BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 18) — Drag racers always tend to enjoy the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, but this year’s event is proving to be a test of Scott Palmer’s mettle as the driver of the CatSpot Organic Cat Litter Top Fuel dragster tries to secure his place in the Countdown to One.
With just tomorrow’s eliminations rounds and one more national event in Indy over Labor Day weekend until the 10-car playoff fields are set, Palmer finds himself in a tight three-way fight for the last two spots with veteran Richie Crampton and upstart Mike Salinas. As it stands, Crampton is in ninth place, just 10 points ahead of Palmer, who in turn is 28 markers in front of 11th-ranked Salinas.
“We’re going to have to earn a spot, for sure, because no one is giving an inch,” Palmer said. “We got Leah and everyone knows that car is usually at the top of the sheets. Salinas is running an (Alan Johnson) combination now and that guy has won more championships than anyone else. Richie is with Kalitta Motorsports.
“You know, it’s kinda cool in many ways because the competition is getting really intense. We made it into the playoffs for the first time ever last year and it’s still a major goal of ours to do it again. Tommy Thompson gives us everything we need to succeed and with our alliance with the CAPCO guys, I think we stack up well against anyone.”
The race day ladder appears to slightly favor Salinas, who qualified fifth overall with a 3.797 at 322.19 mph, earning him lane choice over perennial title contender Doug Kalitta, who topped out at 3.947 at 257.43 mph. Crampton (3.878 at 310.55 mph) has the worst draw after qualifying in the No. 11 slot, which set up a first-round date with reigning series champion Brittany Force (3.803 at 325.53 mph).
Wedged between his two rivals, No. 9 qualifier Palmer yields lane choice to Leah Pritchett, who qualified eighth with a 3.818 at 323.04 mph. Palmer’s best pass was a 3.834 at 318.17 mph.
“We have a nice streak going where we come into a race, qualifying well on Friday and then use Saturday to try some things,” “Palmer said. “We did that again here and we feel like we have a pretty good handle on the car and the tune-up. Leah, that’s a great team over there, but we’re not going to let them off easy. We’re going to try our best to put them on the trailer. We’re racing for our playoff lives right now.”
Aside from the importance of this particular race in regards to points, Palmer said he has even more incentive to win thanks to the event’s title sponsor.
“Forrest Lucas and Lucas Oil Products have sponsored my car and helped me for 20 years,” Palmer said. “I don’t want to lose track of that fact because without Forrest, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I talked to Forrest a few times already this weekend and he is a great man. The NHRA wouldn’t be the same with Lucas Oil.”