Difficult track conditions and warmer than expected track temperatures provided a lot of changes and shuffling during Saturday’s two qualifying sessions in Bristol. In the end, Fridays provisional #1 qualifiers Robert Hight and Angelle Sampey held on to the top spots in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle respectively. Mike Salinas and Aaron Stanfield ended the day with the top spots in Top Fuel and Pro Stock.
Robert Hight was happy no one in the media center was in a betting mood on Friday night after openly stating that his 3.976 run had no chance to remain at the top of the Funny Car field. He was wrong and held on to claim the pole for the 73rd time in his career. With 15 cars in the field, that means a bye run in Sunday’s opening round which is a great advantage with the difficult conditions.
“I’m glad no one wanted to bet because I’d have lost money on that deal,” said Hight. “For whatever reason, everyone has their choke stuck and no one made the kind of run we expected. Being No. 1 is really good but I still don’t think we have a handle on it. With 15 cars here, we have a bye run and that’s huge. I have a really good feeling and I we can make four three-second runs we’ll be holding the trophy at the end of the day.”
Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock plan to use the data gained from teammate John Force, who made two solid runs on Saturday including a 3.997 to qualify third. Tim Wilkerson split the pair with a second-best 3.996.
“John made two really goods runs with his Camaro and we’ll share that data and come up with best plan,” Hight said. “That’s the advantage of a multi-car team.”
The rest of the Funny Car top ten includes points leader Matt Hagan, Cruz Pedregon, Bob Tasca III and Paul Lee.
Angelle Sampey qualified No. 1 for the 55th time in her storied career when Friday’s 6.874 run held throughout Saturday’s two Pro Stock Motorcycle runs. Sampey, the defending Bristol winner, is riding with confidence which might be bad news for her round one opponent, Chris Bostick.
“Someone told me that Vance & Hines was the only team that has won at this track [including the Winston Showdown specialty events, both won by Matt Hines] and I hope that trend continues tomorrow,” Sampey said. “I’m just working hard on not trying to win the race right now. By that, I mean not trying to win it in the first round. Andrew [Hines] and Eddie are both great coaches. They have knowledge and experience that I didn’t get in the past. They help with what I’m thinking on the starting line. The whole goal is to take it easy and be relaxed.”
Sampey’s biggest challenge came from Joey Gladstone, who turned in one of the best qualifying performances of his career with a 6.889 aboard the Reed Motorsports Suzuki. Gladstone’s reward for his performance is a round one race against world champion LE Tonglet, who is riding Kelly Clontz’s Suzuki.
Championship rivals Steve Johnson and Matt Smith are third and fifth respectively, with Marc Ingwersen sandwiched between them in the No. 4 spot, the best of his career.
Not everyone in the Pro Stock Bike class found the sweet spot during the three qualifying rounds. Four-time world champ Eddie Kraiewc landed in the No. 10 spot while Gainesville winner and current record holder Karen Stoffer qualified No. 12. Stoffer races Matt Smith while Krawiec is paired with Jerry Savoie in a battle of world champs.
Mike Salinas qualified in the No. 1 spot for the second time this season and ninth time in his career with a 3.767 that knocked Friday leader Steve Torrence from the top spot. Salinas, who already has three wins this season, will begin his quest for win No. 4 with a race against Cameron Ferre in round one.
“What we’re doing seems to be working so we’re not changing anything” said Salinas. “We were trying to run a 3.75 [in Q3] and we ran 3.76. The car bounced a little but it cleaned itself up. Earlier, Rob [Flynn, crew chief] thought we’d go 3.72 but track would not hold it. Tomorrow, I think you’ll see those numbers but not today.”
So far this season, Salinas has let his performance do the talking, especially to those who thought he’d struggle following the departure of tuner Alan Johnson. He never doubted his decision to bring on Flynn as a replacement.
“There are two different people in this world; those who talk and those who do. I’m a doer and a talker,” Salinas said. “In testing, we made a 700-foot run and it ran 3.76 at 300 and we were in awe. Rob Flynn and [assistant crew chief] Arron Cave have chemistry. There is a calmness and reassurance in our crew. They all get to make suggestion and we have no egos at all and it’s really cool.”
Torrence held on for the No. 2 spot while Josh Hart, Antron Brown, Clay Millican, Austin Prock, and Spencer Massey round out the top half of the field.
Finally, In Pro Stock, the entire field is separated by only a tenth of a second. As close as the competition is, Aaron Stanfield would appear to have the upper hand after putting his Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro into the top spot for the third time in seven races this season. Stanfield posted a 6.638 in Saturday’s opening session that was never bettered. As a result, the reigning and two-time Factory Stock champion will race Wally Stroupe in round one.
Stanfield surrendered the points lead to Erica Enders several races ago, but recognizes that the Bristol race represents a prime opportunity to gain ground.
“The track has been very tricky this weekend,” said Stanfield. “The crew chiefs have been doing their jobs and my guys have given me the best they can give me. We haven’t had best luck from the No. 1 spot in my career but we have a chance to do something tomorrow.”
Stanfield is making his first Pro Stock appearance in Bristol, but he previously won this event in Top Dragster. Stanfield’s father, Greg, also won the Super Stock title here last year, to help clinch his fifth championship.
“My family and I love this race track. We have quite a history here,” said Stanfield, who is also racing in the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown. “I was lucky to win Top Dragster on Father’s Day and I’d love to do that again.
“Racing two cars helps keep my mind off of things because I’m extremely busy. The two cars are totally different, but I’m motivated and ready to win. Let’s see if we can do well in both classes tomorrow.”
Rookie Camrie Caruso made two solid runs on Saturday including a 6.644 for the No. 2 spot. Caruso qualified No. 1 in Houston and has continues to show improvement at each event this season. Caruso’s reward will be a round one battle against Chris McGaha.
Erica Enders had the quickest run of the final session to move to the No. 3 spot where she’ll be paired with Cristian Cuadra in a rematch of the Las Vegas Four Wide finals.
Kyle Koretsky also secured a top-half qualifying spot in his Lucas Oil Camaro while Friday leader Greg Anderson was bumped all the way to No. 6. Matt Hartford, Dallas Glenn, and Troy Coughlin Jr. round out the top half of the Pro Stock field.
The action is expected to be crazy on Sunday with National television coverage on FOX.
See the full story from Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor:
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