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Wednesday May 6th, 2015 4:31AM

Cruz Pedregon Tops Funny Car Qualifying At Gatornationals

By Pete McCole
GAINESVILLE, FL - Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) secured the top qualifying spots for Sunday's NHRA Mellow Yello Drag Racing Series Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto Plus Raceway At Gainesville.

Pedregon scored his third straight Gatornationals No. 1 qualifier and at the same snapped John Force's top qualifying streak at five races dating back to last season, while Langdon, Connolly and Ray notched their first-career Gatornationals poles.

Pedregon turned in a low ET of 4.068 seconds at 308.21 mph with an explosive run in the final session, blowing his engine just past the finish line, but it was enough to move him up from the ninth qualifying spot and bump Bob Tasca III from the top spot.

"I looked at the time slip at the finish line and noticed that it ran really well to each increment," Pedregon said. "It gave me the confidence to say, 'I don't think anybody is going to run this.' From what I could see, we pretty much got all of it that we could. It had good splits, fast speed through the middle, and ran to the finish line. That was basically like, 'If you want some, come get some.'"

Tasca, who held provisional No. 1 spot since Friday, was unable to improve his time during Saturday's session and settled for the No. 2 qualifying spot, standing pat with a time of 4.103 second at 304.39 mph. Jack Beckman was third after posting a 4.108, 305.15, followed by Chad Head (4.115, 300.46) and Courtney Force (4.121, 308.85).

John Force, a seven-time Gatornationals winner, just barely hung onto the bump spot after four disappointing qualifying attempts. He will face his old rival Pedregon in Sunday's opening round. Dave Richards was the only driver to miss the field.

In Top Fuel, the defending World Champion Shawn Langdon picked up his 14th-career top qualifier with a run of 3.776 seconds at 325.37 mph in Saturday's final round.

Langdon's run on Saturday was only slightly better than Friday's performance, but was still the only driver to qualify under 3.7 seconds as no one was able to top him during Saturday's sessions.

"We were able to take our 3.78 from yesterday and make a couple small, minor adjustments to go 3.77," said Langdon, who will face J.R. Todd in the opening round on Sunday. "Brian (Husen, crew chief) did an excellent job this weekend of making the right calls."

Antron Brown made the biggest improvement in Saturday's session, moving up from fifth to second with a pass of 3.804 seconds at 320.43 mph. Rookie Richie Compton turned in his best career qualifying effort with a time of 3.816 at 322.34. Doug Kalitta (3.819, 322.34) and David Grubnic (3.823, 312.78) rounded out the top five.

Pat Dakin, Terry McMillen and Ike Maier failed to qualify for Sunday's main event.

Dave Connolly picked up his first No. 1 qualifier since returning to full-time competition in Pro Stock this season, running a fast pass of 6.476 seconds at 213.98 mph in Friday's opening session.

Connolly's time was good enough to stand up through both of Saturday's sessions and earned him his eighth-career top qualifier and his first since 2008 at Seattle. He will face off against Matt Hartford in the opening round of eliminations.

"I don't take anything for granted," Connolly said. "I know that I'm fortunate to be able to race Pro Stock and I thank the Gray family for helping me get back out here. Tonight, I'll have a talk with Shane (Gray) and we'll make some decisions for tomorrow and hopefully it will be a long day both for us."

Erica Enders-Stevens came closest to topping Connolly - who spent all of last season as her crew chief - posting a low ET of 6.483 seconds and a National Record speed of 214.69 mph. Jeg Coughlin (6.484, 214.62), Allen Johnson (6.487, 214.04) and Shane Gray (6.495, 213.60) made up the rest of the top five.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Michael Ray roared up Saturday's qualifying to move from the seventh spot to the top of the ladder, posting a career-best 6.793, 197.74 to notch his fourth career No. 1 qualifier.

Ray, who had to drop out of Friday's opening round with an oil leak, came back in Saturday's final session and was the only rider in the top five to better his time, knocking Matt Smith from the top spot.

Smith, who had held the top spot through Friday's sessions, was unable to improve on his 6.800, 196.96 and settled for the second spot ahead of Hector Arana, Jr. (6.806, 196.47), Andrew Hines (6.813, 195.68) and John Hall (6.830, 196.27)

NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series
Auto-Plus Raceway
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