From NHRA | Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Mike Salinas made a historic monster run to steal the pole in Top Fuel and Robert Hight did the same in Funny Car while Friday leaders Erica Enders and Gaige Herrera held onto their No. 1 spots as qualifying for the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals completed at zMAX Dragway.
After starting three hours late due to a morning rain shower and a three-hour, 15-minute rain interruption early in the final qualifying session, it was a long day at the track for everyone, but one that was well worth the wait for the fireworks in that final qualifying session.
Salinas made a little drag racing history with the first half-track speed of more than 300 mph on a low qualifying blast of 3.647 to claim the $30,000 bonus as the first driver in the “Phillips Connect 300 at the 1/8” program. Salinas’ speed at 660 feet was 300.80 mph.
"We've been working on this for a while,” said Salinas. “The car has been close several times in testing so, basically, we knew we were going to do it, we just didn't know when. Tonight was a perfect time to do it. What we're doing and Rob [Flynn, crew chief] and Aaron [Cave] are amazing. Every run it’s been a little bit better, finding things that are a little and inching up on things.”
As great as the run was, Salinas also was kicking himself for accidentally deep staging and costing them about three-hundredths worth of e.t.
“I've been working on some stuff on the brake handle, and the car rolled in,” he admitted. “So I rolled in three and we went to .64, so take three off of that. That's what this car should have run, a .61 or .62, and that would have been a true number. So we would have broken the national record for e.t., but II messed up a little bit, but I got the other end of it.”
Antron Brown also passed Friday leader Doug Kalitta’s 3.665 with a similar number but at a faster speed. 332.75 to 321.61. Kalitta’s No. 3 spot earned him a first-round date with points leader Steve Torrence, whose 3.726 was just 12th in a very quick field. Salinas will race Mike Bucher and Brown will take on Spencer Massey. The winner of the Salinas-Bucher race will get a second-round bye due to the 14-car field.
Brittany Force (3.673), Josh Hart (3.680), and Tony Schumacher (3.692) also found the 3.60s today to move ahead of Justin Ashley’s 3.698 that started the day as No. 3 but ended up No. 7. Leah Pruett’s 3.709 ended up No. 8.
Hight and his Jimmy Prock-led Cornwell Tools team recovered from Friday night’s misfire – a plugged oil galley that affected the valvetrain and led to a monster blower explosion -- to record a 3.849 in a basic-black Camaro shell in Q2 then stole the pole from Friday leader Matt Hagan with a 3.824 that was a thousandth of a second quicker than Hagan’s 3.825. and earned Hight a first-round bye for the 15-car field.
"Hats off to my guys for rebounding from a pretty rough go of it yesterday,” he said. “We went up there last night to try to run .85 and it didn't make it about five feet and blew up. My guys had to work really hard and to come back with two runs today in the .80s and get us qualified well in the show. That’s impressive.
"Sometimes when you really go up there and you push and try real hard, it doesn't work out, There's so many moving parts with a fuel car, that everything has to work just right -- the clutch and the power and the racetrack, everything just has to come together, but there's some luck in it, and everything just has to fall in place, but we were pushing tonight. We were really wanting to go out there and get the No. 1 spot because that's a bye in the first round, and in the Countdown, that's a big deal.”
After just three cars ran in the 3.80s Friday night, four more joined them in Saturday’s first session and two more jumped in in Q3 so that the top eight qualifiers all ran in the 3.80s, including No. 3 Bob Tasca III, who made a career-best 3.836 pass.
John Force (3.861), Ron Capps (a blower-exploding 3.864), Chad Green (3.871), Tim Wilkerson (3.876), and J.R. Todd (3.892) all ran quicker than 3.9 seconds.
Enders collected her 33rd career No. 1 and her fourth this season thanks to her Friday 6.509 in the Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage Camaro. Enders also ended up getting one qualifying point in that delayed final session after her 6.574 was the best post-rain run on a trick track.
“Today didn't really go as planned,” she said. “But making that monster run yesterday definitely was significant and shows that what we had in Raeding carried over to here. The racetrack was tricky today, and very interesting. But yeah, I'm proud for the No. 1 position, all of those points are gonna matter at the end of the game.”
The top eight all ended up standing on their Friday runs with Camrie Caruso (6.525) Aaron Stanfield (6.533), Bo Butner (6.535), Greg Anderson (6.535), Troy Coughlin Jr. (6.540), and Kyle Koretsky (6.541) in the same spots they began the day while Indy and Reading winner Matt Hartford improved .007-second but stayed No. 8 with his 6.542.
Enders will face off with No. 16 qualifier Mason McGaha (6.587) in round one.
No one could bump Herrera from the top spot though his six-hundredths gap on the field shrunk to just three after the Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki made two subpar runs Saturday.
Herrera’s teammate Eddie Krawiec drew closest with a second-session 6.766 and added a 6.779 for good measure in Q3. Angie Smith also improved Saturday, running a 6.805, almost six-hundredths better than her Fridy pass, and Chase Van Sant also stepped up six-hundredths to a 6.806 for fourth.
“We were just trying different things with the clutch, timing, fuel and power and so forth,” Herrera explained. “Even though we had a big switch in the weather and the track, Andrew [Hines, crew chief] still wanted to try it.”
Chip Ellis (6.817), Hector Arana Jr. (6.833), Jianna Evaristo (6.835), and Marc Ingwersen (6.839) round out the top eight.
Points leader Matt Smith had a troubled qualifying effort and ended up ninth, meaning that if he can beat Ingwersen in round one and Herrera can beat bump sitter Jerry Savoie, the top two in points will meet in round two, It’s also interesting to note that Savoie, a former world champion, is here in support of his teammate, Van Sant, in the role of blocker and they got what they hoped for, at least in a matchup to try to slow Herrera or Smith.
Competition at the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals will continue with eliminations Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Television coverage of the second of six races in the Countdown to the Championship will continue to air on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) with a second qualifying show Sunday at 11:00 a.m. ET and eliminations at 2:00 p.m. ET.
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