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NHRA: Pennzoil Drivers Ready to Claim Sponsor's Crown

11 October 1998

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Team Pennzoil will have three of their top drivers vying for the various championships up for grabs at their sponsor's title race when the elimination rounds of the 11th annual Pennzoil Nationals sponsored by AutoZone begin Sunday morning at Memphis Motorsports Park.

With all four of the event's super-competitive qualifying sessions in the books, Top Fuel legend Eddie Hill and Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas have both managed to position themselves for a serious charge at Victory Circle. At the sportsman level, Competition Dragster driver Bill Kent advanced through the first round of his classes elimination session and appears to be in top shape heading into tomorrow's rounds.

Here's the latest news from each of the Pennzoil pits heading into Sunday's action.

Eddie Hill, the Top Fuel pilot of the Pennzoil Dragster, pedaled his way through a 5.136-second lap in the final round of qualifying in an attempt to gain some more information before tomorrow's racing begins. His best run of the weekend remains the 4.703-second, 304.12-mph lap he recorded on Friday.

"Big-time tire shake in both rounds today," Hill said. "I'm emptying the medicine chest trying to get rid of this headache. We're a little concerned because we don't know where this shake is coming from. We went from too aggressive this morning to too weak this afternoon. Small, minute changes produced big differences on the track. I hope we can split the difference between the two settings for tomorrow's races.

"The engine is producing great power and the car is handling great. It hasn't tried to shoot over the moon like a lot of the guys have. It would be terrific to win here in our sponsor's car at our sponsor's race. Plus this team needs a moral boost. The guys have been working so hard they deserve a win. We all do."

As the No. 10 qualifier, Hill will open the elimination rounds against Tony Schumacher who put his car in the No. 7 spot with a 4.681-second pass at 293.09 mph.

Mike Thomas, the Pro Stock driver of the Pennzoil Pontiac Firebird, aborted his final lap after his tires shook violently 60 feet from the starting line. Thomas' Saturday morning pass of 6.939 seconds at 198.29 mph was good enough for him to stay in the top half of the field in the No. 8 spot.

"I can tell I'm in Elvis' hometown because I was shaking, rattling and rolling all over the place today," Thomas said. "My back is killing me but at least we're in the top half of the field. We'll probably be the first pair out, which concerns me a little bit. The only good run we made was in the right lane but everyone is saying the left lane is better. We have some decisions to make there. I don't know which lane I'm going to choose.

"The good part is that our best run took place at the same time we'll be running tomorrow so we can set the car up exactly the way we did this morning. We need to win four rounds and take home the title. We've got as good a chance as anyone."

Thomas opens against Mark Pawuk, who carded a 6.941-second pass at 197.47 mph. The two have raced once this year with Thomas taking the win.

Bill Kent, the sportsman-class driver of the Pennzoil Competition Dragster, followed a record-setting qualifying session yesterday with a first-round win today over last year's Pennzoil Nationals champion Todd Frantz. Kent, who set both ends of the national C-Dragster record on Friday when he posted a 7.109-second lap at 189.28 mph, used a 0.500-second perfect start to better Frantz in today's race. The final numbers saw Kent post a 7.269-second pass at 159.28 mph to Frantz's 7.701-second, 151.92-mph pass.

"The car is as close to perfect as it can be," Kent said. "I actually lifted to prevent resetting my index. I could have run another 7.10 if I had stayed on it but I knew I had him beat so I just took it easy at the other end. We've got four rounds left before we win this race and I like our chances. It would be fantastic for us to win the Pennzoil title."

Bruce Allen, the Pro Stock driver of the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird, ran four competitive times - the best of which was a 6.978-second, 196.33-mph lap - but still failed to qualify for the elimination rounds. Allen finished in 19th place.

"I feel horrible, especially for Pennzoil," Allen said. "I haven't had any luck at any of the Pennzoil-sponsored races this year. It's embarrassing. We're better than that but Pennzoil would never know it by looking at our performances at their races. This isn't worth doing if you race like this.

"We spun the tires again (during the last round) in first gear and as soon as I jammed it into second, it started shaking. I knew right then we were done. If you don't hit it at the right time it's tough to make the field. I've had plenty of ups and downs in my career and I can tell you that this is a big down for us."