Down by 50 points heading into the first race of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Erica Enders chipped away at leader Bo Butner with a solid qualifying performance in Reading that included a 5.480 that was good for the top spot in the quick field. Enders scored bonus points during three of four qualifying rounds to cut into Butner’s lead heading into tomorrow’s final eliminations. The two-time world champ has now been the top qualifier 20 times in her career, although she has not led a Pro Stock field since the 2018 Brainerd event more than a year ago.
Enders has yet to win an event this season, but she’s come tantalizingly close on several occasions including the two most recent events in Brainerd and Indianapolis. In Brainerd, Enders reached the final where she lost a doorhandle-to-doorhandle race against Jason Line. Two weeks ago, Enders appeared to be well on her way to gaining her first win of the season at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals when she encountered a mechanical issue in the final against Elite teammate Alex Laughlin. Enders gained a huge lead off the starting line which made the loss more frustrating than it otherwise might have been.
Enders’ Melling Camaro has been the quickest car throughout Pro Stock qualifying in Reading, but her advantage over the rest of the field is slim. The top five qualifiers are in the 6.4s including second-ranked Laughlin, who ran a 6.486 on Friday in his Havoline Camaro and Line, who is the No. 3 seed with a 6.489. Deric Kramer (6.491) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.499) round out the top five. Enders and No. 8 seed Kenny Delco are the only drivers in the top half of the field who have not won a race this season. Enders has also won races at 15 different NHRA national event venues but Reading is not one of them. She’s never appeared in a final here, and hasn’t been past the quarterfinal round since 2014, where she qualified No. 1 and lost to Allen Johnson’s Dodge in the semifinals.
Fresh off his Indy win, Laughlin has the second-quickest Pro Stock car in Reading with a 6.486 best. Laughlin will be paired with fellow Countdown driver Val Smeland in round one. Another interesting Countdown battle will feature Matt Hartford and Greg Anderson in a battel between the No. 7 and No. 10 qualifiers. Laugnlin and Anderson have already raced six times this season with each driver winning three times.