Advance Auto Parts driver Courtney Force holds on to No. 1 spot for NHRA SpringNationals in Houston

Advance Auto Parts driver Courtney Force holds on to
No. 1 spot for NHRA SpringNationals in Houston

Photo credit: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
BAYTOWN, Texas (April 22) – First mission complete.

Courtney Force kept her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS at the top of the Funny Car time charts, earning the coveted No. 1 qualifying spot for Sunday’s NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway – the fifth stop on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Force stood on a time of 3.851 seconds (tying her third quickest time of her career) at 330.23 mph she set Friday evening to earn the No. 1 spot. Saturday’s two sessions were run under significantly different track and weather conditions she expects to face Sunday.

However, she turned in a time of 3.897 at 323.89 mph in her final qualifying attempt Saturday afternoon – in the heat of the day. Conditions for Sunday’s elimination rounds are expected to be cooler than Saturday’s qualifying attempts.

“We made a killer run like we did in Q2, when the conditions were prime, but I was more concerned with what we would do today based on what we expect for tomorrow,” said Force, whose No. 1 qualifying spot is her second consecutive and 12th of her career. “I feel good that we’re able to get down in the heat – we’re just not sure what it’s going to do tomorrow. I heard it might cool off, that there may be a cold front coming. But overall, it’s great. I feel like we’ve got a consistent race car.”

Force’s next mission is winning her first-round matchup. Force advanced to the finals of the season-opener at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., in February, but hasn’t won a first round since then, despite qualifying no worse than fourth. Her first-round matchup Sunday is against Jeff Diehl, whom she has faced only twice in her career. They split their matchups, both held last season. Diehl did not make a full run during qualifying and holds the No. 16 position, officially at 11.833 at 68.24 mph.

“We’ve been No. 1 qualifier, we’ve qualified well, but we’ve just stumbled over our two feet trying to get through the first round,” said Force, whose first-round matchup will be her 250th in Funny Car competition. “I think it’s just our own fault of pushing the car too hard instead of giving it a solid race day setup. Coming from the No. 1 qualifying spot, we should play it a little more safe in the first round.

“I feel like we’ve been just so excited about how our car is running, that we’re expecting a lot more out of it. We’ve got a great race car – you’ve seen it go down the track – but we need to be a little more consistent, and seeing what we’ve done makes me feel a lot better going into tomorrow.”

Force is the defending champion of the SpringNationals – last year’s race victory was her most recent in competition – and having set both ends of the track record Friday, she has added confidence heading into Sunday’s race.

“It definitely feels good to do well at a track that we won at last year,” said Force, fifth in Funny Car points standings. “To be the No. 1 qualifier, it feels great for this Advance Auto Parts team and the Chevy Camaro. Luckily, it’s been a little more consistent than it’s been in past races, so that makes me feel more comfortable going into the race.”

Elimination rounds for Sunday’s NHRA Spring Nationals begin at noon ET/11 a.m. CT, with television coverage on Fox Sports 1 starting at 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT.