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Hight, Salinas, Enders & Herrera Power to Wins at NHRA Nevada Nationals

Robert Hight pulled to within 17 points of the Funny Car points lead on Sunday, finishing off a dominant weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the victory for John Force Racing at the 23rd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals.

Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won the 20th of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, and the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Hight went 3.851-seconds at 326.79 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro to defeat Bob Tasca III in the final round, earning his fourth victory of the 2023 season and the 65th in his career. He now trails Matt Hagan by 17 points with one race remaining, with Tasca just 15 points out of first.

Hight’s day also included a track-record run of 3.816 at 332.67 in the opening round, which was the quickest run in Funny Car since 2017. He followed with round wins against Alexis DeJoria and Blake Alexander to reach the final, staying in the 3.80s throughout eliminations to set up what will be an incredible finale in Pomona.

“It’s really been a strong weekend at the races,” said Hight. “I’d like to know if anybody in a Countdown race in Funny Car has swept every single point possible. That just goes to my team. You know, they gave me a race car that was perfect this weekend, and we had good conditions where 3.88 was our worst run.

“I feel really good [going into Pomona]. We just have to stay steady and stay focused. Nothing we can do about what the conditions are going to be at Pomona, but I’m going to pray every night that they’re great like we had this weekend. I feel like my team’s got a good handle on this race car, and we just have to go get it done.”

Tasca reached his 30th career final round and the fourth this season with wins against Steven Densham, Cruz Pedregon and Hagan before falling to Hight.

In Top Fuel, Mike Salinas put together one of the most complete weekends in his career, finishing it off with a run of 3.673 at 331.36 in his 11,000-horsepower Valley Services/Scrappers Racing dragster to get past Justin Ashley in the championship round. Salinas powered to his second victory this season and the ninth in his career, also remaining in the championship hunt in the process. He’ll head to the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals 76 points out of first, giving himself a fighting chance with a spectacular weekend in Las Vegas.

He qualified No. 1 and then dispatched Rob Passey, Tony Schumacher and Josh Hart to reach the final round. There, he put together his fourth straight run in the 3.60s as Salinas felt his team took an impressive step forward in the process.

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“We came into this race and I told my guys, we need to win this race and the next one to even matter,” Salinas said. “We were badass today, we were the best car out here, but we think there’s more.

“We’ve been working on this car since Gainesville and it has shown signs of greatness, but the consistency has been evading us, so we were trying to get more consistent. We have come across some stuff that we were working on, it seemed to work and today is the best day we’ve had all year and the car’s showing amazing signs. If we can continue to do what we’re doing here, it’ll be a great weekend in Pomona.”

Ashley reached his eighth final round in 2023 and 19th overall by defeating Dan Mercier, Austin Prock and Steve Torrence, who took over the points lead in Las Vegas. He leads Doug Kalitta by 15 points, with Pruett now 34 points back.

The most successful driver in the history of The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway continued her winning ways, as Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders won for the 10th time in Las Vegas, defeating Greg Anderson with a run of 6.557 at 208.23 in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro. Enders continued her strong run in the Countdown to the Championship, winning for the fourth time this season and the 47th time in her Pro Stock career.

It’s also the second straight win for Enders, as she stretched her lead to 114 points over Anderson heading into the last race of the season. She knocked off Mason McGaha, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Jeg Coughlin Jr. to reach the final round and after defeating Anderson, Enders is on the verge of her sixth world championship.

“Today was stress-level nine million,” Enders said. “It was do or die. We needed to perform perfectly, and my guys went out there and did just that. It was a challenging day. The final round against Greg, it was pretty epic. After we both won the semifinals, we shook hands and he said, ‘Old guys to the top.’ I really enjoy racing him, but I enjoy beating him more, respectfully.

“It was a tremendous day, [but] I don’t feel like [the championship] is ours. We have to go out there and continue to earn it. If you would have told me 12 races ago that we were going to contend for our sixth championship, I would have told you that you were nuts. We have a 114-point lead, but a lot can happen. A lot can change, and I just try to focus on what’s right in front of me. I don’t want to get the bigger picture in my mind too far ahead, but at the same time believe that we can do it and that we’re capable.”

Anderson reached his 176th career final round thanks to victories against Aaron Stanfield, No. 1 qualifier Kyle Koretsky and Matt Hartford.

It won’t be official until the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals in Pomona, but Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Gaige Herrera moved a step closer to his first world championship by taking down teammate Eddie Krawiec in the final round with a track-record run of 6.755 at 198.32 on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. It gives Herrera his 10th victory this season, tying Matt Hines for the most in a single season in Pro Stock Motorcycle history, as well a 181-point lead heading into the finale. That means Herrera will clinch the world championship in Pomona with his first qualifying run, a fitting end to one of the most dominant seasons in NHRA history.

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After qualifying No. 1 for the 13th time this year, Herrera reached the final round with victories against Marc Ingwersen and Jerry Savoie. That set up a final round matchup with his teammate for the fourth time this season and Herrera again denied his teammate of a 50th career win. He was untouchable in Las Vegas, shattering his own track record in the finals with another epic run.

“This race was really emotional to me. I have a lot of family and friends here, and I had a stellar bike all day,” Herrera said. “All day today, it was a little bit of a challenge with the headwind, riding-wise, and you could definitely feel it. But I had a very good bike all day. It was awesome being in the final against Ed. That’s the third Vance & Hines final in a row, and it was a fun final.

“We went up there, and I had a feeling he wasn’t going to stage first so I just sat there. He revved the throttle at me and I did it back. Once he did it the second time I said, ‘Oh, he’s definitely not going in first,’ so I just rolled it in. It knocked me off my game a little, but he shook the tire and I ended up going a 6.755. It felt like a very smooth, good pass, but I didn’t expect it to go faster than what I qualified with. We’re happy with that, and after this weekend, once I go to Pomona and break the beams, it’s a done deal – that’s very exciting.”

Krawiec advanced to the finals for the fourth time this season and the 95th time overall by defeating Steve Johnson and Jianna Evaristo.

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series closes out the 2023 season with the 58th annual In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals on Nov. 9-12 at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.

This story was originally published on October 31, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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