KENT, Wash. (Aug. 5, 2012) – The Western Swing ended on a positive note for Funny Car driver Johnny Gray, pilot of the Big O Tires/SpeeDee Oil Change & Tune-Up Dodge Charger. Sonoma winner Gray qualified well in his red and blue hot rod, starting from the No. 4 position on raceday at the 25th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals at Seattle's Pacific Raceways, and he collected a round-win on Sunday to further advance in the Full Throttle Series Funny Car standings. Gray leaves the Pacific Northwest up one position as the No. 4 man in the points.
"Right now, it's all about preparing for that Countdown," said Gray, referring to NHRA's Countdown to the Championship playoffs. "We always want to win, that's why we come to these races, but overall we had a good weekend in our Big O Tires/SpeeDee Dodge. We moved around Zippy [Mike Neff] in the points, and that makes for a pretty good day if you ask me."
It was only a week ago that Gray and his Service Central-backed team were celebrating in the winner's circle at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, and they expanded upon their success by picking up bonus points during qualifying at Pacific Raceways; Gray's 4.14 clocked in the heat of the day on Saturday was low of the session and the quickest time of the day for all of the Funny Cars.
In his first-round match with John Force Racing driver Robert Hight, Gray recorded top speed of the meet with a booming 304.05 mph. His 4.159 easily defeated Hight's tire smoke-plagued 5.509. The victory was exchanged for a ticket to the quarterfinals, where he would meet Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan – the very driver he beat in the final round last weekend for the Sonoma title.
Gray entered the Seattle match with lane choice over Hagan, and crew chief Rob Wendland logically opted for the same lane where they had recorded their strongest pass of the weekend.
"It was a difficult decision to make," said Wendland. "I felt that the right lane was going to be the lane of choice, but then I watched [Top Fuel DSR drivers] Tony Schumacher and Spencer Massey both go up there and smoke the tires early. I really had to think about it, so I went out and looked at the track, thought about that run we made on Saturday, and then made a judgment call. I really felt like I could make it down through there. Looking at the data from the run, there was just something in that lane that we couldn't see with our eyes and measure.
"But all in all this weekend, we're really pleased with the performance of the car. We have a real hot rod, and I think the rest of the teams out there know it. We're setting our status for the Countdown right now, and man, it's going to be a dogfight. I can't wait for it."
Gray and the Service Central team will next compete at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., August 16-19. The return to the site where Gray won his first nitro Funny Car title is a welcome adventure.
"It'll be great to get back out there and see what we can do with our Big O Tires/SpeeDee Dodge," said the 59-year-old who calls Artesia, N.M., home. "The Western Swing was a great, great time for us, and with the racecar we have right now, the rest of this season should be just as good, if not better."
Johnny Gray Big O Tires/SpeeDee Oil Change & Tune-Up Dodge Charger R/T
Qualifying position: No. 4
Round one: Johnny Gray (4.159-second at 304.05 mph) def. Robert Hight (5.059, 152.14)
Round two: Matt Hagan (4.268, 280.08) def. Gray (5.865, 125.47)
NHRA FULL THROTTLE STANDINGS
(Through Kent, Wash., 15 0f 23 events; DSR drivers in CAPS; * clinched spots in Countdown)
1. *Robert Hight, 1143
2. *RON CAPPS, 1112
3. *JACK BECKMAN, 1003
4. JOHNNY GRAY, 942
5. Mike Neff, 933
6. Courtney Force, 851
7. Cruz Pedregon, 803
8. Jeff Arend, 749
9. John Force, 746
10. Bob Tasca, 739
11. Matt Hagan, 697
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