Antron Brown earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals at Heartland Park Topeka.
Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also will lead their respective categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
No one improved on Brown’s Friday performance of 3.797 at a track record speed of 324.98 mph in his Matco Tools dragster. The best runs of Saturday’s two sessions were turned in by Top Fuel teammates Brandon Bernstein and Morgan Lucas, who posted the four quickest runs of the day.
“The two Morgan Lucas Racing cars went (3.82) today out in the heat, so that definitely set the bar,” said Brown, who earned his 30th career No. 1 and first since Oct. 2011. “We tried to step it up for that last session, but we just didn’t make it down. Tomorrow, we’re just going to go back, regroup, and do what we do. It’s race day. That’s when it counts.”
Brown, who earned his 30th career No. 1 and first since Oct. 2011, will face veteran driver Cory McClenathan in the first round of eliminations. Brown said with the extremely tough competition in the Top Fuel category, where he noted the top eight cars are separated by such a small gap, every point moving forward is critical.
“Our deal is to go out there and get round-wins so we can lock down a spot in the Countdown [to the Championship],” Brown said. “We’re trying to stay near the top and gain points and rounds in this tough Top Fuel class. That first round on Sunday is when you get started and set the tone. This team will stay poised and focused for that.”
In Funny Car, Pedregon took his third top qualifying effort of the season and 48th of his career based on his Friday track record performance of 4.406 at 315.56 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry. He will face rookie Todd Lesenko in the first round.
“We’re ready to go,” said Pedregon. “We have to avoid mistakes tomorrow. If we can do that, then I like our chances. We’re focused on racing Todd Lesenko in the first round, and we’ll evaluate things from there. NHRA did a great job of prepping this race track. Even though the conditions are hotter, I think you have no one to blame but yourself if you smoke the tires. We’re going to try to be boring tomorrow. We’re going to try to be workmanlike and pound out four round-wins if we can.”
Should Pedregon win his opening round he will face the winner of the Courtney Force-Robert Hight pairing in the quarterfinals. Pedregon said Courtney had the best car on Saturday. In the heat of qualifying she posted a 4.109 at 310.13 in her Traxxas Ford Mustang.
“I was impressed with Courtney’s run today,” Pedregon said. “So far, if you take away my run from yesterday, that is the car to beat. I like to give credit where it’s due, and that team really made a great run out there today in those conditions.”
In Pro Stock, Johnson claimed his third No. 1 of the season and 21st of his career by covering the distance in 6.618 at 207.85 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger. He will open eliminations against Ronnie Humphrey.
Johnson was second-quickest in both Saturday sessions, following Jason Line first and then Greg Anderson in the final qualifying round.
“We’ve got some great momentum right now,” Johnson said. “We’re stuck right in the middle of those two Summit cars in battling for that No. 1 spot. That’s our deal, to keep our Mopar Dodge Avenger out in front of those two Pontiacs. NHRA did an excellent job with the track preparation. We actually had a better 60-foot time in the afternoon session than we did in the first. That’s hats off to the crew. We’re getting a little better all the time and more consistent. I think that the track will be a little cooler tomorrow and that we’ll probably see someone reset the track record again.”