JOLIET – Brittany Force went into Saturday’s last two rounds of Top Fuel qualifying in the 19th Route 66 Nationals with a distinct advantage.
With the track record in her pocket from Friday night’s 3.692-second qualifying run earning her the provisional No. 1 spot, she could afford to use Saturday’s 1,000-foot passes as a glorified test for Sunday’s elimination finals.
That worked to perfection. With similar weather to Saturday’s hot but not overly muggy conditions expected, Force made runs of 3.800 and 3.731 seconds en route to locking in the top spot for Sunday.
Steve Torrence also posted a 3.731 Saturday – and a top trap speed of 327.03 mph to Force’s 325.69 – but the overall best elapsed time carries the day, and Force already had that from Friday’s evening session.
“Today’s conditions are going to be pretty similar to tomorrow, I think,” said Force, who turned 30 on Friday. “It’s going to be hot. The main focus was getting two consistent runs down the race track. We’ve had four all weekend.
“The runs we made today were exactly what we were looking for, and I think it should set us up for tomorrow.”
Force hasn’t put a wheel out of place, nothing has broken, and has essentially been untouchable. That, as much as her qualifying position, makes her the driver to beat.
She’ll face 84-year-old Chris Karamesines, Chicago’s famed “Golden Greek,” in the first round. If she gets by Karamesines, Force would be slotted against either Richie Crampton or Leah Pritchett in the quarterfinals.
“I think we’re really comfortable, confident going in,” Force said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what we could do tomorrow.”
Force has won twice this season, at Gainesville and Charlotte, and took second in Phoenix. In none of those cases was she the top qualifier. This time she is, but she said forgetting about her lofty position and focusing on the here and now for each run is the plan.
“I always take one run at a time,” Force said. “Yeah, I’m excited, I’m pumped up about our run last night, but we started over again today and we tried to do that same exact thing.
“I guess I’ve always had that approach to life. You can’t be distracted when you’re up there on the starting line.”
The field is full of winners Force would have to face down the line. Doug Kalitta, the leader in the standings and the only three-time winner this season, could be a foe in the finals, as could defending champion and five-time winner Tony Schumacher. Antron Brown or Shawn Langdon, also two-time winners, might stand between her and a spot in the finals in a semifinal showdown, as might Torrence.