Cory Mac, Hight, Edwards take top spots in Pomona qualifying

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Reigning NHRA Full Throttle champs Robert Hight and Mike Edwards held on throughout qualifying to the top spots they first earned Thursday and Cory McClenathan took back the lead he lost Friday as qualifying concluded at the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

The third day of the golden anniversary event was highlighted again by autograph sessions with the heroes of the sport, as well as runs by tribute nostalgia Funny Cars and the famed Winged Express fuel altered, and a static Cacklefest of early iron  in front of the main grandstands just before the final Pro qualifying session.

Cory McClenathan

McClenathan, who led qualifying Thursday, returned to the top spot with a 3,787 from his Todd Okuhara- and Phil Shuler-tuned Fram dragster. McClenathan’s 320.05-mph speed matched his previous best here.

“We saw the air getting better and better as the time went on,” said McClenathan. “What did we have to lose? We had nothing to lose here. We knew both cars would run good here. We knew Tony’s car would run just about like ours if not just a tick better. We knew Larry would be out there trying to run hard. Todd [Okuhara] said, ‘It’s going to be all or nothing. It’s going to go all the way, or it’s going to go about 60 feet, so be ready.’ By the time it got to half-track, I knew it was on a good run. It’s gratifying. I owe it to Todd and Phil [Shuler] and all the guys who work on this Fram car. They’ve done an awesome job through the off-season and into testing and were very prepared for this weekend.

“To be able to go out there and get the No. 1 back on the last shot and have it for tomorrow, that’s awesome. Now the big thing is can you take that No. 1 and parlay that into a win tomorrow. That’s the big question, so we’re going to try and do that, be very consistent and go out there each run and don’t race the guy next to you, race the racetrack. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow."

Cory Mac had to hold off the final pair of the night, Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher, who blasted side by side down the track and ran impressively, 3.788 and 3.801, but both fell just short of McClenathan. Defending event champ Doug Kalitta raced up into the No. 4 spot with a strong 3.822, the fourth best run of the round.

Morgan Lucas is qualified fifth with a 3.830 recorded Saturday night. Behind him to round out the top eight are Steve Torrence and Norway’s Thomas Nataaas, who both ran 3.844 (the higher ranking went to Torrence based on a superior speed), and Lucas’ teammate, Shawn Langdon (3.847).

Former Alcohol Dragster racer Steve Faria qualified for the field for the second straight season with a 5.610. He’ll face McClenathan in the first round Sunday.

Robert Hight

Hight maintained his perch atop the Funny Car roost, a position he has owned with his Jimmy Prock-tuned Automobile Club of Southern California/John Force Racing Mustang since his opening lap of 4.059 Thursday. It’s his 33rd No. 1 qualifying effort.

“I didn’t think it would hold,” said Hight. “We were definitely trying way too hard tonight. I just saw our data, and it was a moon shot, but last night when the conditions we’re cool, our car was a little weak and shook, so Jimmy Prock was not going to make that mistake again. He said actually the dragsters don’t have a driveshaft that was as high as mine, so it didn’t have a prayer. What is awesome is we got one good run in today. We were second the first session; [Matt] Hagan ran .09 and we ran .10, and ours was backed off pretty good. That’s really what’s going to win this race tomorrow, runs like that and going down this racetrack. You know, 4.09, 4.10, that will win this race, so I think we’re set up for that.

“But there are no easy rounds. I’m racing the 2008 Funny Car champ, Cruz Pedregon, first round. We know he’s always tough. We’re just going to do the best we can. I definitely am surprised the .059 held up. There’s a lot of good cars capable of doing that, and this racetrack is premier, probably too good and that’s why guys are having trouble shaking."

Several drivers took final shots at Hight’s top spot, including fellow Ford runner Bob Tasca III, who when from 15th to fourth with a 4.075 with the Quick Lane/Motorcraft Shelby. Between them are No. 2 qualifier Del Worsham and the Al-Anabi Toyota at 4.062 and John Force, in his best showing in quite some time with his 25th anniversary Castrol GTX Mustang (4.066).

Matt Hagan sits fifth with his new DieHard Dodge at 4.091 with Ashley Force Hood (4.093), Jack Beckman (4.101), and Jim Head (4.131) rounding out the top eight.

Former world champ Cruz Pedregon bumped his way into the field from the No. 18 spot with a last-ditch, early shutoff 4.30 and landed his Snap-on Toyota on the bump spot. He’ll take on Hight in round one Sunday. Among those missing the show was Paul Lee, in his debut with Jim Dunn’s Canidae entry.

Mike Edwards

Edwards had the quickest run of both qualifying sessions as he did on both Thursday and Friday to sweep all four bonus qualifying points and lock up his 10th straight No. 1 qualifying berth dating back to the middle of last season. Edwards’ final effort, a 6.589 in his Penhall/Interstate/K&N Pontiac, was slower than his run of a record, 6.578, but still the quickest of the final session

“When you work all winter and everybody else works all winter, you don’t know where you stack up, so you don’t really know what to expect,” said Edwards, who earned his 23rd career No. 1 spot. “My guys just did an awesome job today. They just made some really, really good calls. We made a really good run the first run today and kind of tried some things there tonight and just didn’t feel like we got what we needed, but I’m really proud of my guys and the effort they put in. It feels real good to come out here and run good starting off the year

“It’s a long season, but any time you can come out here and perform the way we did this weekend and run good, that’s our goal, to be as competitive as we can and run as fast as we can. We’ve done that for the last couple days. Tomorrow, it’s a different kind of approach, but you’ve still got to go out there and race. But we’re very, very pleased with our performance."

Jeg Coughlin (6.591) and Ron Krisher (6.595) held onto their Nos. 2 and 3 positions in the field with their Chevy Cobalts. Coughlin’s final effort, a 6.612, was the round’s third quickest. The round’s second-best run belonged to Allen Johnson, who joined the Pomona 6.5-second club with a strong 6.595 from his new Mopar Avenger to grab the No. 4 spot. Behind him are Rodger Brogdon (6.603), Greg Anderson (6.608), Vinnie Deceglie (6.613), and Greg Stanfield (6.617).

Larry Morgan qualified in his Ford debut, putting the Lucas Oil Mustang in the No. 15 spot with a 6.645 best. Justin Humphreys, who began the final session in the 15th spot, got knocked down one place by Johnny Gray and ended up on the bump at 6.650. He’ll face off with Edwards in round one. Gray’s son, Shane, qualified for the field in his Pro debut in the No. 14 position. Among those not making the field were Warren Johnson, V. Gaines, and top 10 finisher Rickie Jones.

Related stories:
Thursday: Champs Hight, Edwards lead their fields in Pomona; Cory Mac fronts Top Fuel
Friday: Dixon takes Pomona Top Fuel lead as other Thursday leaders remain No. 1