TOPEKA — Three of the last four years, Antron Brown has sat on the Top Fuel pole heading into eliminations at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals at Heartland Park Topeka.
Brown’s best run from Friday night’s session, 3.797 seconds, held up as the track heated up Saturday for the final two qualifying passes.
But Brown, who set a track record for top speed (324.98 mph), knows better than most that qualifying No. 1 — as he did for the 30th time in his career — guarantees nothing on Sunday.
That has been especially true for Brown at Heartland Park, where he is still searching for his first berth in the final round.
“The run that really counts is that first run on Sunday,” said Brown, who bumped up to second in the points standings with a strong qualifying performance. “It feels good to get No. 1 and run good four sessions in a row, but we’ve done that and gone out and lost first round. Our deal is that first run on Sunday, that is your real run that gets you started. That’s when it all goes down and sets the tone for Sunday.”
Brown, who said he’d have been happy to go straight to eliminations after Friday’s record-setting run, posted the third-fastest qualifying time in the third session Saturday, but spun his tires on the final qualifying pass.
He’ll need to avoid a similar fate when eliminations start this morning.
“You have to have one good round after another,” Brown said. “You’ve got to focus on one good round, go out there and hit it with everything you’ve got.”
That’s because there is no margin for error in Top Fuel right now. The top nine qualifiers were separated by 0.047 seconds.
“The competition we’ve got is monumental in Top Fuel right now,” Brown said.
Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon, who established track records for elapsed time (4.046) and top speed (315.56) during qualifying Friday, also stayed in the No. 1 spot.
A four-time winner at Heartland Park, Pedregon, who hasn’t won in Topeka since 1995, now owns 48 career No. 1s , including three this season.
“If we don’t make mistakes, I like our chances,” Pedregon said. “We’re going to try to be boring tomorrow, just workmanlike and try to pound out four round wins if we can.”
Courtney Force turned heads in the final qualifying session with a 4.109 run, which was the fastest pass of the day.
“I was definitely impressed by Courtney’s run and so far that’s the car to beat if you take away my runs from (Friday),” Pedregon said.
In the Pro Stock ranks, Allen Johnson remained in first as well. He had the second-fastest run in both Saturday qualifying sessions.
“We’ve got some great momentum right now,” Johnson said. “We’re stuck right in there with them two Summit cars, battling it out every round for the No. 1 spot. … We’re going to keep trying to do more of the same and keep going after those two Pontiacs with vengeance.”
Scott Palmer of Cassville, Mo., sat on the Top Fuel bump after the third qualifying session, but was knocked out by Mike Strasburg, who was then clipped by Clay Millican for a spot in Sunday’s eliminations.