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Josh Hart Closes 2023 Season With Quarterfinal Finish

Josh Hart wrapped up the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season on a high note racing into the Top Ten and leaving his tire marks on the 2023 NHRA Top Fuel championship. Racing the familiar green and black R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster Hart took advantage of the first day of qualifying to make two test runs before dialing on a race day set up on Saturday. Yesterday Hart’s final two passes moved him solidly in the field and set him up with a first round match-up against champion contender Mike Salinas.

“We tried some things on Friday and they didn’t bear fruit so on Saturday we got our game face on,” said Hart, a two-time Top Fuel national event winner. “On Saturday we made some good runs and I felt good about our chances on Sunday. I went into race day with the attitude winning rounds would be our championship.”
Two weeks ago, Hart took out Doug Kalitta and Leah Pruett in the first two rounds stopping their championship charges and turning the Top Fuel title race into a five-driver affair coming into the In-N-Out Finals. Today pulling up beside Salinas Hart knew he could make a move towards his first win of the season and show his team is still competing at the highest level. Hart was first off the line with a strong reaction time. Salinas overpowered the track and Hart’s smooth pass at 3.848 seconds and 328.54 mph advanced him to a rematch with Kalitta.
“You can’t take a driver and team like Mike Salinas lightly and we made a great run,” said Hart. “When I saw that win light it felt pretty good because at the last race of the year you want to go as many rounds as possible. I knew we would have another tough competitor in the quarterfinals and I just knew my team would be up for the challenge.”
In the quarterfinals it was Hart and the four remaining championship contenders racing for the coveted NHRA Wally for the final race of the season. Hart was giving up lane choice to Kalitta who made one of the quickest passes of the first round. In an epic move off the starting line Hart’s reaction time of .027 had him in the lead until just past half-track when Kalitta drove around him for the win.
“We took out Doug in Las Vegas so I knew we were going to sneak up on him,” said Hart. “I have been working on my lights and we got a great start it just wasn’t enough. When you get down the final eight drivers on the last day of the season and half of those teams are racing for a championship you know you have done some things right.”
The first round win moved Hart into the Top Ten and showed that the team from Ocala, Florida, would continue to be a team to keep an eye on. Hart and the R+L Carrier team opened the season with a win at the Pep Boys Allstar Callout and ended the season with a semifinal and quarterfinal finish at the final two races in the most pressure-packed environment.
“This season was not what we wanted or expected but I learned a lot and we will be better next year,” said Hart. “I wish the season started next week but some time off will be good. I’ll have some announcements over the off season, and we will be back in action in Florida before we know it.”
Hart and the R+L Carriers Top Fuel team will start their 2024 season at the PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton Motorsports Park, February 8-10, and he will begin his pursuit of his first NHRA Mission Drag Racing Series Top Fuel title at the historic Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, March 7-10.

This story was originally published on November 13, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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