, hot racing surface during the final two qualifying runs.
Brown’s run under the lights on Friday night was enough to win him the pole in the Top Fuel division. The same was true for Tasca in the Funny Car class and Johnson in the Pro Stock ranks.
For Johnson, it marked the third straight year that he earned the top spot in Pro Stock on his home track. After a pair of good runs on a hot track Saturday, he’s hoping the third time is the charm in terms of turning a stellar qualifying effort into his first NHRA win in Bristol.
“We feel like we’ve already won the battle. Now we need to go win the war,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a very, very consistent race car right now.
“We’ve got good people making good decisions. We just need the driver to go out and do his job.”
Johnson felt like his pass in the fourth and final qualifying session was a harbinger of good things to come in today’s final eliminations. With track temperatures soaring to nearly 120 degrees under the afternoon sun, Johnson laid down the fastest time in the session — a good sign considering track conditions should be very similar during this afternoon’s eliminations.
“I think that last run will be very, very similar,” he said. “The only thing about the Pro Stock is that we run behind the fuel cars on Sunday and it throws a little bit of a wrinkle in there.
“But we’ve been running behind them a long time. I think that we’ll be OK.”
Johnson will face off against Shane Gray in the first round of today’s eliminations, which will begin at noon.
In Top Fuel, Brown and his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher closed out the final qualifying session with a side-by-side battle for the second day in a row. Schumacher edged out Brown, but his time wasn’t enough to move him up from the second spot.
Still, the teammates have looked strong throughout the weekend, leaving Brown hopeful that they’ll meet again in the finals today.
“That last session, that’s what we’re going to see a lot of tomorrow,” Brown said, referring to the slick track conditions. “That was a great run for my teammate. Hopefully that could be like tomorrow’s final round. That’s what we’re hoping for, but we know we have a lot of tough competition.”
Just how tough is the competition in Top Fuel these days? Tough enough to send Morgan Lucas and Brandon Bernstein packing.
Lucas entered the weekend fourth in points with a race win at the Gatornationals, and Bernstein was a runner-up in Bristol last season. But neither Morgan Lucas Racing entry could put together a fast enough pass to make it into the 16-car field.
“It blows my mind. That’s how tough this class is,” Brown said. “People don’t understand how tough Top Fuel is right now.
“When you come out here to Thunder Valley, that’s what this place can throw at you. You’ve got to be aggressive, but you can’t be overboard. They got bit this race.”
Even though Saturday’s two passes proved to be a struggle for Tasca, his time from Friday gave him his second consecutive Funny Car pole in Bristol.
Tasca said the aborted effort on the first run was just a case of going for too much and the trouble on the second attempt was a matter of trying to be conservative but not backing off quite enough on the setup.
Still, Tasca remained optimistic about his chances to go rounds and possibly win today. He chalked up Saturday as a prime example of how fickle the sport can be.
“We live on the edge of a razor blade every run,” Tasca said. “A tenth of a pound of tire pressure, two to three grams on the clutch, one degree of timing — that’s crazy when you think about playing with 8,000 horsepower, and those are the decisions crew chiefs have to make.
“That’s the difference between going down the racetrack and not going down the racetrack.”comments powered by Disqus