Kalitta leads Top Fuel qualifying

Saturday, November 11th 2006, 10:14 pm
By: News On 6

POMONA, Calif. (AP) Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta edged championship rival Tony Schumacher with a dramatic 4.452-second pass in the final qualifying session Saturday to earn the #1 qualifying position for the Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified on top of their respective categories at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in the season-ending event.

Kalitta's run was made in his backup car. In the day's earlier session, his chassis was damaged during his run and he was forced to switch to a backup car. His Rahn Tobler-led race team responded with their best pass of the year, a 4.452 at 328.22 mph.

Anticipation was high that Schumacher and crew chief Alan Johnson would set a national record in the evening round, but fluid began leaking from Schmacher's car onto the track following the burnout. Two NHRA officials gave Schumacher the signal to shut his machine off, but crew chief Johnson gave Schumacher the 'OK' signal to make the run. The car lost traction immediately at the hit of the throttle. The incident was being reviewed by NHRA officials.

Fresh off his first Funny Car victory in Las Vegas, Beckman was the quickest in both Saturday sessions but the first pass was thrown out due to a fuel violation. Unshaken, he responded with a 4.671 at a track-record speed of 333.66 mph in the final session to earn the #1 slot.

The three men still fighting for the POWERade championship -- points leader John Force, son-in-law and teammate Robert Hight, and Ron Capps -- all finished on the top half of the grid and ended up on the same side of the elimination ladder. Should they all advance past the opening round, Force will face Capps in Round 2, while Hight would get the winner of that tilt in the semifinals.

As it stands through qualifying, #2 qualifier Hight (4.672) has moved into 2nd place by 1 point over #6 qualifier Capps (4.725). Hight trails #3 qualifier Force (4.677) by 72 points.

Line waited until the final session to run the quickest Pro Stock pass in track history, a 6.663 at 207.59 mph, that earned his Pontiac GTO race team its seventh low qualifier award of the year and third in a row.

Hines' second low qualifying award of the year in Pro Stock Motorcycle was huge for the ramifications it had in the championship points standings. The Harley-Davidson rider entered the race 37 points ahead of Antron Brown. Now, after qualifying #1 with a 7.020 at 191.00 mph against Brown's 10th-place effort of 7.106 at 184.70 mph, Hines is ahead by 43 points. The end result is that Brown must now go three more rounds than Hines to pass him in the points as each round win is worth 20 points.