Call it what you will for Doug Kalitta and his Mac Tools Toyota team: final round, medal round, game seven, championship heat, last race or, well, the NHRA Finals. Regardless, the entire season comes down to this one event and these four remaining rounds of 2023 racing. The 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series ends this weekend at the In ‘N Out Burger NHRA Finals on the In ‘N Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip in Pomona, Calif., the last of six races that make up the Countdown to the Championship NHRA Playoffs.
For Kalitta, it’s an opportunity to accomplish the one thing he’s never done in NHRA Top Fuel Drag Racing: win a season championship. He’s been close many times. In fact, he has six runner up finishes in the season standings with his most-recent second-place run coming in 2019.
Earlier this season in the first race of the Countdown in Reading, Pa., Kalitta ended a different drought claiming his 50th race win after a nearly two-year wait, and he followed it up the next weekend with win No. 51 winning the first and second of the six playoff races. Those wins put him where he is today – 15 markers behind points leader Steve Torrence entering the season’s final race.
“It’s great to be in the position we’re in this year – I’m definitely having fun with it,” Kalitta said. “We had to wait till the Countdown started to start running up front so that was perfect timing. I’ve been second a number of times so I’ve had opportunities to run for a championship. Really, this is probably one of the best opportunities I’ve had. My Mac Tools car has obviously been running real strong, and we stuck around after Vegas and tested. Everything’s geared up, and we’re looking forward to getting to Pomona.”
As he should be; Kalitta enjoys prolific Pomona stats. He has six wins in 13 final-round appearances along with six No. 1 qualifiers. In addition, In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip is also considered crew chief Alan Johnson’s home track, and the legendary tuner has won countless races and clinched multiple championships with race wins at the historic track.
“I’ve had real good luck at Pomona, particularly at the NHRA Finals, so I’m hoping we show up with a car that’s running in the mid-60s or low 60s (mid or low 3.60s in seconds). We just want to have fun with it – that’s obviously the goal,” the driver dubbed “the king of calm” by fellow title contender Steve Torrence said. “The approach I take is usually the calmer the better, and let the cards play like they’re gonna play. We’re down to this one race so there’s no waiting till the next race or anything like that. We have to get it done this weekend so we’re pretty excited about getting to the track and hopefully starting off strong. As far as the past, it’s definitely behind us, and this a new opportunity for my team and me is in the present so hopefully we can get it done. With 150 points left – there’s still a lot of racing. Everyone in contention is pretty good at what we do so it should be fun to go execute.”
Entering this last race, five drivers are within 82 points of the lead including Leah Pruett, Mike Salinas and Justin Ashley in addition to Kalitta and Torrence. NHRA awards “points and a half” at this race meaning each round win is worth 30 points instead of 20. While the focus is on the top of the standings, several drivers enter the In ‘N Out Burger NHRA Finals with a shot at the title, but if Kalitta and his Mac Tools team take care of business, the rest will take care of itself.
“I’m feeling good about everything – we tested on Monday (after Las Vegas), and the guys are excited about how everything went. I’ve had good luck at Pomona, and I feel confident – at the end of the day, the goal is to go to these events and win them. We’ll stay focused on that and see where we end up. It’s a matter of having the best-running car and driving well, and I am confident in our Mac Tools team.”