Top Fuel title contender Mike Salinas sent the message right away at the AAA Midwest Insurance Nationals that he’s knuckling down and doesn’t plan to stay in sixth place in the standings.
He was quickest in Friday’s first session at Madison, Ill.’s World Wide Technology Raceway. Billy Torrence got his 15 minutes of fame as the leader overnight and early Saturday, while Salinas and his Scrappers Racing Dragster lurked close behind. And then Salinas marched in at the 11th hour, in Saturday afternoon’s final session, and reclaimed the top spot.
Salinas covered the 1,000-foot course near St. Louis in 3.687 seconds at 330.55 mph for his fifth No. 1 start this year and sixth overall.
And he credited his car, his crew, and some secret squirrels.
“I know Alan has some secret squirrels in his head,” Salinas said of tuner Alan Johnson, who has gathered and parlayed a wealth of performance information to earn 12 Top Fuel crowns with six different drivers.
“Alan has a really funny look when he does some knob-twisting,” he said. “He just gives you this glance. It’s amazing. It’s like, ‘Hang on, Baby – we’re going.’
“I’m just happy being part of this group. I’m learning so much,” Salinas said. “When you come with Alan Johnson, it’s like I don’t know anything about racing. He’s teaching me a lot, and the crew is teaching me a lot. I appreciate what they’re doing with me and helping me. They’re doing a great job, and I appreciate it. The crew is ready for the Countdown.”
He said one of the main things he is learning is that “driving a fast race car is not like driving a slow car – and there is a difference.” But he said Johnson wasn’t going to do anything rash this weekend just to get back into the No. 1 position.
“He doesn’t make big jumps. He makes small jumps. He moves in little by little, little by little. But he’s consistent – and very, very good at what he does,” Salinas said.
Billy Torrence is the No. 2 qualifier with a 3.699-second elapsed time. He and Salinas are the only ones to post 3.6-second E.T.s so far this weekend.
The John Force Racing duet of Austin Prock and Brittany Force are third and fourth, respectively, with Prock clocking Top Fuel’s fastest speed of the weekend: 332.10 mph.
Salinas will race against fellow Californian and No. 16 qualifier Cameron Ferré in Sunday’s first round of eliminations, but Salinas has faith in his own car and crew.
“You don’t have to set the world on fire first round. At the end of the day, winning the race, that’s the main thing. We’re not hurting parts. I think we’re going to have a really fast car for race day. I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“The car’s real smooth, real fast,” Salinas said, adding, “Funny part is it has more in it.”
Especially with six different winners in the nine races since Salinas earned his second 2019 victory at Bristol, his rivals aren’t laughing.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019