Antron Brown and Courtney Force moved to the No. 1 spots in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively, during final qualifying at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Jeg Coughlin Jr. held on to the top spot in Pro Stock and will lead that category into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ fourth stop of the year.
In Top Fuel, Brown secured his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 35th of his career with his 3.768 at 325.14 in his Matco Tools dragster. Brown’s 3.7-second run was one of five 3.7s during the final qualifying session, and the Don Schumacher Racing driver snatched the top position from series points leader Doug Kalitta on the last pass of the final session.
“You could see as the track got tighter the crew chiefs were getting it together, and we saw some phenomenal runs,” Brown said. “Doug put that 3.77 on the board right in front of us, so I knew it was time to get to work. We had just been picking at it, but I saw my boys go into the box and make some adjustments. I just said, 'Uh oh, here we go. This is where it gets good,' and it just went A to B.”
Brown noted the stiff competition of the Top Fuel category so far in 2014, and the runs from qualifying showed a similar pattern.
“It's going to be a fight like this all year,” Brown said. “It's not going to be just the fastest car but the most efficient car that makes great laps the most often. We're looking forward to that challenge.”
Brown will face Mike Strasburg in the first round of eliminations. The 2012 world champ has two wins in Las Vegas, including last season’s fall event and will be going for his second straight win at the track.
Kalitta, who won the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals two weeks ago, qualified second with a 3.775 pass at 321.88 in his Mac Tools dragster. The Ypsilanti, Mich., native held the No. 1 qualifying position for one pass before Brown’s top run. Kalitta will face Steve Faria in the first round.
In Funny Car, Force set track records in both elapsed time and speed with her performance of 4.006 at 325.37 in her Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car. Force’s top speed was also the fastest speed for both nitro classes.
"I was waiting for Dad [John Force] or Matt Hagan to take it from me,” Force said. "When I got out of the car, I didn't realize the speed was 325 mph. It's pretty [amazing to see] the 325-mph run was not only the best in Funny Car but Top Fuel as well.”
Force has struggled to open the season but feels that her team may have turned a corner following a semifinal showing in Gainesville and the No. 1 qualifier here.
“We struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season,” said Force, who was runner-up at both Las Vegas events last season. “Coming out here, it felt good to have a consistent race car back and be at a track that we've had some good luck at in the past.”
The 2012 Automobile of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner secured her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and fourth of her career. She earned a matchup with Jon Capps on Sunday.
Force’s 16-time world champion father John qualified No. 2 with his 4.017 run at 317.87. The Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang driver will face Paul Lee in the first round of eliminations.
Tommy Johnson Jr., Del Worsham, and Matt Hagan rounded out the top five. Bob Tasca III entered the event fourth in Funny Car points but failed to qualify.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
In Pro Stock, Coughlin topped the leaderboard after the first day of qualifying with a 6.625 at 208.78 in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart, and the run held up through Saturday’s two sessions, giving him his 20th career No. 1 qualifying position and first of the season.
“I'm really proud to hold onto the No. 1 position,” Coughlin said. “I think it really shows quite a bit from our team. We've been hustling the last month-and-a-half getting these new cars ready.”
The defending world champ will meet No. 16 seed Mark Wolfe in the first round. Chris McGaha, who secured his first career No. 1 qualifier in Phoenix, was close to a second top spot but will settle for the No. 2 seed in his Harlow Sammons of Odessa Chevy Camaro. The Odessa, Texas, native ran 6.625 at 208.07 and will open eliminations against Rodger Brogdon.
K&N Horsepower Challenge winner Erica Enders-Stevens, Challenge runner-up Dave Connolly, and Jason Line claimed top-five positions in Pro Stock.
Friday: Torrence, Hagan, Coughlin opening-day leaders in Las Vegas
Saturday: Enders-Stevens wins $50,000 K&N Horsepower Challenge