After a season-opening win and a final-round appearance leading into the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Doug Kalitta had high hopes about racing for his first world title. Things haven’t gone to plan during the first three playoff races, but the Top Fuel veteran still has big expectations to close out his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
A championship may not factor into that, but Kalitta has his sights on a top-five finish in the class and more wins to finish his year, starting at this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway. Kalitta is the defending winner of the fall race at the state-of-the-art facility in his 10,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster, something he would like to replicate to help end his year strong.
“Our focus is on making some improvements to win a few more races before this season wraps up,” Kalitta said. “We’ve been pretty consistent over the last few events, but we still aren’t at the level we need to be. I’ve got a great team behind me and I feel confident that we will end this year on a strong note. We definitely feel comfortable racing at Charlotte. It’s an excellent facility and the entire MAC Tools team is hoping this is an event where we can get back on track.”
Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 14. It is the fourth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship and the 22nd of 24 races in a 2018 season that took a frustrating turn during the first half of the playoff season.
After a final-round finish at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals to close out the regular season, Kalitta hasn’t been able to find that same rhythm, posting just one round win through the first three races in the Countdown to the Championship. It’s put Kalitta 299 points behind points leader Steve Torrence, who has won the first three playoff races, meaning a championship is out of the equation. But Kalitta is just 52 points back of fifth and 75 points out of fourth, giving him plenty of motivation to race well over the final three races.
“Winning another event would be huge to close out this season,” said Kalitta, who has one win and five finals appearances in 2018. “We haven’t started out the Countdown the way we had hoped, but being able to build up some momentum and get to the winner’s circle again would be a big boost for us. I have an excellent team, and they have stuck together all season long. It’s really impressive to see the work they have put in, and I know it is a championship-caliber bunch.”
Kalitta isn’t thinking ahead to 2019, but he does know the boost any late-season success, starting this weekend in Charlotte, would provide for next year. He’ll have to deal with the likes of Torrence, Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett and Dallas runner-up Terry McMillen at zMAX Dragway, but Kalitta continues to have confidence that the Kalitta Motorsports Top Fuel teams, which also includes Richie Crampton, can have an impact to finish out 2018.
“Our whole team would love a strong finish to the season to get ready for 2019,” said Kalitta, who has 44 career Top Fuel victories. “Richie and the CRAFTSMAN team have been working hard to close out the year strong, and some of those adjustments were definitely noticeable in Dallas. I feel the same way about the MAC Tools team, and our goal is to get a few wins to close out this year strong and be ready for a championship run next season.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.