Finding balance after qualifying proving difficult for some NHRA teams at Thunder Valley
Top Fuel dragster Antron Brown already had a premonition prior to first round qualifying at Thunder Valley.
“It’s going to be hot and the track is going to be greasy,” replied Brown in his pre-qualifying press conference.
Sure enough, the track was hot and the twin lanes at Thunder Valley left several top NHRA teams scrambling to find the right setup before second round qualifications later in the evening.
With an on-track temperature at 134 degrees earlier in the afternoon, drivers such as Leah Pritchett, Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Clay Millican and Tony Schumacher, found reaching the top spot in qualifying a little out of their immediate reach.
Scott Palmer led Top Fuel drivers with a 293.92 mph qualifying run with Pritchett qualifying fourth with a 224.25 mph, Antron Brown in eighth with a 164.63 mph run and last year’s big winner, Clay Millican with a twelfth place run.
In Funny Car qualifying, Christiansburg, VA native Matt Hagan wrestled his MOPAR Funny Car into the third spot with a 296.24 mph effort with Courtney Force in fourth with a 232.95 mph run and Force’s dad, the legendary John Force, placing eighth with Toyota driver J.R. Todd looking for something that will help him improve on his last place effort. Chevrolet driver Robert Hight qualified sixth with MOPAR driver Ron Capps qualifying seventh.
In Pro Stock series qualifying, Jeg Coughlin, Jr. took the top spot with a 205.26 mph run with Greg Anderson of Mooresville, NC qualifying second with a 205.44 mph run and Erica Enders placing fourth.
Enders said following her run that her Elite Motorsports team “had their work cut out for them” getting her Camaro in shape and ready for second round qualifying. Last year’s Pro Stock winner at Thunder Valley, Alex Laughlin, qualified fifth, Tanner Gray in seventh and Roan Mountain, TN native Tim Freeman in eleventh.
As the shadows of the mountains and stands crept onto the track, the track temperature cooled but only to a temperature of 119 degrees.
In the second round of qualifying, Greg Anderson moved up to the top spot with a 205.34 mph run, taking the top spot from Jeg Coughlin, Jr. demoting him to the second spot. Drew Skillman sped to the three spot with Tanner Gray and Alex Laughlin bringing up the rear of the top five, finishing fourth and fifth respectively. Coincidentally, Anderson picked up his 100th career provisional starting spot in the second round at Bristol Dragway but the night was not so special for Erica Enders, as in the second round of qualifying, Enders dropped seven spots to 11th while Tim Freeman picked up his first round effort and finished in the 12th spot.
A 3.993 second, 325.92 mph performance by Courtney Force would put the Advance Auto Parts team in the top spot during second round qualifying Funny Car. Despite a “bumpy ride” down track, Force indicated that her Chevrolet team would have to pick it up a notch going into third round qualifying in preparation for Sunday’s eliminations. Force told the media following her run that her team has to adjust considering Saturday and Sunday is forecast to be as hot and hotter than Friday’s qualifying rounds.
J.R. Todd moved up in second round qualifying to the number two spot and with Todd commenting following his qualifying run that hopefully, their next run will be good enough to keep them around the top half of the pack for Saturday qualifying.
Car owner John Force and JFR driver Robert Hight would square off in second round qualifying with Robert Hight edging out his owner in an almost dead heat and taking the third spot going into Saturday qualifying with John Force coming in sixth.
Matt Hagan and Ron Capps fell off the pace in the second round, dropping to 10th and 14th respectively after their second round qualifying runs.
In Top Fuel, Clay Millican rebounded back from a 12th place run to take the top spot in the second round of qualifying. Millican said his Top Fuel dragster was “like a rocket” but said his hopes are that his run will hold and he’ll be in the mix for Sunday. “It’s a special day for us,” said Millican. “I do love racing here though.” adding that the challenges will be “the same tomorrow as they were today.”
Third and fourth round qualifying to set the stage for Sunday’s eliminations will begin at noon on Saturday from Bristol Dragway beginning with the Pro Mod Qualifying, followed by the Pro Stock, Funny Car and Top Fuel.