Doug Kalitta led the stars of the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship in scorching zMAX Dragway's pavement during a sun-filled Saturday of qualifying for the NHRA Carolina Nationals. With track temperatures exceeding 145 degrees on Saturday at the Bellagio of drag strips, Kalitta's 3.723-second, 329.50-mph pass from Friday held steady as the quickest time in Top Fuel qualifying.

After capturing the 49th No. 1 seed of his career, Kalitta will face Chris "The Golden Greek" Karamesines in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.

"This is one track I've yet to win at so I'd love to get a win here and check that off the list," Kalitta said. "This is probably the nicest facility in NHRA and it packs them in with the crowd. … We'll probably have conditions (Sunday) like we had today. I think we have a really good setup for tomorrow. There should be some good racing."

Courtney Force maintained the No. 1 spot in Funny Car competition on Saturday. Her 3.891-second, 330.07-mph pass on Friday put the John Force Racing driver in the best possible position to capture her first win at zMAX Dragway when the tree lights up on Sunday.

Force's charge to the front didn't come with much breathing room, though. The top six drivers in Funny Car qualifying were separated by only 0.02 seconds.

"This entire Funny Car category, and Top Fuel as well - it's intense out there," Force said. "These guys are running some killer numbers in the heat. Obviously, we've got our eyes on them. To be separated that closely from the top half of the field, you know you're going to have a tough race tomorrow. We've got to get our team prepared. My Advance Auto Parts guys are ready to get the job done. This is the time to turn the corner."

Tanner Gray retained the pole in Pro Stock qualifying, as no one could top his 6.559-second pass at 210.50 mph on Friday.

"You're going to see a lot of the same track conditions tomorrow as you saw today," Gray said. "I'm definitely a little more nervous (for the first Countdown race) but I'm confident with the car we have and how it's running, so I'm excited. I don't see why we can't win tomorrow."

Andrew Hines' 196.50-mph pass in 6.825 seconds on Friday held up to give Hines the No. 1 spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle competition.

"We feel really good about what we did today," Hines said. "Today was set up more for race day. … We had a 135-degree race track in Q4 and we still went down the line pretty well. I've got the utmost confidence in our equipment for tomorrow."

Gates open at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday. Final eliminations kick off at 12 p.m.

Tickets and upgrades for NHRA Carolina Nationals are available at the gates, by visiting or calling 1-800-455-FANS (3267). Kids 13 and younger get in FREE with an adult ticket purchase.

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