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Fri, 2 Nov 2007, 09:22 PM

Provisional No. 1's are JR Todd, Jeff Arend, Richie Stevens and Chip Ellis
Courtesy of NHRA Communications
Photo copyright 2007 Auto Imagery, Inc.

Midway through Qualifying, TF Points Leader Fuller Not Qualified

POMONA, Calif. --

Rod Fuller
Countdown to 1 Top Fuel points leader "Hot Rod" Fuller may be in for a sleepless night as he remains unqualified at the midway point of time trials at the 43rd annual Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.

Should Fuller fail to qualify, he could be caught by any of the other three drivers - Larry Dixon, Brandon Bernstein and Tony Schumacher - still alive in the title chase. But the Las Vegas-based racer shrugged off the pressure while watching J.R. Todd stay No. 1 in Top Fuel to join Jeff Arend, Richie Stevens, and Chip Ellis on the Day 2 provisional low qualifiers podium.

"Everyone's asking me if I'm panicking and I'm really not," Fuller said. "We just had some little gremlins in there today but I know we'll be fine. We have a great race team over here. I think everyone else is way more worried about us than we are."

The Countdown to 1, the two-race championship round of the NHRA Playoffs, began last weekend at Las Vegas and it concludes this weekend in Pomona. ESPN2 will show qualifying highlights Saturday night at 7 & 11 p.m. ET and final eliminations will be televised Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

Dropped cylinders and tire smoke ended Fuller's Friday run early while simultaneously pegging his stress meter as the POWERade series roars to its conclusion at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. He'll have two more chances to make the cut on Saturday in his Caterpillar dragster.

Fuller has only once this season come to the track on Saturday without a qualified run and on that occasion, at Sonoma in July, he delivered a No. 3-qualifying run on his third qualifying pass. Temperatures are expected to be at or slightly above 90 degrees Saturday with Top Fuel qualifying runs scheduled at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

J.R. Todd
An hour or so after announcing a new deal that will pair him with good friend Morgan Lucas in 2008, Todd returned to the pressroom as Friday's low qualifier. Todd didn't improve on his opening pass of 4.521 at 328.22 mph after smoking the tires of his Skull Shine dragster, but no one else managed to pass him so he retained the top spot.

"I'm excited about our announcement and joining Morgan over there with that second car of his," Todd said. "John Stewart has that car running great. In my opinion, it's been the best car in the sport since the Countdown deal started. Hopefully next year we can get in that deal again and make another run. It'll be great if we can help Morgan get his first win also.

"The track's not as good today as it was yesterday. We ran a little later in the day Thursday and that probably made a difference. I think we were probably a little too aggressive and smoked the tires but we got lucky and no one went around us."

Brandon Bernstein remains the quickest of the Countdown to 1 racers, dropping one position to fourth place with his Round 1 pass of 4.529 in his Budweiser rail. Tony Schumacher is now seventh with a best of 4.544 in his U.S. Army dragster while Larry Dixon in ninth with a 4.572 in the SkyTel dragster.

Jeff Arend
Friday's slightly increased temperatures kept the nitro racers in check, which meant Arend was able to hold onto the top spot in Funny Car with his first round time of 4.781 at 324.90 mph in his blue Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Chevrolet Impala SS.

"Things are looking pretty good for us," Arend said. "It's supposed to be a little warmer tomorrow so if someone can come out there and run quicker than a 4.78, more power to them.

"My mom, Sylvie Arend, flew out here from Toronto to watch me race. She's never seen me race in person and she is really impressed with the action and the facility here. She was surprised at how loud it was and she watched from the suites in Round 1 and really enjoyed herself. I think she's really proud of me and that's cool."

Holding onto his fleeting championship hopes, Ron Capps posted the best run of the day in his Brut Dodge Charger, a 4.812 at 323.50 mph, which moved him up to fourth place. That displaced teammate and fellow title hopeful Gary Scelzi to fifth with a best of 4.813 in his Mopar/Oakley Dodge. Currently third in the points, Robert Hight is ninth here with a 4.827 in his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang.

Funny Car leader Tony Pedregon, who can only be caught if he fails to qualify for the event, is 12th with a 4.847 in his Q Horsepower Chevrolet Impala SS. There are 14 drivers capable of moving Pedregon down at this point.

Richie Stevens
While the big dogs in the Pro Stock Countdown to 1 battle for position and qualifying points, Stevens snuck by them all and into the No. 1 qualifying position with a 6.665 at 206.76 mph in his Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T. Stevens also was told by team owner Don Schumacher that his deal will carry on next year.

"So far, so good," Stevens said. "We've finally got this thing running good in qualifying. Now we need to translate that over to raceday. It's nice to go out there and throw a curveball at those guys in the top four. The reality is we're all trying to win traces, whether it's now or at the start of the year; every race is another chance to win.

"We never really got it together this year for long periods of time. When I was off the car was working good and when the car was off I was driving great. We're looking forward to carrying these strong performances from the end of this year over to 2008."

The points leader until the last race in Las Vegas, Dave Connolly came back to life Friday with a second-best 6.667 at 207.43 mph in the Torco/Seelye Wright Chevrolet Cobalt. Vegas winner Greg Anderson was next with a 6.673 at 207.02 mph in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO.

Stevens' teammate, Allen Johnson, is fifth with a 6.678 in his Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T, while Thursday leader Jeg Coughlin dropped to eighth in his Chevrolet Cobalt when he failed to improve on his Round 1 pass of 6.689.

Chip Ellis
Ellis's move to the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying sheet was important as it closes the gap between Ellis and No. 1 points earner Andrew Hines to less than two rounds of action. The rider of the Drag Specialties S&S Buell V-Twin has been low qualifier at the last four races in a row.

"One run a day makes for a long day," Ellis said. "I'm just glad to be here and glad to be No. 1 again. Yesterday we had the same motor in there from Las Vegas and it was a motor that was capable of winning. The only reason we didn't was because the rider screwed up and short-shifted in the final round. But we still didn't think it was our best motor so we switched it out and

"I just want to turn on win lights; the best thing is for me to race him early and try to take him out. I'm ready for this. I've never felt more ready to race in my life. The pressure is not on me, it's on Andrew. I'm second. He's the one that is expected to win. That's Larry Dixon's line but I'm stealing it because I like it."

Countdown to 1 participant Matt Smith made the biggest move of the day, coming from out of contention to the No. 2 spot overall on his Torco Buell. Thursday leader Angelle Sampey improved to a 6.973 at 188.94 mph but dropped to third on her U.S. Army Suzuki.

Hines and Peggy Llewellyn stayed in the mix with Hines running a 6.996 on his Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod and Llewellyn a 7.003 on her Rush Racing Products Buell V-Twin

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