Points leader Brittany Force made the fastest run in Top Fuel history on Friday, powering to the provisional No. 1 qualifier in record-breaking fashion at the final race of the season, the 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the 22nd and final event in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the sixth race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Force went 3.641s at 338.94mph in her 11,000-horsepower Monster Energy dragster, eclipsing her own record for the fastest run in class history and giving her a perfect start to kick off a huge weekend. If it holds, it would give Force her 10th No. 1 spot this season and 42nd in her career. More importantly, it gives Force, who entered the weekend with a slim seven-point advantage over Justin Ashley, momentum as she looks to claim her second career world title.
“It’s big to grab those points wherever we can and it’s pretty awesome to run that mph and break the record at my home track where I grew up racing,” Force said. “I love this place and that run, we planned to push the car and it worked out. But it’s going to come down to race day and we’re going to try to hunt this thing down. This is a great start for our team.”
Four-time defending world champion Steve Torrence, who started the weekend 87 points behind Force, is currently second after going 3.656s at 333.33mph and Leah Pruett is third after a pass of 3.669s at 329.67mph. Ashley is in the seventh spot after two sessions.
After struggling for most of the season, two-time Funny Car champ Cruz Pedregon hopes Pomona can be a momentum shift heading into the off-season, making a pair of 3.84s runs, including a class-best 3.840s at 322.58mph in his 11,000-horsepower Snap-On Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. It would give the veteran his first No. 1 qualifier of the year and 63rd in his career should it hold up. It hasn’t been the year Pedregon has hoped for after contending for a championship in 2021, but a win to close out the year would ease those ills going into the 2023 campaign.
“To say I’m happy and excited and relieved all in one would be an understatement,” Pedregon said. “I’ve been surprised before at the finish line but not like that. It was such a great run and honestly, the car had a cylinder out about three-quarter track on that first (run) so had we been able to put the back half of this second run with the first one I would have been a little bit better.”
Championship contender Matt Hagan moved into the No. 2 spot after his run of 3.844s at 323.58mph. It also sent Hagan past Ron Capps in the standings, putting him 59 points – which is less than two rounds with Pomona being points-and-a-half – behind leader Robert Hight heading into Saturday. Defending event winner Bob Tasca III is third after his 3.856s at 322.65mph.
Pomona has always treated Anderson well and that continued Friday in Pro Stock, as the five-time world champ shot to No. 1 with a stellar pass of 6.509s at 211.00mph in his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro to close the day. It would give the 100-time event winner his fourth top qualifier in 2022 and the 122nd in his terrific career, along with perhaps the inside track to win in Pomona for the 14th time overall and at the Auto Club NHRA Finals for the second straight year.
“There is a lot of history at the place, both here at the Auto Club Finals and the Winternationals. That’s where you used to show up in February and see how you stack up against everyone else,” Anderson said. “Nine out of 10 times the championship is decided here. Obviously, that didn’t happen this year. The championship is over (after Erica Enders won in Las Vegas to claim her fifth title) but there are a lot of crumbs to fight for. Championships are great but we come to the track to win races and that’s our goal this weekend. I made two good runs today and now we just need to keep it up the rest of the weekend.”
Dallas Glenn impressed in the second session as well, as Anderson’s KB Racing teammate went to second with a 6.514s at 210.77mph. Troy Coughlin Jr.’s 6.520s at 211.36mph puts him third heading into Saturday’s final two sessions.
Looking to end her season on a bright note, Sampey enjoyed a spectacular Friday in Pro Stock Motorcycle, shattering the track record with a standout run of 6.703s at 201.61mph on her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. It puts Sampey on track to close out the 2022 season with her sixth No. 1 qualifier of the season and the 59th in her career. More importantly, Sampey would love a second victory to close out the season. Things haven’t gone her way in the Countdown to the Championship, but all that can be erased with a winning weekend at the legendary facility.
“I was very excited to see that run because this weekend I’m on a mission to change things,” Sampey said. “My team has given me a Suzuki to win the race. I’ve had the best bike at almost every race this year but haven’t delivered like I should have. This team deserves a championship, and I didn’t deliver. My goal is to win this race and then be able to have a relaxing off-season knowing that we turned things around. I want to erase the past and gain some momentum.”
Points leader Matt Smith moved to second after going 6.719s at 202.70mph, setting the track speed record. He made two strong runs on Friday as he gets closer to a sixth world championship. His wife, Angie, is currently third after a 6.744s at 201.97mph.
Qualifying continues at 11:30 a.m. PT on Saturday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.