ENNIS, Texas (Sept. 22, 2012) – Funny Car driver Johnny Gray and his Service Central Racing crew had great expectations coming into the final day of qualifying at the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex. The smooth machine of a team intended to raise their position in the line-up before Sunday eliminations, but they also had every intention of seizing the very first Traxxas Shootout trophy up for grabs.
Ultimately, Gray picked up a round win in the Traxxas Shootout bonus event with a victory over Mike Neff in the opening act, and he was positioned in the No. 13 spot as the curtain fell on four rounds of qualifying. Gray will square off with Cruz Pedregon in the first round of eliminations.
"Sure we're disappointed that we didn't go farther in the Shootout," admitted Gray, currently 6th in the Full Throttle Series standings. "But the big picture is that we learned a few things today in our NTB/Service Central Dodge. We can't lose sight of the fact that we are in a chase for the championship, and we would loved to have brought home that Traxxas win, but the important thing is that we are in the show tomorrow. We're in the hunt for those points. We picked up one extra one in the first round of qualifying, and tomorrow, we want more."
Crew chief Rob Wendland explained that although their first run of the weekend – a 4.193 at 298.21 mph that was third quickest of session – should have set the tone, all of the data from the run was lost when the computer malfunctioned. The subsequent runs fell short of expectations.
The second qualifier ended quickly with Gray up in smoke before the 330-foot mark, and in the third qualifying session, Gray's Dodge had a cylinder out at the hit of the throttle but cleared the finish line with a 4.254 at 290.82. The run was also the first round of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for the Funny Cars, and it was good enough to get down the track ahead of a tire-smoking Mike Neff to score the round win.
The final qualifying pass of the weekend was also the second round of the Shootout, and although there was plenty up for grabs, Wendland didn't allow himself to get flustered. He simply reviewed his notes and tuned to the track and the conditions, and he expected the team to come back with another round win.
"It's easy to diagnose what happened after a run," said Wendland. "It just comes down to being conservative. I know it looked like the car is out there overpowering the track, but really, that's not what it was – we just haven't had the synchronization of the motor and the clutch. One tick in another direction and that round would have had a very different outcome.
"We lost a lot of critical information with the computer malfunction in the first session; we could have judged a lot based on that power level and clutch application. Thankfully, we were able to learn a lot in the three runs that followed. I missed it, but it will definitely set us up for a better tomorrow."
Johnny Gray, NTB/Service Central Dodge Charger R/T
Qualifying position: No. 13
First round opponent: Cruz Pedregon
Session 1: 4.193, 298.21 mph
Session 2: 5.067, 148.28
Session 3: 4.254, 290.82
Session 4: 4.925, 169.44
THIS WEEKEND'S EVENT SCHEDULE
Sunday: Championship eliminations, 11 a.m. CT
ON ESPN2 (times are ET)
SUNDAY: Qualifying with Traxxas Shootout, 1 p.m.
Eliminations, 8:30 p.m.
SUNDAY: High 94 degrees; 10 percent chance of rain
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