After an odd start to the 2011 season for former NHRA Pro Stock Champion Mike Edwards, that has included everything from a DNQ at the Winternationals to a strange starting line fiasco at the Gatornationals, the third event of the season proved to be the charm for he and his Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries team.
NHRA Pro Stock Champion Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards' Penhall/K&N/Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
At Gainesville, Edwards debuted his new Jerry Haas-built Pontiac Grand Prix and by the time the team's rolled into Las Vegas for the SummitRacing.com Nationals, the car and its driver were loaded for bear.
During the spring event at Las Vegas in 2010, Edwards won and began a streak that would carry him to seven finals and six wins. It was one of his eight total Pro Stock victories over the season.
"It is always fun to come back to a track and try to defend that title," he noted. "When you pull back into the facility, it floods you with all those fond memories of victory and it rekindles your drive because you want that feeling again."
Edwards did a lot more than just rekindle, he sat The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway a blaze from the first moment he went down the track until he put his Grand Prix in the Winner's Circle.
During the first round of qualifying, Edwards had the only sub-one second sixty foot time of the session and that parlayed into the quickest ET with a 6.715 at 206.26, doing so on a very hot 124 degree race track.
In the second session on Friday, when no other team could seem to come close to their earlier in the day efforts, Edwards managed to find a little more and better his first time. He posted a 6.709 and continued to separate himself from the number two qualifier, setting the bar even higher.
"The track was very hot," Edwards said. "If you look at my record over the years, we seem to run better in the summertime. But the conditions are supposed to be cool on Sunday. We have to race the conditions as well as the guy in the next lane on Sunday."
And the stellar performances that Edwards showed on Friday continued into both sessions on Saturday. He posted a 6.695 at 206.51 and a 6.713 at 206.26 in qualifying round three and four respectfully, out running every other team in each session and not only gaining the twelve maximum qualifying championship bonus points, but grabbing the Pro Stock pole position for the thirty-fifth time in his career.
"We had four solid runs down the track," Edwards said. "Hat's off to all my guys and all the people who support us, the Penhall Company, the Interstate people, K&N, and all the great folks who stood behind me so much for the last four or five years."
Going into Sunday's eliminations, Edwards was the only Pro Stock driver to have made sub-6.70 runs, but he knew that the changing weather forecast would be favorable for more teams to reach into the 60's. "These things are aspirated. They breathe what we breathe," he noted. "If the air's cooler, they run better. The track is better. That's good for everybody."
Just as everyone expected, the air and track were both cooler for race day and Edwards lined up againist Richard Freeman for their first time battle in eliminations. Although Freeman gave his all at the hit and left with the advantage, the K&N Grand Prix of Edwards made a fantastic 6.672 pass and easily shut Freeman down.
Edwards' car continued on to round two like it was in bracket mode, running another 6.674 and taking down Erica Enders after her slight seven thousandths of a second holeshot, passing her shortly after the tree when her car made a sharp move to the wall.
The quickest and fastest pass for the meet in Pro Stock came from Edwards in his semi-final match up with V. Gaines and a fantastic 6.662 at 206.95. The round win would put him in his first Pro Stock final since Dallas 2010 and in search of his first win after a long dry spell, last claiming the Wally in June 2010 at Bristol.
For the final, it would be the champ Edwards against the kid, Vincent Nobile in just his fourth NHRA Pro Stock event. Nobile had also made a couple of passes in the 60's, but was going to need a little more if he hoped to deny Edwards of the win.
The fans got a great final round in Pro Stock, Nobile giving Edwards a super run of it, carrying his starting line advantage to half-track. Edwards saved his best RT of eliminations for when he needed it the most, catching his opponent and taking the stripe by a mere .007.
The win was Mike Edwards' twenty-ninth NHRA Pro Stock victory and he did it in grand style, sweeping the event for all points possible and with only a handful of events left to qualify, regaining some ground in the 2011 K&N Horsepower Challenge.
"We run good when it gets hot; we run better, I should say. This place is pretty special. Jon Kight, I used to work for him years and years ago, and he lived here. I worked for him and George Marnell a couple of years at Sierra Glass. We teamed up and he gave me my start," he said of his success at the Las Vegas track. "I don't know what the place is. It's summertime. It's hot. We seem to gel and come together here."
The next event on the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle schedule will find the teams not just worried about who is in the other lane, but the other three lanes. The NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at beautiful zMax Dragway in Concord, North Carolina, just outside of Charlotte, takes place April 14-17.
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