The elimination matchups for the opening round of the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship are set after final qualifying Saturday for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
U.S. Army NHRA Racing Top Fuel drivers Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown epitomized the strength of the Army with power, speed, teamwork and technology, the very same attributes that drive the more than 1 million Soldiers both drivers represent, by qualifying third and 10th, respectively.
Schumacher’s top-three qualifying effort in the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster was his Friday-night run of 3.817 seconds at 320.05 mph. Saturday, he made passes of 3.933 seconds at 311.49 mph and 4.295 seconds at 195.19 mph in attempting to better his top-three run.
“We made a couple of runs today with Sunday in mind,” Schumacher said. “We knew it would be vital to the success of our mission to hold our position, so we’ll go from the three spot tomorrow. My racecar was Army Strong all four runs so far this weekend. With the conditions today, we tried to approach it with what we think we’ll be racing in Sunday. Getting down the track was the first goal and we accomplished that. Now it’s about winning rounds, and we will not accept defeat.”
Brown made a pair of solid runs in Saturday’s session to climb from 12th to 10th, improving from his Friday run of 4.353 seconds at 207.08 mph to 3.861 seconds at 319.22 mph today.
“We ran really consistently today,” Brown said. “The last run we shredded the blower belt, and that’s why we slowed down a little bit. We left the starting line well, and the car is looking good. We’re back in the groove again, so tomorrow we can go out there and focus on each round. It’s all about these guys on this Aarons/Matco Tools/U.S. Army team. They are shedding their blood, sweat and tears on this car. Our team is just incredible. When the chips get down against us, these are the guys I want to go into battle with. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
Schumacher will face David Grubnic in the opening round of eliminations. The seven-time NHRA Top Fuel champion is looking to win consecutive national events for the first time since 2009 (Houston and Las Vegas) and begins by facing Grubnic for the first time in 2012 Sunday. The two met in the opening round of the 2008 O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, where “The Sarge” defeated the native of Brisbane, Australia, en route to his victory in the inaugural Charlotte event.
“The matchups are going to be tough, no matter what, from here on out,” Schumacher said. “You look at the 16 cars in the field and tell me who is an easy opponent. Everyone is tough. David Grubnic is a heck of a driver. He’s driving a Team Kalitta car, so you know what you are getting there, and he’s already won a race this year. We’re going to have to bring our best, and I know we will. Each member of the U.S. Army Racing team is so valuable for us to have success in our mission, just like each individual Soldier plays a vital role in our Army.”
Brown, the 2011 O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals winner, will face Khalid alBalooshi in a first-round confrontation. The New Jersey native is 5-1 in opening-round action at zMax Dragway and will be facing alBalooshi for the first time in 2012.
“We qualified for the first race in the Countdown,” said Brown, the current leader in the Full Throttle Top Fuel standings. “One step is out of the way, and now it’s time to race. Khalid alBalooshi has been running well all weekend long. We have a tough matchup, but it looks like everybody does.”
Shawn Landon of Al-Anabi Racing earned the pole with his Friday-night pass of 3.807 seconds at 324.12 mph.
The Top Fuel final is set to begin at noon EDT Sunday. ESPN2 will provide three hours of tape-delayed coverage of the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals beginning at 8:30 p.m. EDT.
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