Doug Kalitta’s long and winding road to win No. 50 finally reached its destination at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania last weekend, and the win pushed him up to third in points and into the championship conversation. Now, it’s time to make that 50th win mean even more. The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series resumes this weekend at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals in Concord, N.C., the second of six races that make up the Countdown to the Championship NHRA Playoffs.
With No. 50 in the rear-view mirror, the focus shifts to a potential championship run. With five races remaining, Kalitta trails points leader Steve Torrence by 26 points and second-place Justin Ashley by 19 points. The veteran Michigan driver knows, at this point in the season, it’s all about the old sports cliché, ‘one game/round/race at a time.’
“You just go up there for each round; it’s all about collecting round wins at this point,” the Reading winner said. “Each time you go up to the starting line, it’s a new opportunity. We want to stay towards the front. Qualifying is huge, and we’ve been qualifying up towards the front so it can give you a little better opportunity to let things settle in on race day. Hopefully, we can keep that up, but it’s drag racing – you never know what’s going to happen. I obviously have a great group of guys and great people behind me like Mac Tools, Toyota, Revchem, SealMaster and Future Energy Solutions, and getting that win was huge for all of us. Hopefully, we can all just settle in and keep doing our jobs. There’s a lot of rounds left so I just hope we can keep going rounds and be there at the end.”
The Mac Tools team has been excellent in qualifying this season, qualifying in the top-four positions 10 times. And it was during the final round of qualifying last weekend when Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster shredded a tire damaging the rear wing and the chassis forcing the team to race its backup car, which does not have a canopy like the primary car, during eliminations. The team and car performed brilliantly, posting four-straight elapsed time in the 3.60s to win the race.
“The canopy car we have – we kind of tore that thing up, so we’re gonna stick with this (backup) car, which is definitely not going to hurt my feelings,” Kalitta said. “Even if that thing wasn’t hurt, we’d probably still run this car. We’ll keep our heads down and obviously keep trying to hit the 60s and hit the tree as hard as we can. We’re definitely hoping to have a good run at the championship this year, and it looks like we have a pretty good opportunity for sure.
“Alan (co-crew chief Alan Johnson) was going to make the other car run just as well as this backup car. It’s just a crazy coincidence we drug that thing out of the trailer, and it’s doing what it’s doing. This car is probably about 30 pounds lighter (without the canopy) so I’m sure that doesn’t hurt anything. I’m just glad Alan’s happy, (co-crew chief Brian Husen) Brian’s happy and my guys are happy. This will be a big momentum opportunity for us going into the next five (races), and we’ll definitely carry it as far as we can.”
Some people say a championship run sometimes starts when a team capitalizes on a problem that forces it to work more closely together. If so, could the Mac Tools team’s Saturday-night effort, with help from the other Kalitta teams, be that story that propels Kalitta to the title?
“It never hurts to have a thrash; that’s what I always say,” Kalitta added. “You’re about ready to roll up for the finals but have to do some crazy engine change or something like that. That’s what going to our backup car kind of reminded me of; it really just shows the talent and the fortitude of my guys being able to bounce back like that. They had that thing ready, and I’m super proud of my guys. That’s probably the biggest thing. A good ole thrash every now and then, and that’s what we had.”