CONCORD, N.C. - U.S. Army Top Fuel pilot Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher swiped the fourth starting position Sept. 16, during the first day of qualifying for the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
Facing fall-like weather at the "Bellagio" of drag strips, Schumacher posted a 3.808-second pass at 321.88 mph, which was good enough to land among the top five.
"We wanted to come out here today and get comfortably placed in the field," said the seven-time world champion. "We didn't get down the track in the opening session, but we certainly came back strong in round two."
The stop in the Tar Heel State marks the first of six races that comprises the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship. Schumacher came into the event holding fifth-place in the standings, 60 points behind Del Worsham at the top.
"We definitely want to start the Countdown off in the right way," said the Chicago-area resident. "If you can have a good weekend down here, it can go a long way in helping cut into the points lead. In fact, you could conceivably move right into first if everything falls in place.
"Conversely, if you have a bad weekend in Charlotte, you can do a lot of damage to your title hopes. We have three races in a row, so you don't want to have a sour taste left in your mouth going into next weekend."
After the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series closes shop at zMAX Dragway, it will hit the road for the Texas Motorplex outside of Dallas next weekend and then Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., the following weekend.
"This is a critical stretch for sure," said Schumacher. "After these three races, we'll have a very clear picture as to who will be contending for the championship. Obviously, we want to be among that group of teams."
Schumacher's U.S. Army Racing teammate, Antron Brown, recorded a 3.802-second run at 324.44 mph to pocket the second starting spot going into the final two qualifying rounds on Saturday.
"Like Tony, we didn't have a good first round, so it was important to rally in the second session," said Brown. "My car continues to run well. We're looking forward to getting after it the next two days."
In the U.S. Army NASCAR Racing camp, driver Ryan Newman will qualify on Saturday for Sunday's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Newman will be starting NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup holding eighth-place in the points.