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Angelle Sampey, John Force & Justin Ashley Top Qualifiers At Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals

Angelle Sampey used both power and grace to top the Pro Stock Motorcycle field on Saturday afternoon with a track record 6.714 on her Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki and was rewarded with the 54th top qualifier of her long and storied career. Sampey, who also ran 6.721 on her second pass of the day, added six bonus points to her total on Saturday.

Sampey, who also has top speed of the event at 201.16 mph, was just eighth quickest last weekend in Houston but the three-time world champ and her crew, led by Andrew Hines, found the sweet spot at zMAX Dragway.

“This is good, but it’s just a little late,” said Sampey. “We should have done this in Gainesville and we should have done it last week in Houston. I’ve been most of the problem. When they told me what it ran I couldn’t believe it. I said holy crap. It was not perfectly straight. Even on that second [6.72] run I chopped the throttle a little before the finish line. I’m not sure it affected the E.T. much but it probably cost me a little speed. Drew [Hines, crew chief] is doing such an awesome job tuning this bike, and it’s up to me to get the job done.”

Sampey’s work is not finished. She’ll kick off eliminations in a tough quad that also features world champ Matt Smith, Joey Gladstone, and Kelly Clontz. Sampey has never been a big fan of "Four Wide" racing but the tide may be turning after this weekend.

“This is the best I’ve felt and it’s not just because I’m the low qualifier,” Sampey said. “I definitely don’t hate it but I still find it very confusing. When you’re in lane two or lane third you have to pay attention to the Tree. My first couple of lights were good so I hope we can go some rounds.”

Sampey’s performance pushed Houston winner Steve Johnson to second place. Johnson was the provisional low qualifier on Friday but improved his performance on Saturday with a 6.732. Johnson, appearing in his 465th career race, more than any other Pro Stock Motorcycle rider, is seeking his 11th career victory. In order to do so, he’ll have to get past Angie Smith, Hector Arana Jr., and Ron Tornow in Sunday’s opening round.

Gainesville winner Karen Stoffer also turned in a solid qualifying effort with a 6.763 to earn the third spot and a bonus point in the final session. Another rider who had reason to celebrate is Jimmy Underdahl, who made his long-awaited first 200-mph run on Saturday afternoon with a 6.827, 200.08 run aboard his Matt Smith-tuned Scrappers Suzuki. Underdahl has a shot to win his first race, but his opening quad will include Stoffer, Ryan Oehler, and Chris Bostick.

Much like they did in 2021, John Force and the PEAK / BlueDEF PLATINUM Chevrolet Camaro SS team will enter race day at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway as the No. 1 qualifiers.

Despite turning off early in his first run on Saturday to go only 4.910-seconds at 155.87 mph, John Force and the PEAK / BlueDEF Chevy laid down a solid 3.898-second pass at 331.94 mph to close out Four-Wide qualifying. Off the efforts of their Friday night record setting 3.850-second pass at 334.24 mph, they’ll enter race day from No. 1 for the 164th time in Force’s career. The 16-time champion along with crew chiefs Danny Hood and Tim Fabrisi are hoping to repeat history from just a year ago when they secured the No. 1 qualifier and then went onto win the event.

“I feel good because that’s three out of four runs this PEAK Chevy has gotten down there and we’ve got a little bit of consistency. That’s what this team is looking and I’m trying to find myself on the Christmas tree. That’s always a job for me. I’m a mood swinging person and I’ve got to keep a lid on it. So good day for the sponsors and let’s see where tomorrow goes. We’ve got a shot tomorrow. Anybody does - you can have the best car and loose and you can have the worst car and win, because I’ve proved it,” Force said. “Let’s keep this sport alive. That is my ultimate goal. People ask me what I’m trying to accomplish; I want my grandkids, if they wish, to see what I’ve loved for over 40 years of my career. I just love it out here.”

Hight’s pass was identical to the 3.876 pass laid down by Cruz Pedregon Friday night, but Hight’s superior speed, 329.99 to 325.30, earned him the higher berth.

J.R. Todd (3.893). Blake Alexander (3.894), and Bob Tasca III (3.909) rounded out the top eight with Alexis DeJoria (3.936) and Paul Lee (3.937) also qualified under four seconds. Tim Wilkerson lost a chance to join that group but hit the finish line marker, invalidating his 3.981 pass.

Third year pro Justin Ashley continued his hot start to the 2022 NHRA season with his first career No. 1 qualifier at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals today at zMax Dragway. Driving the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Shot at the fifth race this season Ashley ran to the top of the field on Friday night with a 3.669 second at 331.77 mph run. It earned the 2020 Rookie of the Year the provisional pole. The time held up through two more rounds today when conditions warmed up and challenged all the teams.

“We are fortunate to have accomplished a lot in a short period of time,” said Ashley, who won the season opening Winternationals and has a runner-up from last weekend’s SpringNationals to his credit this season. “To be able to sit here and say we are the No. 1 qualifier at an event like this with the depth of the Top Fuel field is great. This says a lot about our Davis Motorsports team. Crew chiefs Mike Green and Tommy DeLago do a great job race in and race out. There is always pressure no matter where you are if it is No. 1 or No. 16. There is pressure on race day because it is race day. You are out there to win, and no one puts more pressure on ourselves than we do. We are not racing the person in the lane next to us or the next car a couple lanes over, we are just racing the race track.”

The success of Friday afforded the team some latitude today to take some chances. With a strong number in the bank his team took the opportunity to invest in their future.

“We used Q3 today to do a little bit of testing,” said Ashley, in the zMax Dragway press room on Saturday. “It was more important to us to set ourselves up for tomorrow. It wasn’t the kind of weather to go for it and try to improve on our No. 1 time. We just wanted to go up and down the track. In Q4 we were racing the race track and it didn’t work out in our favor but we were able to hold onto that No. 1 spot. It is just about getting better even if that means we aren’t improving by the numbers.”

Friday’s two runs earned Ashley six qualifying bonus points since he posted the quickest runs of each session. In the first session on Saturday his pass of 3.771 seconds was third quickest and he picked up another point. The championship contender knows that these early season bonus points can contribute to late season success.

“I wouldn’t say we are counting points, but we know how important the points are,” said Ashley. “Yesterday and even today in qualifying we knew we wanted to pick up some of those bonus points. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It is a long season especially with how things are set up with the Countdown. The points take care of themselves if you take care of business on the race track. Our best bet is to focus on ourselves and our team.”

See the recap from NHRA National Dragster staff:

See the Saturday photo gallery from NHRA National Dragster staff:

Don't call Force the Goat (Yet) by Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor:


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