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Sat, Nov 14, 09:40 PM

Final Qualifying Session of the Year Sets Sunday Fields
by Larry Sullivan

One Championship Still Undecided

POMONA, Calif. - The final day of qualifying for the 34th annual NHRA Winston Finals was a busy one, highlighted by the $100,000 Big Bud Shootout at Pomona and the final Pro Stock Truck race of the 1998 season. When things finally wound down and the lights went out, Doug Kalitta and Brad Jeter found themselves in the winner's circle; Gary Scelzi found himself in undisputed possession of the 1998 Winston Top Fuel championship; John Force still can't call the Funny Car title his; and Scelzi, Cruz Pedregon, Warren Johnson, and Angelle Seeling are seeded first for Sunday's eliminations.

Scelzi stayed atop the Top Fuel ladder and clinched the Winston title with his earlier 4.548 second, 323.85 mph qualifying run, but lost his chance at the Big Bud Shootout when he smoked the tires in the second round.

Kalitta survived three rounds of eliminations to win the Shootout, defeating Joe Amato and Cory McClenathan to face Eddie Hill in the final round. The final was a crowd-pleaser, Kalitta with a better reaction time and Hill closing the gap at half track. But then Kalitta's Ed McCulloch-tuned dragster pulled away to win by a car length, 4.599 seconds at 313.26 mph to Hill's 4.620 at 307.06. In addition to the $100,000 Shootout winner's share, Kalitta now has a shot at a $5 0,000 bonus if he can win the Winston Finals Sunday.

In Funny Car, Pedregon stepped up even further, posting a track-record elapsed time of 4.867 seconds at 302.72 mph to retake the top spot on the ladder after Tim Wilkerson topped his Friday performance with a 4.913 at 304.87. That's the twelfth time he's qualified number one this year, after failing to qualify for the season-opening Winternationals here at Pomona.

Force's eighth Funny Car championship is still not official, but the fat lady is clearing her throat. Force is qualified third on the ladder, but still needs to win in the first round of eliminations to close the door on Ron Capps' chance of catching him. Capps managed to get into the field on his fourth attempt, qualified tenth, after struggling through the first three qualifying sessions. Force would have to lose in the first round and Capps would not only have to win the event, but also set a national elapsed time record in order to overcome Force's points lead.

Johnson's first-session 6.891 at 201.02 remained the mark to beat after three more qualifying sessions in Pro Stock, Troy Coughlin hanging on to the sixteenth spot to face Johnson in the first round Sunday.

Jeter overcame strong challenges from Winston champion Larry Kopp and number-one qualifier John Lingenfelter to reach the final round of eliminations for the Pro Stock Trucks, where he faced Tim Freeman. Jeter nipped Freeman in the final round, posting a 7.660 second, 175.09 mph clocking to Freeman's 7.708 at 175.33, overcoming Freeman's slightly better reaction time to take the final race of the Pro Stock Truck season.

Seeling stepped up once again Saturday after Matt Hines took the number one spot away, Seeling's 7.250 at 184.61 just 0.001 seconds quicker than Hines' 7.251 at 182.59.

Final eliminations in all four remaining categories will begin at 10:30 AM PST Sunday.

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