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Langdon, Gray, Edwards lead Arizona fields

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Shawn Langdon said he'll "sleep perfect" Saturday night.

And why not?

Revitalized by his move to the Al-Anabi Racing team this season, he has no reason to toss and turn on the eve of the Arizona Nationals eliminations, even though he's in the best position ever to earn his first NHRA Top Fuel victory.

Langdon recorded the fifth-quickest pass in NHRA history, a 3.754-second elapsed time on the 1,000-foot course at Firebird International Raceway, to seize the second No. 1 qualifying position of his career and the first since the Las Vegas race in the spring of 2009.

He joined Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) in leading their classes into Sunday's runoffs in this second of 23 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events.

Calling Al-Anabi Racing "a hand-picked all-star team," Langdon said his Brian Husen-led team has given him the self-assurance that he can "move forward and hopefully get that first win."

Is he tense? Hardly. He's in an environment where team manager Alan Johnson recognizes his talent, gives him the resources -- including manpower in a team that has won or collaborated in winning the past two championships and five others with Tony Schumacher -- and lets him do his job.

"I don't have any pressure," he said. "I don't have anything like that that hangs over me. These guys are so good, just giving me a great race car, giving me that confidence that I need as a driver.

"These guys are very accustomed to winning. They know how to win. They make good runs and they walk right off the starting line. I'm still trying to process all this stuff. I'm still trying to catch up to these guys," Langdon, who's beginning his fourth Top Fuel season, said. "But I think they're putting me in the right direction. They're definitely giving me a great race car.

"It's a good opportunity," he said of this weekend's starting position, "and I'm just going to make the best of it."

Although Langdon hasn't had this kind of a shot at winning a race in a long time, he said Johnson wouldn't be overloading his head with advice about how to stay calm Sunday.

He said he and Johnson have "talked about a lot of things, but . . . he does a great job letting a driver be a driver. He will give you advice when he feels like you need it, but he's not going to over-emphasize or overburden you with all kinds of different things to get you thinking too much."

That goes for the entire team, he said.

"That's one thing I've noticed about all the guys over there -- everyone does his job and no one really worries about other people's jobs. It's pretty much like a hand-picked all-star team over there, with all the crew chiefs and the crew guys. They got who they want, and everybody does a great job, so I think pretty much you just do your job and we should have good results on Sunday," Langdon said.

Friday's performance, he knows, doesn't guarantee anything.

"I'm telling you right now that this is going to be the toughest year you've ever seen in Top Fuel," he said. "There are so many good-running cars this year. You have the cars that have run good in the past, but there's a couple other teams that are stepping up: Morgan Lucas Racing and Torrence -- and the Kalittas. They're going to be right up there with the Al-Anabi team and the DSR [Don Schumacher Racing] teams.

"I think it’s going to come down a lot more to the drivers. Cutting good lights, keeping the car in the groove, and even shaving a couple thousandths off [the E.T.s] from oversteering the car is going to make a big difference this year."

That could be where Langdon, a smart, young driver with two Super Comp national titles to his credit, might have an advantage.

"I'd like to think so," he said. "This team does such a great job that I've got all the confidence in the world in them. And you couldn’t ask for anything more as a driver."

Well, he does want that first Wally trophy.

Tony Schumacher set the Top Fuel track speed record at 324.44 mph.

In the Funny Car class, Gray and his Big O Tires / Service Central Dodge Charger dominated, using a 4.074-second pass on the 1,000-foot course that topped his closest challenger, Mike Neff, by more than two-hundredths of a second (.022).

Gray, crew chief Rob Wendland, and the DSR team rebounded from last weekend's Winternationals performance. At that Pomona, Calif., season-opener, he lost in the first round because of a parts failure.

But Gray said he and Wendland decided fretting about something that already was done and was beyond their control would sap their energy. So they vowed to "do better looking for the little things that can make a race car do the opposite of what you planned on doing."

"We had a problem and we fixed it. That won't happen again," Gray said. "Our crew works hard and that's how we're the No. 1 qualifier. These nitro Funny Cars are very mechanical. There are a lot of things that can go wrong," he said. "There are more ways to lose a drag race than there are to win one."

They had a handle on that this weekend, as Gray took the provisional No. 1 spot Friday and held off everyone Saturday. He and No. 2 Neff were the only Funny Car drivers to perform in the 4.0-second range.

Bob Tasca has Funny Car's top speed of the meet so far at 307.72 mph.

Edwards swiped the No. 1 Pro Stock position from Jason Line in Saturday's early qualifying session with a 6.536-second, 211.53-mph pass that reset both ends of the Firebird International Raceway record.

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