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Brown, Hight and Enders Win Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge; Ashley, Capps and Anderson Qualify No. 1 at Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals

Top Fuel standout Antron Brown picked up his first win in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, defeating defending world champion Brittany Force in the finals of the bonus event on Saturday at Brainerd International Raceway as part of this weekend’s 41st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.

In the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) also won in Brainerd, as the bonus race featured three first-time winners. Justin Ashley (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) qualified No. 1 at the 14th of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

Brown drove to the victory against Force with a run of 3.840-seconds at 292.01 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Matco Tools/Toyota dragster in the championship round. He defeated points leader Justin Ashley earlier in the day before driving past Force. Brown, a three-time world champion, will try to double-up on Sunday in Brainerd and also earn his second event win this season.

“We’ve been wanting to win this for a long, long time,” Brown said. “We made it a couple times, and it felt good to get past that first round today. All these cars are just tough, tough competitors. To go into that final round against Brittany and the way their car’s been running, to go against Justin first round. They’re the two heavy-hitters in the class, so to pull off that is very, very special for us.

“That championship is right around the corner, so we have to keep going and doing what we do. It feels good to get that first #2Fast2Tasty win, and for Mission to put this on and give us something to race for on Saturday, it just feels like this is Sunday, but we’re racing on Saturday. It’s really cool to get to do that and watch the fans go crazy.”

Ashley made a big move on Saturday in the heat at Brainerd, powering to the No. 1 position during the final session with a stout run of 3.746 at 328.14 in his 11,000-horsepower Phillips Connect/Toyota dragster. Conditions will be significantly cooler on Sunday during raceday, but Ashley and his team made a big statement to close out qualifying as the Top Fuel points leader looks for his seventh win of the 2023 season. Doug Kalitta’s 3.757 at 330.31 gave him second and Steve Torrence’s 3.758 at 328.54 puts him third.

“That’s a stout run with the conditions what they were,” Ashley said. “Nothing surprises me with the team that we have, but nonetheless, it was going to be tough to go out there and run as well as we did. It really just speaks volumes of our team. It’s kind of a unique situation, because I’m not sure how much you can actually take of that and apply it tomorrow. It’s going to be cooler, much different out there tomorrow. But we positioned ourselves the best we can heading into raceday.

“I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be a long and exciting raceday. It’s going to be cool out tomorrow, so I think you’re going to see a lot of really close racing and a lot of really fast racing.”

In Funny Car, it was a matchup of standouts in the final round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, as Robert Hight prevailed over points leader Matt Hagan with a run of 3.988 at 315.05 in his Cornwell Tools/AAA Chevrolet Camaro SS. It was a first-time win in the bonus race for Hight, who appears to be turning the corner at the perfect time after a handful of struggles earlier this summer. He knocked off Bob Tasca III on a holeshot earlier in the day and held off Hagan in the finals as Hight looks for his third victory – and first double-up – of the season.

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“We’ve been chasing this all year and just haven’t been able to seal the deal and get the job done,” Hight said. “I do feel this Cornwell Tools Camaro has turned the corner and we’re getting to where we need to be. Really want to thank Mission Foods for putting up the money and this challenge. It makes things exciting on Saturday and gives us some practice out there racing. You better be on your game.

“Throughout the year, people who win this thing seem to go out there and double up so that’s our goal tomorrow. We need to go out there and get a win.”

Capps’ 3.894 at 330.23 in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra held up from Friday, giving the back-to-back Funny Car world champ his second No. 1 qualifier this season and 38th in his career. He’ll look for his seventh win at Brainerd on Sunday, opening eliminations against Jim Campbell. J.R. Todd took second with a 3.907 at 327.98 and Hagan’s 3.910 at 328.06 put him third.

“You never take anything for granted, the equalizer will be those cool conditions,” Capps said. “Tomorrow is going to be epic, some pretty incredible times and speeds. But the yellow hat is just such a tribute to how good our guys are. As a driver, you stage the car, keep it in the groove. But I look back at that first run we had to shut the car off and I thought, man, that’s really unfortunate. We really don’t get very many races we get two qualifying runs on Friday but the fact they caught that, we didn’t get anything hurt, then we went back up and got the No. 1 spot, it sure felt a lot better.”

Erica Enders continued to stay hot at an ideal time in Pro Stock, defeating Deric Kramer in the final round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge on a holeshot with a time of 6.700 at 203.95 in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Camaro. It’s the first win in the bonus race for the defending world champion, who used a .026 reaction time to hold of Kramer’s 6.696. She also continues to roll after winning last weekend in Topeka as Enders, who beat points leader Dallas Glenn in the opening round of the bonus event, continues to look in championship form at the perfect time of the 2023 season.

“This is very exciting,” Enders said. “We went to the finals last weekend and weren’t able to get it done, so to get it done here is pretty exciting. I’m really excited to put that car in the winner’s circle and put our name on that trophy. Coming into the year, we thought, we’re going to do some good – and then we haven’t. So it’s very meaningful. 

“I’ve always loved racing at Brainerd, it’s been a track that’s been really good for me, but aside from that, it’s just really fun coming up here. The last time we were here in 2019, my homie Jason Line put it on me in the finals and took home the win in his home track, but we’ve had a lot of success here and we’re looking to go one round further.”

Greg Anderson continued his hold on the top spot in qualifying, claiming his first No. 1 of the season thanks to his run of 6.597 at 205.79 in his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro from Friday. The five-time world champ and Duluth native made the quickest run during three of the four qualifying sessions, giving the veteran plenty of momentum as he seeks his first victory of the season. Matt Hartford qualified second with a 6.598 at 205.54, and Enders’ 6.603 at 207.27 puts her third.

“It’s very gratifying to know that you can run in heat, you can run in cool, you can run in any conditions. I’m proud of the KB Titan Racing guys and the job they’ve done this weekend,” Anderson said. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow, it’ll be a more fun day for racers. The cars will be fast and hooked up. It’ll be a throw everything you’ve got at the racetrack and it should hold it. Those are exciting days for us, that’s how we love to race.”

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Eliminations for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals begin at 11 a.m. CT on Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.

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