VANDERGRIFF, BURKART AND MORGAN GRAB TOP SPOTS AT CARQUEST AUTO PARTS NHRA NATIONALS

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Bob Vandergriff Jr. earned the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot in Top Fuel for the first time since 1999 Friday during the fourth annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway. Phil Burkart (Funny Car) and Larry Morgan (Pro Stock) also lead qualifying in their respective categories at the $1.8 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event. Each pro category had just one run down the race track as rain forced NHRA officials to cancel the second session. Vandergriff drove his Hedman Hedders dragster to a 4.615-second run at 309.63 mph to lead the category after one session. Vandergriff has three career No. 1 qualifying awards. "It's been a long time but not that many races, at least for me," said Vandergriff, who took off a few years to focus on his business and new family. "We came here off a DNQ in Indy so we really wanted a strong start. We stayed and tested after the U.S. Nationals because the rule changes with the tires and the 85-percent nitro really threw us a curveball. "It hurt some teams more than others and we were one of the ones who really got behind. We had a great tune-up for 90-percent and we've had some success in the races we've run with it, but it's a whole new set-up now. Everything changed. I agree with what they're (NHRA) trying to do. We just have to adjust." While teams were disappointed to lose the second session on Friday, Vandergriff is already looking forward to the Saturday sessions. Of course, Vandergriff is already qualified for Sunday. Seven Top Fuel drivers in the POWERade Top 10 point standings did not qualify. "The weather is supposed to be awesome tomorrow so we'll just have to step it up and run a tenth [of a second] quicker like everyone else," Vandergriff said. Burkart went 4.789 at 323.43 in his Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevy Monte Carlo to pace the Funny Cars. The run, however, was less than perfect. It may have been the quickest of the round, but it wasn't pretty. The engine suffered damage at the end of the run. "We determined that the body had shifted back a little bit and it was preventing the throttle from coming all the way back," Burkart said. "It really wasn't a scary deal because the motor blew right away so I was slowing down at the same rate as usual. We actually were going to skip tonight's round so we're lucky it rained out because I'm sure someone would have gone quicker. "It's a shame we blew up the motor but it's nice to be No. 1. We made it to the final at this race last year and had to shut off after the burnout because we had an oil leak. It was a tough ending because we had just run back-to-back 4.77s, so we knew we had a great car. Maybe we can make up for that this time around." Morgan ran to the top of his category with a 6.734 pass at 204.66 in his Team Mopar Dodge Stratus. "This was an especially good run for us because we just put a new motor in and to come out and make that run is a great thing," Morgan said. "I hate that we didn't get another run but we can't control what happens above us. It's going to be colder tomorrow, so we're going to have to make some adjustments and see if we can hang on to the No. 1 spot." Qualifying continues at 12:15 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday. Final eliminations are set for 11 a.m. on Sunday.
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