BRISTOL, Tenn. (June 16, 2012) – The field is set at the 15th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at scenic Bristol Dragway, and NTB/Service Central Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car pilot Johnny Gray will be starting from the top half of the field, according to plan. Gray will take on John Force Racing driver Robert Hight in round one of eliminations on Sunday.
After scoring the win at the most recent event, the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, a little tire haze in the first session of Bristol qualifying was not what the team expected. However, they recovered in their second attempt with a quick 4.120 at 309.56 mph that socked them into the field in the No. 8 position.
The second day of qualifying dawned with crew chief Rob Wendland and assistant crew chief Rip Reynolds making substantial changes to the racecar and chassis to test a few theories before eliminations. The tires of their Dodge shook loose down-track, but everything was ironed out by the fourth and final qualifying session, when Gray drove to the second-quickest run of the round, a 4.123 at 291.76 mph. The run was also good for two more bonus points to add to the pile as the Countdown to the Championship inches ever-closer.
“The Service Central car has come around,” said Gray. “We struggled a little bit on a couple of runs, but we were trying a few things, and it always seems like a good idea to test during qualifying when you know you have a good racecar – unless it doesn’t work out, then you wish you could have just tried to make the car more consistent for raceday. If it works, though, boy you’re real proud of yourself and you know you made the right decision. It’s a push-pull deal; sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug.
“But the car made two nice runs down the track, and it was going to be low of the round there with a 4.11 [in the last session], but it threw the blower belt off about 900 feet down the track. As for Robert, he is tough, but we’ll put him in the bad lane and just see what happens.”
Hight has two round-wins over Gray so far this season, and Gray put Hight on the trailer two weeks ago in the Englishtown semifinals en route to a second career victory.
“We feel real confident going into tomorrow,” said Gray, currently 4th in the Full Throttle Series Funny Car standings. “I think we have as good a racecar as anybody out here, and we’re just going to go out there and see if we can double-up.”
Johnny Gray, NTB/Service Central Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car
Final qualifying position: No. 8
First round opponent: No. 9 Robert Hight
Session 1: 6.223-seconds at 104.41 mph
Session 2: 4.120, 309.56
Session 3: 5.406, 131.82
Session 4: 4.132, 291.76
AT BRISTOL DRAGWAY
2011: Qualified No. 7, lost to Jeff Arend in the first round
SUNDAY: Championship eliminations, 12 p.m.
Eliminations on ESPN: 7 p.m. (ET) Sunday (delayed)
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