Welcome to Monday raceday at the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals. Let's be honest, yesterday was a bummer. In spite of a heroic effort by the NHRA Safety Safari and zMax Dragway crews, we didn't run a single car down the famed "Bellagio of Dragstrips", hence the Monday Nationals. Thankfully, the storm clouds have parted and its a cool clear Fall morning in Charlotte which should provide a perfect backdrop for the third race in the Countdown to the Championship. For those who may have missed it, listed below is our Sunday preview for each of the four professional classes.
Steve Torrence has won Top Fuel at the last three events at zMAX Dragway and at four of the last five, and the defending world champ would love to add to this totals today to expand upon his small points lead over Doug Kalitta. The Capo Contractors machine made it down the track on three of four runs in qualifying – all passes in the 3.70s – and the one time they missed, in Q3, was just experimenting to see what the track would hold.
Their closest competitor, on paper at least, is Leah Pritchett, whose stout 3.714 was low e.t. of Saturday and a great comeback from a frustrating Friday. The Okuma team hopes that same machine shows up today. Richie Crampton, who won the Countdown opener in Reading, continues to impress with the DHL rail with runs of 3.73 and 3.74 and full pulls on three of four qualifying passes.
“Fast Jack” Beckman, who set the track speed record at 334 mph on Friday, picked up a ton of qualifying bonus points to help his pursuit of a second Funny Car championship, and a late run today would go along way towards getting him into the points lead or close to it. He’s still chasing points leader Robert Hight and John Force, but they’re all within a round’s worth of racing heading into eliminations today.
Hight, the No. 2 qualifier, got the Auto Club Chevy down the track in the three-second one on all four qualifying attempts, a feat duplicated only by Ron Capps and the NAPA Dodge. Three other drivers – John Force, Matt Hagan, and Bob Tasca III – made three three-second passes, so it’s safe to say that the Funny Cars successfully figured out what can be a tricky starting line at the track.
During her various media appearances in Charlotte, Erica Enders spoke often about how her Elite Pro Stock team was “peaking at the right time” and after qualifying in the top spot at the last three races and earning a big Countdown win in St. Louis, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Enders, who took the pole at zMax Dragway with a 6.50 in her Elite/Melling Camaro, wasn’t just fast, she was consistent and that showed up on the scoresheet with 11 of a possible 12 qualifying bonus points. Enders is easily the favorite heading into Sunday’s final eliminations, but given the unpredictable nature of the Pro Stock class, she’s not the only one capable of leaving with the Wally. There are no easy draws, but Enders would appear to have a tough road to the final round with potential races against former champ Bo Butner, and fellow Countdown drivers Matt Hartford, Alex Laughlin, and Chris McGaha.
Points leader Jason Line was third quickest driver in qualifying with his Summit Camaro and that puts him in a prime position to battle for his third win of the season. Line came into the NTK Carolina Nationals nursing an 11-point lead over Enders in the standings and she’s reduced that to just two points heading into today’s final eliminations. It’s possible that Line and Enders could meet in the final round and if that becomes a reality, the winner of that race would head to Dallas as the points leader.
In one of the most surprising developments of the weekend, or perhaps the entire 2019 season, Steve Johnson rode his Slick 50 Suzuki to the top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a 6.786, the best run of his long career. Johnson made the run on Saturday afternoon and then promptly left zMax Dragway in order to attend a wedding in Maryland. Johnson returned late last night and is prepared to pursue his first victory in the class since the 2014 season-opener in Gainesville.
Jerry Savoie, the winner in Indy and Reading, made a pair of 6.787-second runs to secure the No. 2 spot behind Johnson. Savoie and his White Alligator team are attempting to come back from a tough early loss at the most recent event in St. Louis. That loss cost Savoie several spots in the standings but he remains in contention, just 66-points behind leader Andrew Hines. The most intriguing match-up of Sunday’s opening round involves Harley-Davidson rider Eddie Krawiec and reigning champ Matt Smith. Krawiec qualified No. 4 in the field while Smith did not make a clean run on any of his four attempts and finished a disappointing No. 13. A round one loss will be devastating to either rider’s hopes of winning the championship.
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Today, FS1 will televise finals coverage starting at 9:00 p.m. (ET).
Top Fuel - 3.687 seconds by Mike Salinas, April '19; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April '12.
Funny Car - 3.851 seconds by Courtney Force, April '17; 334.07 mph by Jack Beckman, October '19.
Pro Stock - 6.455 seconds by Jason Line, Mar. '15; 215.48 mph by Greg Anderson, Mar. '15.
Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.765 seconds by Jerry Savoie, April '18; 200.32 mph by Matt Smith, April '19.
Top Fuel - 3.623 sec. by Brittany Force, Sept. '19, Reading, Pa.; 336.57 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ‘18, Phoenix, Ariz.
Funny Car - 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. '17, Brainerd, Minn.; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.
Pro Stock - 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.
Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.720 sec. by Andrew Hines, March ‘19, Gainesville, Fla.; 201.76 mph by Matt Smith, March ‘19, Gainesville, Fla.