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Hagan, Kalitta, Enders and Herrera Race to Provisional No. 1 Spots at Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals

Matt Hagan made the quickest Funny Car run of the year on Friday at zMAX Dragway, taking the provisional No. 1 spot for Tony Stewart Racing at the 15th annual betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also the provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the 17th of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, and the second of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Hagan powered to an impressive run of 3.825-seconds at 333.49 in his 11,000-horsepower Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, setting the track E.T. record and making the quickest pass in the Funny Car category since he went 3.823 in Phoenix at the second race of the 2022 season. If it holds, the three-time Funny Car world champ would earn his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and 50th in his career. It was also a nice bounce back for Hagan and his team after falling by a crushing .0001 in the second round last weekend against points leader Robert Hight.

“That was a great moment right there,” Hagan said. “It’s just a great day and what a lap to lay down there. When they’re on a run like that and they’re digging, they’re a handful and that’s why we love driving these things. I’m so proud of my guys.

“A run like that is a huge confidence-booster and it’s just nice to be able to put that in the bank. I can’t say enough about my guys and it was just a great day. These cars are probably the most humbling thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life. You’ve got to be peaking at the right time and if we want to be champion, we need to win two or three more races this year. That’s our mindset and our mentality right now.”

Ron Capps, the defending back-to-back world champ, went 3.885 at 329.02 to go to second and Chad Green went to third after a 3.887 at 327.27. Hight is 15th after suffering a huge explosion on the starting line during his run.

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta continued his hot streak, following up on last weekend’s 50th career win by going to the No. 1 spot in Charlotte with a standout performance of 3.665 at 331.61 in his 11,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster. The veteran, who moved up to third in points with the win last week, is aiming for his second No. 1 spot this season and 53rd in his career. The run under the lights was also the fifth straight run in the 3.60s for Kalitta dating back to last weekend, which bodes well for the rest of the weekend as well as the remaining races in the Countdown to the Championship.

“This car is happy to be on the track,” Kalitta said. “I’m just really happy for all my guys and this whole team. Charlotte is one of the greatest places we run and we’re hungry to keep this momentum going. So far, so good and we’ll see what we’ve got after tomorrow.

“We’ve got plenty of confidence right now and the conditions are going to be good (this weekend). This team has been gelling really well and hopefully we can keep it going. They’ve been making me look good. We’re going to keep our head down, keep trying to get round wins and see what we can do.”

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Defending world champion Brittany Force went 3.686 at 332.75, putting her second after the opening qualifying session, and Justin Ashley’s 3.698 at 333.74 gave him the third spot.

For the second straight race, defending Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders enjoyed a strong start, taking the provisional No. 1 in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro with a run of 6.509 at 210.18. If that holds, Enders would earn her fourth top spot this year and 33rd in her career. It would also continue Enders’ strong start to the playoffs after she qualified No. 1 in Reading and advanced to the semifinals. Looking for a sixth world championship, Enders is after more at zMAX Dragway – namely a third win of the season.

“The whole season started off really crappy for us, as everybody knows, and we just kept our heads down and went to work,” Enders said. “We said it’s not going to matter until the final six and here we are. We’re running really well again so we’re absolutely thankful for that. That’s what I mean but this is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to get to the end of the season and then perform as perfectly as possible in the Countdown.”

Camrie Caruso’s 6.525 puts her second and defending event winner Aaron Stanfield swiped third with a 6.533 at 210.50. Points leader Matt Hartford, who won the last two races, is currently eighth with a 6.548 at 209.43.

Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Gaige Herrera shrugged off his surprising second-round loss from last weekend in strong fashion on Friday, distancing himself from the rest of the field with a run of 6.731 at 200.44 on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. Herrera, who is now second and 17 points behind Matt Smith, is seeking his 10th No. 1 qualifier of the year and what he hopes is his seventh victory of the year and first career Countdown to the Championship victory. Herrera enjoyed a terrific start on Friday and will try to replicate that over the next two days in Charlotte.

“We’re happy with that run and we’re just trying to get redemption back from Reading,” Herrera said. “It put us down a little bit, but it’s another race and we’re just looking forward to two more rounds of qualifying tomorrow and then raceday on Sunday. This is one of my favorite tracks and I’m just happy to be back here.”

Chip Ellis, who advanced to the final round last week, is currently second with a 6.817 at 199.05 and Eddie Krawiec took third thanks to his 6.825 at 197.94. Smith is 17th after one session.

Qualifying continues at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday at the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

This story was originally published on September 23, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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