Brittany Force, Matt Hagan, Shane Gray and Matt Smith Lead NHRA Route 66 Raceway Eliminations
By Stan Creekmore

For Matt Smith, Shane Gray and Brittany Force Saturday qualifying was simply a chance to fine tune their set-ups as their competition didn't run fast enough to take over their top qualifying spots.

For Matt Hagan, In Funny Car, his final qualifying run rewarded him and the team with the #1 starting spot in the Funny Car division.

It was the second top qualifying effort of the season for Hagan, who navigated the Route 66 Raceway dragstrip under the lights in a track record time of 3.882 seconds at 331.12 mph in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T.

“Dickie [Venables, crew chief] is very consistent and methodical and I am glad he’s my crew chief and that’s why we are number one,” said Hagan of his 23rd career No. 1 and first ever at Chicago. “It was a game-changer in this class from Sonoma on last year with the change to the headers and that’s why these Funny Cars are so competitive now. It all comes down to the parts and pieces that are in front of us and making small tweaks to them here and there.”

Hagan added the run increases his confidence and will give him a very restful night of slight before hitting the track on Sunday in his effort to take home the Wally trophy.

“The main focus today was getting two consistent runs down the track today and we were able to do that, and we had four good runs all weekend, so that’s exactly where we want to be,” Force said. “Being No. 1, that just tops everything. I think we are comfortable and confident going in and I am looking forward to seeing what we can do tomorrow.”

While Force admits she is looking forward to Sunday's elimination rounds she isn't about to let her mind look past the first of the four runs it takes to win the Wally.

Force will be face Chris Karamesines, an 80+ year old driver, who could easily steal the first run if she were to have some issue in the first round of eliminations.

In Pro Stock, Gray became the first driver of the season from outside the KB Racing team to earn a No. 1 qualifying position. His Friday effort of 6.578 at 209.43 in his Valvoline/Nova Services Chevy Camaro gave him his sixth top qualifying effort of his career and his first at Chicago. He will try for his first win of the season when he faces Alan Prusiensky in round one.

“I am real pleased with the progress we made today and I am really stoked about race day tomorrow and I think we have a good shot,” Gray said. “I don’t try to get too far ahead of myself but I would say we have caught up to [the Summit Racing team] at this race. We’ll see how we are doing a few more races down the road. We’ve got a core group of guys that have been with me for seven years and we are like family. We are having fun out here, so look out.”

Win or lose the Wally, Gray easily admitted he feels no pressure when he lines up for the first round of eliminations. “I have my birthday,” stated Gray, “The rest is juat life.”

Matt Smith rode to his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season, 24th of his career and second at Chicago in Pro Stock Motorcycle as no one was able to better his Friday track record time of 6.842 at 195.51. It was his first No. 1 in well over a year, since Gainesville 2015.

“It feels good to be back up top,” Smith said. “We know we have a top four or five bike. Luckily we got in the running and got the top spot yesterday. We almost were quickest today. The bike is running good and is consistent. Hopefully we can turn on some win lights tomorrow. We need to get Victory their first win.”

Smith opens eliminations on his Victory Gunner against former teammate Michael Ray as he tries to win at this track for the first time after posting three previous runner-up finishes.

After his Kansas wreck, does Johnson advance to the Eliminator Round?
Too early to tell
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