Two-time champion Larry Dixon blew away the Top Fuel field Saturday to earn the No. 1 quaifying position for Sunday’s NHRA Carolinas Nationals, the first race in NHRA’s six-race playoff, the Countdown to 1.

The other provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the 19th of 24 races in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series were Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

The NHRA Carolinas Nationals is the first race in NHRA’s six-race playoff and it is the first of a four-races-in-four-weeks blitz that includes stops in Dallas, Memphis and Richmond to begin the Countdown to 1.

And the playoff opener will feature some intriguing first-round matchups, including most notably this trio of Funny Car faceoffs featuring Countdown to 1 drivers: Second-place Ron Capps vs. fourth-place Bob Tasca, third-place Ashley Force Hood vs. ninth-place Mike Neff and fifth-place Jack Beckman vs. eighth-place Del Worsham.

Dixon, a two-time world champ (2001-02) who finished the regular season in second place, earned the No. 1 with a 3.844-second pass at 313.66 mph in Saturday’s first session at zMax Dragway.

“Every session you just try to run the best that the conditions will allow,” said Dixon, who piloted the Al-Anabi dragster to his fifth No. 1 of 2008 and the 36th of his career. “Yesterday we ended up fourth quick (first session, fifth in the second) and then Alan (Johnson, team owner) and Jason (McCulloch, crew chief) have been working on different set-ups with the car just to make the engine run a little bit better. It ran better this morning; it was real good. We ended up on the pole by three-thou. That was on the right side of things for sure.”

In each of the three other categories, beginning with Cruz Pedregon in Funny Car, the No. 1 qualifiers from Friday held up on Saturday.

Pedregon, who missed the playoffs by just five points, earned his second No. 1 of 2009 and the 38th of his career with the 4.087 at 303.91 he delivered in Friday night qualifying.

“We’ve just got to go out there and race (Sunday). Qualifying’s over, and it’s great to be No. 1, it’s an honor. But now it’s time to go out there and go some rounds (Sunday). We want to win a race to salvage our year, so whoever’s in the other lane is going to have to beat us. We need the win, and we have a car capable of doing it. We just need to do it.”

Edwards secured his NHRA-best 11th No. 1 qualifier with the 6.614 at 208.36 mph that he posted in his A.R.T. Pontiac in Friday night qualifying. He also earned 10 of a maximum 12 bonus points.

“Anytime you can pick up 18 points going into first round, that’s big. It’s almost a full round. I think it’s going to be exciting for all the Pro classes. It’s going to tighten things up, that’s for sure,” Edwards said.

The headline matchup in the first-round of Pro Stock will be top-seeded Jeg Coughlin lining up against second-seeded Jason Line, who will actually begin the day Sunday in third place after Edwards racked up enough points in qualifying to move into second place.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, third-place Arana’s run from Friday night (6.965 at 189.98) aboard his Lucas Oil Buell held up Saturday as well.

“This Lucas Oil Bike is an awesome bike; it’s running like it should. At first, I was skeptical about the new points system, but at this first event it has worked in my favor. I just gained nine points on Eddie [Krawiec], so I’m loving it. It is hard to make a decision about tuning because there are some things I want to try, but overall it is good for me.”

Final Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Sunday.
 
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First-round pairings for professional eliminations Sunday for the Second annual NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway @ Concord, the 19th of 24 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.  Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.
 
Top Fuel -- 1. Larry Dixon, 3.844 seconds, 314.09 mph  vs. 16. Terry Haddock, 3.934, 304.32; 2. Antron Brown, 3.847, 317.87  vs. 15. Terry McMillen, 3.934, 308.28; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.848, 316.75  vs. 14. Clay Millican, 3.912, 308.21; 4. Brandon Bernstein, 3.852, 315.86  vs. 13. Doug Foley, 3.910, 312.64; 5. Doug Herbert, 3.852, 312.06  vs. 12. Pat Dakin, 3.901, 311.41; 6. Spencer Massey, 3.860, 310.63  vs. 11. Rod Fuller, 3.900, 312.13; 7. Shawn Langdon, 3.863, 312.57 vs. 10. Doug Kalitta, 3.900, 312.93; 8. Morgan Lucas, 3.866, 313.22  vs. 9. Cory McClenathan, 3.877, 310.84. Did Not Qualify: 17. Dom Lagana, 3.953, 298.87; 18. Troy Buff, 3.983, 295.46.
 
Funny Car -- 1. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Solara, 4.087, 303.91  vs. 16. Bob Gilbertson, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.223, 293.54; 2. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.095, 306.33  vs. 15. Jim Head, Solara, 4.214, 300.53; 3. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.096, 307.09  vs. 14. Jerry Toliver, Monte Carlo, 4.148, 301.74; 4. Tony Pedregon, Chevy Impala, 4.099, 304.94  vs. 13. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.145, 300.33; 5. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.100, 306.95  vs. 12. Jeff Arend, Solara, 4.140, 303.23; 6. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.105, 307.79  vs. 11. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.128, 302.41; 7. Ashley Force Hood, Mustang, 4.109, 308.50  vs. 10. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.122, 304.46; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.117, 305.70  vs. 9. Del Worsham, Solara, 4.119, 303.84. Did Not Qualify: 17. Andy Kelley, 4.313, 282.54; 18. Justin Schriefer, 7.036, 93.86.
 
Pro Stock -- 1. Mike Edwards, Pontiac GXP, 6.614, 208.97  vs. 16. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.686, 207.75; 2. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.650, 208.10  vs. 15. Steve Spiess, Chevy Cobalt, 6.677, 206.64; 3. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.651, 208.04  vs. 14. Ryan Ondrejko, GXP, 6.674, 206.45; 4. Allen Johnson, Dodge Stratus, 6.657, 207.59  vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.670, 207.40; 5. Jason Line, GXP, 6.659, 207.94  vs. 12. Jeg Coughlin, Cobalt, 6.667, 207.75; 6. Greg Stanfield, GXP, 6.660, 207.34  vs. 11. Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.665, 207.88; 7. Johnny Gray, Stratus, 6.661, 207.27  vs. 10. Vinnie Deceglie, Stratus, 6.664, 207.37; 8. Tom Hammonds, Cobalt, 6.662, 207.62  vs. 9. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.663, 207.21. Did Not Qualify: 17. V. Gaines, 6.693, 206.70; 18. Dave Northrop, 6.695, 206.10; 19. Rickie Jones, 6.713, 206.20; 20. Bob Benza, 6.759, 203.71; 21. John Nobile, 6.763, 206.54; 22. Ron Krisher, 6.783, 206.64; 23. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.984, 200.20.
 
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- 1. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.965, 189.98  vs. 16. Joe DeSantis, Suzuki, 7.268, 185.66; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.980, 190.08  vs. 15. Junior Pippin, Buell, 7.194, 184.88; 3. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.009, 189.84  vs. 14. Bailey Whitaker, Buell, 7.167, 184.37; 4. Angie McBride, Buell, 7.023, 183.92  vs. 13. Douglas Horne, Buell, 7.160, 182.82; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.024, 186.28  vs. 12. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.125, 186.85; 6. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 7.028, 187.21  vs. 11. LE Tonglet, Buell, 7.113, 185.54; 7. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.050, 187.73  vs. 10. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.112, 185.13; 8. Matt Smith, Suzuki, 7.058, 186.48  vs. 9. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.096, 185.64.