What a difference a year makes.

One year ago Robert Hight was setting records and lighting the world on fire with the quickest Funny Car pass in NHRA history - an amazing 3.793 at 338.00 mph, a record that still stands today - on his way to a top qualifying position and an eventual semifinal finish. On Friday, Hight once again found himself atop the ladder, albeit a tad slower than last year.

Hight paced the Funny Car category on Friday in the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS with a 3.971-second pass at 326.95 mph at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, surprising even himself that his numbers held up.

“To be honest, that 97 first run I was pretty happy about, but I thought if we screw up tonight that would only be fifth. But for some reason, nobody stepped up tonight,” Hight said. “We actually slowed down a hundreth and we are almost two tenths off of what we ran here last year. But it was a good day overall. We got six points and we will see if we can get six more tomorrow.”

Hight’s chart-topping run actually occurred during the first of two qualifying session on Friday, but it held despite the best efforts of some of the other top drivers in the field. Matt Hagan made a run at the top spot, but came up short in the second session with a 3.990 at 324.51 mph, while Tim Wilkerson slid into the third spot with a 3.996 at 316.67 mph.

Jim Campbell (4.014) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.017) rounded out the top five. Courtney Force, who has a class-leading 10 top qualifier awards in 2018, is 14th.

“Jimmy (Prock) said it needed more power, but maybe the track was a little better than we anticipated and the changes we made the track ate up. You have to stay ahead of the racetrack and obviously we didn’t,” Hight said. “Unfortunately, if you look at the weather forecast, it is going to be cooler on Sunday so we should actually be able to run better on Sunday.

“It is all about consistency. You have a lot more confidence in your team and your racecar going into Sunday if you make four good qualifying runs. That is the goal tomorrow - to be out ahead of everybody but going down the track. If we get six more points tomorrow, that is big. We are getting close to the reset so we need every point we can get. We want to be up to number two. I don’t think anybody is going to catch Courtney, but if we can get one-two in the Countdown, that would be pretty stout.”

If Hight’s time holds on Saturday, it will be only his second top qualifier award of the year and the 59th of his career.

But more importantly, it will be more bonus points as he closes in on a top-two position in the Countdown to the Championship with only one race remaining before the cutoff after this weekend.

“We’ve got a good combination right now where we can tweak it, pick it up and slow it down if we need to,” Hight said. “It is pretty exciting this time of year having your act together and making good runs because you know going forward it really means something. We're heading to the biggest race of the year, the U.S. Nationals, and you want to go into there with a win and come out of there with a win. This race and Indy, they are very, very crucial. It looks like we are peaking at the right time.”