Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta stayed undefeated in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs, picking up his second straight win on Sunday at zMAX Dragway and moving into the points lead for the first time in three years at the 15th annual betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won 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.
In the final round against Mike Salinas, Kalitta powered to a run of 3.696-seconds at 333.49 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Mac Tools/Toyota dragster en route to his second win this season and 51st in his career. After going nearly three years without a win, Kalitta now has back-to-back victories and the points lead for the first time since 2020 as the veteran aims for his first world championship.
His day included victories against Steve Torrence, Kalitta Motorsports teammate Shawn Langdon and Leah Pruett, setting up the marquee matchup against Salinas, who went 3.718 at 328.46 in the finals. With four races remaining, Kalitta holds a 63-points lead against Torrence and 68 over Justin Ashley.
“We had to tune it up for the final and Mike was right there,” said Kalitta, who picked up back-to-back wins for the first time since 2016. “It was a good day for all my guys. I’m glad I’m along for the ride for whatever we end up with. It’s a great start (to the Countdown) for us and I just have a ton of support from everyone who has followed me over the years.
“We’re just going to keep plugging away. We’ve just got to keep going rounds and it’s a matter of getting and staying consistent. I just want to try to stay ahead, however we have to do it. Everyone in this class is driving the wheels off these things and there’s a bunch of great cars. It’s tough and you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them. I’m happy to be here and it’s a good spot to be in, for sure.”
Salinas advanced to his second final round this year and 17th in his career by knocking off Mike Bucher and Austin Prock. It was still a rewarding weekend for Salinas, setting both ends of the track record and becoming the first driver in NHRA history to go 300-mph in the 1/8-mile, becoming the first member of the “Phillips Connect 300 to the 1/8” club on Saturday.
In Funny Car, Bob Tasca III finished off a monumental weekend with a huge victory against points leader Robert Hight in the final round, going 3.933 at 329.26 in his 11,000-horsepower Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang to earn a holeshot victory over Hight’s 3.932 at 326.95. It is the third victory of the 2023 campaign for Tasca and the 15th of his career as the veteran also moved to second in points.
After making a career-best run of 3.836 on Saturday to qualify third, Tasca took down Alexis DeJoria, Terry Haddock and Matt Hagan to reach the final round against Hight. Tasca was previously 0-3 against the three-time champ in final rounds, but Tasca’s .050 reaction time proved to be the difference to hold off Hight and pick up the thrilling win. Tasca also pulled to within 25 points of Hight after two races in the Countdown to the Championship.
“It was a big win for our program,” Tasca said. “I said on TV, I wish the fans all could have had a live feed to my pit. Every person on our team, crew chiefs included, thrashed to swap the engines. For me, that is the most gut-wrenching part of racing. There is nothing I can do. I’m at home when I’m in that car and the stage bulb is on because I know I have a shot at it. So, this win is dedicated to the team.
“I think we’re somewhat racing with a chip on our shoulder this year. How many people in this room would have thought Bob Tasca would be (25 points) out of first? Bottom line is, we’ve really come together as a team, probably more so than any point in my career and the car really sees it. I’m so impressed with the car they’ve given me. I’ve always wanted to win at all the Bruton Smith tracks, and I know he’s smiling down from above. I’ve thought the world of their family, our families have been close and it’s really cool to have a trophy from every Bruton Smith track.”
Hight, who set the track record on Saturday to qualify No. 1, picked up his second straight final round appearance in the playoffs and the 101st in his career thanks to round victories against Paul Lee and Alex Laughlin.
Things came together perfectly on Sunday for Pro Stock veteran Greg Anderson, as the five-time world champion picked up his first win of the season, defeating KB Titan Racing teammate Dallas Glenn in the final round with a run of 6.554 at 209.23 in his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro. It’s also the 102nd career victory for Anderson, who picked up the win in the backyard of his sponsor, which made the moment even more special for the longtime standout.
He got past Jerry Tucker, Cristian Cuadra and defending world champion Erica Enders to reach the final round, leading from start-to-finish in an impressive showing against Glenn, who went 6.590 at 206.73. It sent Anderson all the way to fourth in points, giving him hope of a sixth world championship with four races remaining this year.
“That was incredible. It was my day, and I haven’t really had many ‘my days’ this year,” said Anderson, who is now 61 points out of first. “It’s definitely sweet to do it here at Charlotte, my home track, with all my family, my friends, all the support, the Hendrick group. It’s just perfect, absolutely perfect. I had a couple of storybook wins last year, and this one is right up there. It’s been a long year for me, but my team has been doing a great job all year long, and I’m very proud of that.
“We didn’t back into a win today; we earned a win today. We absolutely went out and earned one. We outran everybody and did a better job racing than everybody did. We’re peaking at the right time, without a doubt. It’s going to be an exciting Countdown. I’m sure today scrambled the points up quite a bit, and it put a lot of people right back in the hunt, myself being one of them.”
Glenn, who shrugged off an opening-round loss last weekend, moved back to third in points, reaching his eighth final round in 2023 with round wins against Troy Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield and Deric Kramer. Matt Hartford stayed in the points lead, holding a four-point advantage over Enders and 15 points over Glenn.
In the 500th career race in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, Gaige Herrera earned his first career victory in the Countdown to the Championship, going 6.726 at 201.34 on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki to win against a red-lighting Hector Arana Jr. Herrera moved back into the points lead with his dominant weekend en route to his seventh victory of the season, also getting back on track after an early exit in the playoff opener.
There were no upsets on Sunday at zMAX Dragway, as Herrera, who also qualified No. 1, rolled to round wins against Jerry Savoie, defending world champion Matt Smith and Chase Van Sant, setting a track E.T. record in the opening round with a 6.706. Arana Jr. left early in the finals, but Herrera would have been tough to take down as he enjoyed another spectacular weekend. His lead against Smith stands at 52 points.
“It was a good Sunday. I’m glad my bike was consistent again today. It came off the trailer running strong and I’m glad we came home with the win,” Herrera said. “I’m happy with that. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks.
“Andrew (Hines, crew chief) and those guys, they don’t quit. I’m with one of the best teams with Vance & Hines. It’s pretty cool, racing Matt second round. The ladder couldn’t have worked out any better for me today. I regained the points lead and definitely have a lot of momentum going into St. Louis.”
Arana Jr. stayed third in points, getting past Steve Johnson, Angie Smith and Eddie Krawiec to reach the championship round for the third time in 2023 and 33rd time in his career.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action Sept. 29-Oct.1 with the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis.