Tim Wilkerson pulled off one of the most dramatic feats of the day during Friday’s second qualifying run in the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
In his first qualifying run, Wilkerson was one place from last as he ran a 4.962 at 156.70 mph, finishing 17th. The Illinois resident and his crew cranked it up several notches in his second qualifying pass as he secured the No. 1 qualifying position with a track-record time of 4.049 seconds at 307.16 mph.
“I won’t say it’s common (to vault 16 places), but we have the potential to run No. 1, and I’m surprised we ran that good,” Wilkerson said. “We were trying to run (306 or 307 mph), and we stuck it good enough that it ran that good.
“I think (NHRA historian/public address announcer) Bob Frey was making the comment that somebody’s going to come back and go after that, like we did at Englishtown (N.J.) We knew we left a lot on the table at Englishtown, We didn’t leave much on the table here. If somebody runs that good I was going to be happy for them.”
Wilkerson compared his first laborious run to similar struggles at Seattle and Sonoma, Calif.
“I told my guys I’m over this crap, I’m done with that,” he said. “We’re smoking the tires or we’re going to be faster than we have been the last 2-3 races because when you pull the thing back you get too cautious and then the car runs just like that, and you end up not running to your potential.”
John Force was Friday’s No. 2 qualifier at 4.067 at 311.85 mph. Cruz Pedregon, the No. 4 qualifier, set a track record with his 311.85 mph pass. Wilkerson has yet to be a No. 1 qualifier entering the finals this season, but he does have 16 in his career, including one at BIR.
Friday was his second quickest run of the season. He entered the weekend 12th in season points, 481 points behind leader Robert Hight. Wilkerson said the fact he trails Hight by such a considerable margin affects how he has approached recent races.
“We want to run as good as we can every weekend and quit being a sissy,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and hit the thing hard. Mark McGwire didn’t go up there saying ‘I’m going to get a single because we need a single today.’ ... Maybe I’m being cocky for this weekend but it’s changed our mentality, believe me.
“(Saturday) we’re going to try something different. You may see some tire smoke out of us but I’m trying to learn what not to do on Sunday, more than anything, believe me.”
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.