MOHNTON, Pa. – For the first time in more than six years, Cruz Pedregon is the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car, as the veteran claimed the top spot on Saturday to close out qualifying at the 36th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Maple Grove Raceway.
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 at the 14th of 20 races during the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the first race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Pedregon last qualified No. 1 in 2015, but that changed during Saturday’s final qualifying session, as he powered to a run of 3.875 seconds at 326.00 mph in his Snap-On Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. It is the 62nd career No. 1 qualifier for Pedregon, who is seeking his third career victory at Maple Grove Raceway.
“I didn’t even realize it was that long ago,” said the two-time Funny Car champ. “We’ve been steady and knocking on the door. John Collins, my crew chief, definitely thought there’s great rewards and it would pay off to get that No. 1 spot and get on the right side of the ladder. Sometimes winning these races, you have to get on the right side of the ladder and avoid the big hitters, until the later rounds. That’s how it worked out. The car really responded, and it really has been responding the last six races. The car is just so consistent. I don’t know if I’ve ever driven a car as consistent as this one. It’s not easy to drive, but it’s going places, that’s for sure.”
Robert Hight qualified second with his 3.883-second pass at 330.39 mph from Friday, while Indy winner Tim Wilkerson jumped to third with a 3.884-second run at 332.67 mph. Points leader Ron Capps is fifth with a 3.896-second pass at 328.66 mph.
Force stayed No. 1 in Top Fuel, but lowered her already impressive time, going 3.660 seconds at 334.07 mph in her 11,000-horsepower Flav-R-Pac dragster. That gives Force an incredible seven straight No. 1 qualifiers, nine this year and 29 for her career. She made the quickest run in each of the three qualifying sessions, giving the team plenty of confidence heading into raceday. She became the first driver since 2007 to have seven straight No. 1 qualifiers and the first in Top Fuel history to have seven No. 1 spots in a row in the same season.
“That’s a pretty outstanding record to have,” Force said. “But, really, looking at today and yesterday, that Q2 run that we had today, to be able to step it up was pretty outstanding. That was a big run for us and that’s the run I’m most excited about. But we laid three solid passes down and that’s pretty outstanding. I’m proud of this team and I can’t wait to get this Countdown going. We’re all pumped and we’re all excited, and we’re all delivering. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
Points leader and three-time defending world champ Steve Torrence stayed second following his pass of 3.692 seconds at 327.19 mph from Friday and Clay Millican is third thanks to his 3.696-second pass at 322.65 mph from the first attempt as well.
Following her impressive victory last weekend at the U.S. Nationals, Enders stepped up on Saturday in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, qualifying No. 1 with a run of 6.524 seconds at 209.56 mph. For the defending back-to-back world champ, it’s her first No. 1 qualifier this season and 23rd in her standout career. It also puts her on a good path heading into eliminations, where she’ll open raceday against veteran Larry Morgan.
“We’ll need all the points we can get (in the Countdown) and those qualifying points will definitely matter. They have in our past championship runs and we’ll take all we can get, but having a great race car going into Sunday definitely gives you confidence,” Enders said. “After the Friday night session, we felt like we left some on the table, so we felt like there was more. I definitely feel like we’re all clicking. We have our work cut out for us and the competition is stout, but I’m ready to get down to business.”
Points leader Greg Anderson qualified second with a run of 6.530 seconds at 209.79 mph on Saturday, while Aaron Stanfield’s 6.534-second pass at 209.88 mph puts him third.
Sampey stayed No. 1 in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but got better on Saturday on her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki, taking the top spot with a run of 6.745 seconds at 196.64 mph. It hands her the No. 1 position for the second time this season and 53rd time in her career and she’ll open raceday against Jianna Salinas. Coming off a final round appearing in Indy, Sampey will try to finish the job this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway.
“It was a great start to the weekend and I’m excited about it because it’s the same motorcycle I’ve had all year long,” Sampey said. “That bike was capable of doing that from Gainesville to here, it was just me not driving it well. I’m starting to get the hang of it and I’m starting to get more comfortable on the bike, and it’s showing. My teammate, Eddie (Krawiec), did so well at Indy, qualifying No. 1 and winning the race, and I’d like to follow in his footsteps this weekend.”
Points leader and defending world champ Matt Smith jumped to second in the final qualifying session with a run of 6.750 seconds at 201.91 mph. He set the speed record earlier in the day at 202.09 mph. Eddie Krawiec got bumped to third with his run of 6.763 seconds at 201.67 mph from Friday.
Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Maple Grove Raceway.