NASCAR

Courtney Force leading qualifying

Courtney Force
Courtney Force had reason to smile on Thursday.
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POMONA, Calif. (AP)

Courtney Force strengthened her bid for the NHRA Rookie of the Year award, while the Funny Car points leaders struggled Thursday in the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals.

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Force, the youngest of Funny Car star John Force's four daughters, moved into position to claim her third No. 1 qualifying award of the season with 4.032-second run at 315.93 mph in a Ford Mustang.

''This was kind of surreal, coming out here and remembering what it was like (at her first race) in February, when I was so sick to my stomach,'' Force said. ''I've got a great car and a great team. Running a 4.03 the first lap out is amazing. I'm hoping No. 1 holds up. That would be pretty awesome.''

Points leader Jack Beckman and second-place Ron Capps weren't among the 12 drivers earning provisional positions in the 16-car field for Sunday's elimination rounds.

Beckman, who leads Capps by four points in the sixth and final round of the Countdown playoffs, escaped injury when the fiberglass body on his Dodge Charger blew off.

''I've never had that happen before and I'm not going to sign up for it again,'' Beckman said. ''I had just let go of the wheel to reach for the parachute and all of a sudden there was no body on the car.''

Capps completed his run, but was the first non-qualifier.

Beckman and Capps were the final drivers to make qualifying attempts for the day, too, with rain washing out the first session for the Top Fuel cars. Qualifying will continue with one round scheduled Friday afternoon and two rounds Saturday, but the rained-out Top Fuel session will not be made up.

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Mike Neff, third in the standings entering the event, was No. 2 with a 4.062 at 313.66 and cut his deficit from 88 to 86 points.

Allen Johnson, who will wrap up his first Pro Stock title by qualifying for the elimination rounds, made the final three sessions Friday and Saturday anticlimactic by putting his Dodge Avenger atop the field with a 6.565 at 210.47.

Andrew Hines put his Harley-Davidson in the top spot in the Pro Stock Motorcycle field with a 6.872 at 196.04, just ahead of the 6.874 at 196.19 turned in by teammate and series points leader Eddie Krawiec.

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