Record-Setting Times Posted in Chicago in Opening Qualifying Rounds; Nitro Points Leaderd Have Yet to Make Cut

Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. covered Route 66 Raceway in 4.672 seconds Friday night to highlight a very quick opening day of racing at the ninth annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. The $1.9 million race is the 10th of 23 on the $50 million POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Johnson's pass was his best ever and the third quickest in category history. Richie Stevens also earned high praise for posting a 6.635 at 207.40 mph, the second quickest Pro Stock pass ever. Qualifying concludes on Saturday.

Top Fuel's reigning champion Tony Schumacher continues to qualify well, carding a 4.484 at 329 mph to lead Top Fuel, while Chip Ellis teased the Pro Stock Motorcycle world with a track record 7.015, which led the quickest NHRA motorcycle field of all time.

Johnson could break a five and a half year drought if his 4.672 at 328.70 mph keeps his Skoal Chevrolet Monte Carlo No. 1 in Funny Car through the final two qualifying sessions. Johnson last recorded a low qualifier at the first Pomona race in 2001, his initial event with Don Prudhomme Racing.

"I knew that was a good pass but I didn't know it was that good," Johnson said. "I had to drive it around quite a bit down there. My radio wasn't working and when I came around the corner they held up a No. 1 so I knew then it was quick. But when they said 4.67, I was like, 'What did you say?' I couldn't believe it."

Schumacher's 4.484 at 329.50 mph in a brand new U.S. Army dragster set him up for his sixth low qualifier award of the year if that number holds. While the 4.48 was impressive, Schumacher seemed more pleased with the 4.62 he posted in the second round.

"We made two runs in a row, yeah," Schumacher said. "You need a car that goes down the track more than once a weekend. I think we've finally got it. It's no secret that Alan [Johnson, crew chief] made a bunch of changes in the car since Topeka and we're just starting to see what it's all about now. So far, so good."

Melanie Troxel and Ron Capps, the current points leaders in Top Fuel and Funny Car, have not qualified for their respective fields at the midway point of time trials.

It appears crew chief David Nickens has gained some control of Don Schumacher Racing's Mopar Dodge Pro Stock program as he tuned Stevens to his track record number in just his fifth race at the helm.

"David did a lot with the motors over the past two weeks," Stevens said. "He really didn't have time to do much more than dyno them since he's been here but having a weekend off between Topeka and here gave him a chance to get them back to his shop and totally break them down and work some of his magic. I'm happier for him right now than anything else."

Perhaps the most perplexing part of the Pro Stock Motorcycle action was Ellis' inability to improve on his opening run of 7.015 at 189.26 mph in the cooler evening session. After his first pass, anticipation was high that he would become just the second rider ever to record a six-second run, but he slowed to a 7.05 instead.

"All this hype about the sixes is just that, hype," Ellis said. "I just want to go out there and make the best pass we can make. We went 7.05 [in Round 2] and that's pretty good. If we work on making good passes then we'll have the success we want. If [a six-second run] happens, it happens."

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