ENNIS, Texas --
Top Fuel's Cinderella story Doug Herbert also suffered a DNQ, all but extinguishing his title hopes outright.
Three of Friday's four qualifying leaders remained intact with J.R. Todd leading Top Fuel with a 4.541 seconds, Tim Wilkerson topping Funny Car with a 4.787 seconds, and Greg Anderson fronting Pro Stock with a 6.668 seconds. The only change among the frontrunners was Chip Ellis sneaking around Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a double-track-record pass of 6.976 seconds at 191.32 mph
Despite his DNQ, Hight remains in the points lead for the time being, but could certainly suffer if "Fast Jack" Beckman, Ron Capps, or Gary Scelzi have big Sundays. Second in the points, Beckman could do the most damage. He starts qualifying in the No. 7 spot. Scelzi is 10th, while Capps is 12th.
"I was at the top end when they were interviewing John Force and he was noticeably upset about Robert not qualifying, and he should be because that's the best car out here right now," Wilkerson said. "It's hard to make a fast car slow. We all know Jimmy [Prock, Hight's crew chief]. He don't go up there to be second or third and I truly believe that's what got them, this weekend.
"We probably run a little more conservatively than most teams because we have to and that probably helped us here. We ended up No. 1 and I'm pretty proud of that."
Needing to make a move on the top four, John Force is third on the grid in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang with a 4.801. Fellow championship hopefuls Tony Pedregon (10th place with a 4.866), Mike Ashley (11th, 4.868), and Jim Head (13th, 4.884) also have designs on moving into the top four Sunday.
"I'm sure tomorrow will be a lot like today with the sun beating down on the track and the real hot temperatures," Todd said. "We'll need to get down the track and make decent runs and hopefully we can come out of here with a win. If we can run low 4.60s and high 4.50s we should be good."
The monster match-up of the first round will pit No. 4 qualifier "Hot Rod" Fuller against No. 13 qualifier Tony Schumacher. Fuller posted a 4.552 to Schumacher's best of 4.608. The two are first and second in the points with Schumacher 15 points ahead of Fuller.
"We have a happy hot rod so far this weekend," Anderson said. "We have to hope we don't have a big swing in weather or track conditions because it seems this Pontiac GTO likes it just as it is. There's a long way to go though. You have four tough rounds if you hope to race Dave Connolly in the finals and we know what he's been doing lately."
Connolly, the current points leader, stayed second with a best of 6.677 at 206.73 mph in his Torco Chevrolet Cobalt. Mopar teammates Richie Stevens (6.687) and Allen Johnson (6.690) rounded out the top four.
The biggest mover of the day was Jeg Coughlin, who went from out of the field to the No. 9 spot with a 6.699 in his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt. Coughlin is third in the Countdown to Four points.
By out-qualifying Angelle Sampey and others, Ellis is in a much more comfortable spot in the Countdown to Four. He's still fourth overall, the bump spot for the Countdown's next phase, but Sampey now needs to make up three rounds instead of two.
"We're making good power and the track was hooking pretty good so we just rode it on down through there," Ellis said. "It's just another day at the office.
"I don't know anyone out there in NHRA that's ever won a race without winning the first round so that's what I'm going to concentrate on. I'm just gonna chill out, have some fun, and let it happen. I'll let y'all (media) worry about the points stuff. I really don't care; I just want to ride."
By qualifying second, Hines becomes the first NHRA racer to clinch a spot in the Countdown to One. The Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod rider now is assured of running for a fourth consecutive championship over the last two races.
The other two riders in the top four, Matt Smith and Craig Treble are third and 10th on the elimination ladder. Smith's Torco Buell posted a 6.996, while Treble's unsponsored Suzuki clocked a 7.077 at 191.13 mph.