JOLIET, Ill. — Defending Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson claimed his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals, ending a drought of 43 races without a top spot that dates back to the 2009 season.
Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Mike Neff (Funny Car) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
Anderson took his fifth No. 1 at Route 66 Raceway and the 74th of his career with his Friday run of 6.586 seconds at 209.14 mph in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP.
“It’s great to be a No. 1 qualifier again after a 43-race drought,” Anderson said. “I can’t explain why it happened, but I know that we have a real good car now, and we’re very pleased with that. In the past, we’ve usually turned our program around by switching cars. But when you do that, you never really solve the problem. This time we decided to stick with it and get this thing sorted out, and I’m glad that we did. It’s more personally gratifying this way.”
Anderson will face Ronnie Humphrey in the first round of eliminations as he tries to claim his first win at the Chicago track, the only one on the circuit where the four-time champ has not visited Winner’s Circle.
“I don’t know why I have never won at this track,” Anderson said. “It’s a beautiful facility, and I always enjoy coming here. It’s always something crazy that has happened that has kept us from winning here in the past. I don’t think that we’ve pressed too hard or anything like that. I can tell you that my teammate Jason Line certainly likes this track [with his three wins here]. Getting the No. 1 qualifying position is a good way to start off. Maybe this weekend we can finally make it all happen here.”
In Top Fuel, FRAM/Prestone dragster driver Massey claimed his second No. 1 of the season and third of his career with his performance of 3.819 at 319.29 from Friday. He will meet local favorite TJ Zizzo of nearby Linconshire in the opening round and try to push his amazing streak of consecutive runs without smoking the tires to 41, and if possible, 44 by the end of the day.
“I’m very happy that we qualified No. 1,” Massey said. “Extending our streak of runs without smoking the tires to 40 is cool, but qualifying No. 1 is better. I’ve got this great opportunity to drive again, and I’m loving it. I want to be like the “Greek” [Chris Karamesines], and be driving until I’m in my 80s. Things couldn’t be better for us right now. (Crew chiefs) Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler have got our car running like a machine now. That’s what Tony Schumacher told me wins races – you have to be like a machine. When you smoke the tires, you are beating yourself. You have to depend on the car in the other lane to smoke its tires or run slower than you, and that’s not the way to win races.”
Neff, who is leading the Funny Car series point standings while serving as both driver and crew chief for his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, took his fifth top qualifying position of his career and first since 2009 as no one bettered his Friday run of 4.110 seconds at 298.01 mph.
“We anticipated that the conditions would be cooler than they were last night, but it never unfolded that way,” Neff said. “I think that’s why you saw several cars go up in smoke during their runs. When it came time for us to run as the last pair, we knew we had nothing to gain by going after it, so we backed it down some to make sure that we could get down the track.”
Neff, a three-time winner this season, will race Terry Haddock in the first round. He says the hot and steamy track conditions expected Sunday will favor a veteran driver.
“I think that a driver like John Force, who has a lot of runs under his belt, has the advantage over a driver like me, who hasn’t been in many pedaling duels,” Neff said. “So as a tuner, I will do what I can to play it safe and try to make sure that we don’t smoke the tires during eliminations.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. earned his second consecutive No. 1 of the season by riding his Lucas Oil Buell to a 6.950 at 191.65. The rookie rider will face veteran GT Tonglet in the opening round.