SCHUMACHER, HIGHT, ANDERSON, HINES LEAD FRIDAY QUALIFIERS AT ROUTE 66

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By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com

U.S. Army racer Tony Schumacher helped his sponsor celebrate its 230th birthday by taking the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot of the eighth annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. Racing down his home track in 4.50 seconds at 329 mph, Schumacher added the first spark to a spectacular fireworks show, which was presented by the U.S. Army for the fans to enjoy.

Robert Hight led a 1-2-3 Team Force sweep of Funny Car with a 4.72. Greg Anderson remains the hottest shoe in Pro Stock after a top qualifying 6.76. Anderson will also lead the best eight qualifiers from the last 12 months into Saturday's $50,000 King Demon Crown event. Reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Andrew Hines has the quickest bike on the property after posting a 7.12 on his Harley.

Tony Schumacher
Known for the world record numbers usually posted here when the world's best come to town, Route 66 was tamer Friday thanks in large part to plenty of heat and humidity, which was exacerbated by on-and-off rain sprinkles. It didn't seem to bother home boy Schumacher, who helped close out a long day at the racetrack with his pleasing 4.508 at 329.58 mph.

Schumacher was unavailable for media interviews due to illness but managed to convey that his run was nothing special and he was surprised it lasted as the No. 1 qualifier.

POWERade points leader Doug Kalitta refuses to yield much ground to Schumacher, qualifying second in his Mac Tools rail with a 4.516 at 329.83 mph. Another tool car, Doug Herbert's Snap-on Tools dragster, was close behind in third after an impressive 4.530 at 317.87 mph. Larry Dixon followed in the Miller car with a fourth-best 4.533 at 327.43 mph.

Five drivers on the Day 1 DNQ list will try to better Joe Hartley's bump-riding 4.713 at 319.82 mph.

Robert Hight
John Force Racing has all three of its cars at the top of the Funny Car class with rookie Hight leading the way in his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang with a 4.726 at 328.86 mph. The Force juggernaut has finished qualifying 1-2-3 on four occasions, including earlier this year in Gainesville, Fla., where Hight also led the way.

"I could get used to this," Hight said. "Putting our Fords 1-2-3 is great for the team. We've never had good luck on race day after being 1-2-3 but we'll just have to change that this weekend.

"This is the best racetrack in the country but I'd never raced here before so I took my rental car down the track a few times Thursday just to see where the finish line was, how well it was marked, where the scoreboards were in relation to the finish line, what the groove looked like, stuff like that. I wanted to feel comfortable when I got in the racecar.

"Knowing the weather could be bad tomorrow I would have been happy running a 4.80 and letting John go for a 4.69 or something, but [crew chief] Jimmy Prock knows what he's doing and he like's to push it to the edge."

Force is second with a 4.744 at 326.24 mph in his Castrol GTX Start Up Ford, while teammate Eric Medlen wound up third with a 4.771 at 324.51 mph in the Syntec Mustang.

No. 4 qualifier Tim Wilkerson of Springfield, Ill., drew a huge ovation from the partisan crowd when he posted a 4.775 at 322.96 mph, which placed his Levi, Ray, & Shoup Chevrolet Monte Carlo in fourth place.

Independent runner Jim Head improved dramatically in Round 2 with a smooth 4.926 at 317.79 mph but still dropped four spots to the Day 1 bump. Seven others will try to take his place Saturday, including Whit Bazemore and Tony Bartone.

Greg Anderson
All the hitters are at the top of the Pro Stock ladder at the midway point of qualifying. Anderson is the quickest with a 6.769 at 202.85 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac. The two-time defending series champion enters this event on a three-race winning streak. He was the No. 1 qualifier at the last stop on tour in Topeka.

"When it's this humid it's tough for these motors to make horsepower," Anderson said. "This is without question the best racetrack we've been on all year and if the air was there we'd be flying. It's gonna make for a great race tomorrow because it's out of the tuner's hands. Weather like this brings it back to the drivers. That's the way we like it. You got to get up in the wheel and drive.

"We've got Kurt [Johnson] in the first round of the King Demon deal and he's right behind us on the qualifying ladder so we'll be racing early. It was so big to get this second session in because he was No. 1 after the first round and that would have played to his favor if the night session got rained out. Now he can think about us instead of the other way around.

"The King Demon race is awesome because there's a lot of money on the line but no points so you can just go out and race and have some fun."

Johnson was the closest to Anderson in his ACDelco Chevrolet Cobalt, posting a 6.783 at 203.80 mph, the fastest pass of the day. His father, Warren Johnson, the current points leader, also carded a 6.783 in his GM Performance Parts Pontiac, but his 202.76-mph top speed placed him third.

Flying the colors of new sponsor Torco Gear on his Chevrolet Cobalt, Dave Connolly closed out the top four with a 6.789 at 202.58 mph.

Larry Morgan improved to a 6.821 at 201.10 mph in Round 2, which earned him the 16th and final spot in the field. Jim Yates, Vieri Gaines, Erica Enders, and 14 others need to improve to make the field.

Andrew Hines
Interestingly, nothing changed in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class during the nighttime session as all 16 riders stayed exactly where they were after Round 1. Defending series champion Hines was the quickest of the day, posting a 7.123 at 183.10 mph on his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod. Hines has already qualified on top twice this year.

"It rained and then the sun came out and we ended up with lots of humidity," Hines said. "I think our computers probably lied to us a little bit but we made a pretty good run and we ended up being the quickest of the [second] round with a 7.19.

"My dad [Byron] and brother [Matt] have 30 and 10 years of experience, respectively, tuning these things and they just made a good, educated guess at how to set the bike up. Not a perfect run, but a good one.

"I like being No. 1 but I like taking home the Wally [trophy] even more so that’s what we want to do here."

Riding without the aid of his crew chief Ken Johnson, who was injured last weekend and remains hospitalized in Georgia, Chip Ellis lifted his team's spirits with a 7.150 at 185.66 mph on his G-Squared S&S Buell V-Twin.

Red Line Oil Suzuki rider Matt Smith had his best day of the year, qualifying third in the provisional field with a 7.194 at 183.87 mph, the last run in the teens. Popular rider Angelle Sampey was next with a fourth-best 7.203 at 184.25 mph on the U.S. Army Suzuki.

Michael Phillips anchors the field with a 7.279 at 182.48 mph. He was the only qualified rider to improve his E.T. in Round 2.

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