A very hot racetrack early Sunday afternoon at Bristol, Tenn., contributed to very few cars in Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car categories crossing the finish line under power, but performance improved for a few after a two-hour rain delay before fourth and final qualifying attempts in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn.
Saturday began with Don Schumacher Racing's Leah Pritchett and the Papa John's Pizza Top Fuel dragster in the No. 3 position and two-time world champion Matt Hagan and the Sandvik Coromant 2017 Dodge Charger R/T in the No. 5 spot in Funny Car.
Each improved on their last runs and will be seeded third when championship eliminations begin noon Sunday (EDT).
Pritchett improved her best time on the last run with a time of 3.795 at a slowing 288.03 after gremlin caused a small explosion and fire.
"It was on a truckin' run and our gold Papa John's came back a little crispy," said Pritchett, who has won three titles this year with crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam.
"We didn't get everything we wanted out of that last run but starting third is great. We've had some small problems in our fuel system that we're chasing, but we'll be ready Sunday."
Hagan with crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen saved their best for last with a time of 3.925 (326.00).
The biggest surprise to start Saturday was DSR's championship points leading drivers, Antron Brown in Top Fuel and Ron Capps in Funny Car sitting near the bottom of the qualifying list.
Brown, three-time and reigning world champion with the Matco Tools team, made the biggest jump early Saturday afternoon when he moved from 15th to fifth with time of 3.834 seconds at 318.62 that was the best run of the session but they fell back to No. 7 and one spot behind teammate and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, who will go for his track-record sixth Bristol title.
Brown is trying to win for the first time in Thunder Valley, the only track of the Mello Yello tour in which none of his 63 wins have been recorded.
"I don't even think about that," said Brown, who has three wins this year and won the past two world titles. "We treat this race like any other. We want to win them all. We learned a lot about our hot weather tune-up last weekend in Englishtown and that'll help us this weekend in Bristol. All we're focused on is one round at time and attacking the racetrack each lap."
DSR's Beckman in Terry Chandler's Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T is also looking for his first Bristol win and is coming off the 25th win of his pro career and first this year a week ago in New England. Tommy Johnson Jr., who was quickest on Friday, will start No. 8 in Chandler's Make-A-Wish for DSR's Dodge.
After advancing to his sixth final round of the year and third in three races a week ago at Englishtown, N.J., Capps' crew chief Rahn Tobler opted for the team to switch to a new chassis after Friday's disappointing runs that left them 14th. Tobler replied with a time of 4.187 (305.84) that was lightyears better than the night before that moved the reigning world champions to 13th and then 10th to start eliminations.
"That's just another time when Tobler made a bold move during a race weekend that paid off," said Capps, who has won four titles this year and holds a big lead over Hagan for the points lead.
"A couple races back (at Topeka, Kan.) Tobe changed the fuel pump before first round and we went on to win our fourth straight Wally. For Saturday, he went with a new chassis that we only used a few times in testing. Those moves show that this team has the 'NAPA Know How.' "
Sunday's race has extra meaning as it falls on Father's Day and DSR drivers have had success by winning 10 times on the holiday: Capps 3 (2002, 2006, 2012), Tony Schumacher 2 (2010, 2012), Tommy Johnson Jr. 2 (2014, 2016) and one each by Hagan (2015), former DSR driver Shawn Langdon (2016) and Jack Beckman (2012).