Morgan Lucas was happy for himself on Saturday afternoon, but sympathetic to the misfortune of his biggest rival in the NHRA Top Fuel division.
“You don’t wish not qualifying on anyone. He’s such a good person, you hate to see him in that situation,” said Lucas, of Brownsburg, Ind., after he qualified first and defending circuit champion Antron Brown failed to make the 16-driver cut for Sunday’s finals in the Carolina Nationals at ZMax Dragway.
The event is the first in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Lucas earned his second No. 1 position of the season with a top elapsed time of 3.749 seconds and a fastest speed of 324.51 mph.
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“If I want to contend for the championship, I have to win here,” Lucas said. “I feel like we’re on the right track. Tomorrow will be a hard day, but the guys really want it right now.”
It will be even tougher for Brown, who won’t be around for a championship day for the first time since 2008. He was nudged out of the last spot for today’s races on the fourth and final qualifying run. Terry McMillian got in with a time of 3.885 seconds, nine one-thousands of a second faster than Brown.
Lucas edged out Tony Schumacher for the top spot. Schumacher’s top run was 3.766 seconds with a top speed of 321.19 mph.
On a day of comparatively mild temperatures, track times were fast – all but two of the top 16 finishers in the third round came in under 4 seconds.
In the Funny Car Division, Cruz Pedregon won the No. 1 position with a shortest elapsed time of 3.98 seconds and a top speed of 319.22 mph. He edged points leader Matt Hagan, who will have the No. 2 spot for today’s finals.
Bob Gilbertson of Gastonia took the 16th and last qualifying spot to make today’s finals.
In the Pro Stock Division, Jason Line of Mooresville, the championship winner here last year, was top qualifier with a top speed of 211.93 mph and a low elapsed time of 6.541 seconds.
“We’ve got a good hot rod this weekend, and we haven’t had one for a while,” Line said. “I’ve had better and worse days, but we earned points on every run.”
Shane Grey of Denver, N.C., qualified third (6.545 seconds), just .011 seconds behind second-place qualifier Mike Edwards. Mooresville driver Greg Anderson will also be in tomorrow’s final field of 16, qualifying seventh with a time of 6.556 seconds.
Matt Smith of King qualified first in the Pro Stock Motorcycle division with a fastest time of 6.854 seconds and a top speed of 195.68 mph. He won all four qualifying sessions in gaining his fourth No. 1 finals spot of the season.
Notes: Shirley Muldowney, three-time Top Fuel Champion (1977, 1980 and 1982) and the first woman to drive a Top Fuel dragster, says she is considering returning to competition after a 10-year absence. “I’ve been offered a Nostalgia Funny Car for next year,” said Muldowney, 73, who retired from competition in 2003. Nostalgia Funny Cars are one of four divisions in the NHRA’s Hot Rod Heritage Series.