Las Vegan Fuller eyes NHRA Top Fuel title

POMONA, Calif. — Las Vegan Rod Fuller qualified 11th Saturday in Top Fuel at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, keeping a season points title within his reach.

If Fuller had failed to qualify, his Top Fuel points lead in the Countdown to 1 championship would have been in jeopardy.

Now, he’ll clinch the title if he reaches today’s semifinals, unless someone sets a national record.

Four-time series champion Tony Schumacher raced to the No. 1 Top Fuel position in his last qualifying attempt.

In Funny Car, points leader Tony Pedregon barely made the field in the 16th and final spot, holding on to all but secure his second series title.

The Pro Stock categories — led by Dave Connolly and Andrew Hines — are still undecided but could be wrapped up by the semifinals if the leaders maintain their edge.

The Auto Club NHRA Finals is the second and final race in the Countdown, the championship round of the NHRA playoffs.

Schumacher took full advantage of a drawn-out final session and used the cool evening air to power to a 4.508-second run at 320.58 mph. Schumacher will need to win the race and hope “Hot Rod” Fuller loses in the first round to win it all. Schumacher also will need Larry Dixon and Brandon Bernstein to bow out early.

Coming into Saturday unqualified, Fuller was happy just to qualify in the No. 11 slot with a 4.549 at 325.85 mph.

Local hero Jeff Arend remained the low qualifier in Funny Car, much to the delight of his legion of fans from nearby San Dimas. His reward for his second career pole is a first-round date with current points leader Pedregon, who all but clinched his second POWERade title by making the 16-car field.

Ron Capps was eliminated from the title race when Pedregon made the field.

Connolly earned his second low qualifier award in a row with a 6.648 at 208.01 mph in his Chevrolet Cobalt. Last week, despite his great qualifying effort, Connolly lost in the second round and gave up the points lead. He’ll hope to reverse that result and make up the 47-point deficit he has to leader Greg Anderson to win his first championship.

Anderson looked sharp in his Pontiac GTO, running a 6.654 and a 6.655 Saturday. He’ll start eliminations in the No. 2 spot.

Hines’ second low qualifier of the year came at a perfect time as it was worth an entire round of action. By out-qualifying Chip Ellis, Hines completed time trials with a 41-point advantage over Ellis.

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