In front of a huge crowd on Friday at Maple Grove Raceway, the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs kicked off in impressive fashion, with Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) claiming the provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil.
With fans getting their first dose of NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series action in two years at the historic track, Force left everyone with an incredible memory on Friday, making the fastest run ever at the track in Top Fuel history. She bolted to the top in her 11,000-horsepower Flav-R-Pac dragster with an incredible pass of 3.666-seconds at a robust 335.57 mph, putting her in line to qualify No. 1 for the seventh straight race and ninth time overall this season. It’s a remarkable run of qualifying dominance and Force enjoyed every minute of Friday’s spectacular run.
“That run felt fast and that finish line came up quick,” said Force. “So, it’s get the chutes out, turn the fuel off, but it feels good to be able to run like that for our first qualifying pass of the night. To grab that No. 1 currently, it gives confidence to the entire team. It helps us feel strong going into tomorrow. Right now, this Countdown has begun right here in Reading, Pennsylvania. Everything is on the line right now. We have to repeat that the rest of the weekend.”
Steve Torrence, the points leader and three-time defending world champ, positioned himself well with a pass of 3.692 at 327.19 paired next to Force, putting him second. Clay Millican’s 3.696 at 322.65 has him third, while Mike Salinas is fourth after going 3.699. Billy Torrence was the fifth driver to reach the 3.60s after his pass of 3.699.
Following an up and down regular season, Hight’s playoffs started on a great note, taking the No. 1 spot with a blistering pass of 3.883 at 330.39 in his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS. Hight entered the Countdown to the Championship sixth in points, still seeking the consistency necessary to make a championship run. He has a pair of victories and four final round appearances, but the last four races only included three round wins. Hight looked to make amends on Friday and quickly did that, looking to qualify No. 1 for the second time this year and 70th time in his career.
"It was a good start for us," Hight said. "We've got a good handle on how to make this car run. From here on out, every point counts and we've just got keep counting them up. Starting sixth in the Countdown is pretty low, but we've got an extra race this year. I feel like you're going to win at least three races if you want to be champ and we need to start right here."
Running side-by-side with Hight was Tommy Johnson Jr., who is again filling in for Matt Hagan. The defending world champ is recovering from COVID-19 and Johnson did an admirable job as a top-notch replacement on Friday, going 3.895 at 333.82 in a great side-by-side run with Hight. That puts Johnson second, while Bob Tasca III is currently third with his 3.913 at 328.22. Cruz Pedregon is fourth after his pass of 3.914 and points leader Ron Capps rounds out the top five with a run of 3.932.
After a heartbreaking loss on a holeshot in the final round of the U.S. Nationals, Koretsky bounced back in impressive fashion on Friday at his home track, putting together a run of 6.547 at 209.98 in his Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro. Koretsky is trying for his second straight No. 1 qualifier and he couldn’t have asked for a better start racing Pro Stock for the first time at Maple Grove Raceway in what is also his first playoff race. Koretsky was crushed following his loss to Erica Enders at the U.S. Nationals, but following back-to-back final round appearances, Koretsky knows he has a great car and that was apparent again on Friday in front of a huge amount of his family and friends.
“It was exciting. My first pass racing here in Pro Stock and to go No. 1, it's really cool," Koretsky said. "To go out and go 6.54, I think there's a little more in it. It felt good going down the track. Everything was smooth and it was a good run. The stands were packed and it felt good to be home. It would be great to my first win here."
Greg Anderson ran an identical 6.547, but is second after a slightly slower 209.33. Anderson entered the Countdown to the Championship in the points lead and his weekend in Reading already shows plenty of promise. Aaron Stanfield currently sits in the third spot with a run of 6.548 at 209.62. Rookie Dallas Glenn is fourth with a 6.550 and Troy Coughlin Jr. is right behind with a 6.552. U.S. Nationals winner Erica Enders is sixth after the opening run with a 6.553.
Fans at Maple Grove Raceway got treated to a flurry of 6.76 runs to end the first round of qualifying in Pro Stock Motorcycle, with Sampey leading the charge with her 6.761 at 198.85 on her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. It was an impressive run on a noteworthy weekend for Sampey, whose first career win in Pro Stock Motorcycle came at Maple Grove Raceway 25 years ago. She’s added five more since then and Sampey currently has more round wins at the track than any rider in the class in NHRA history. Those good vibes continued on Friday, where Sampey looks to build on her runner-up at the U.S. Nationals.
“To me, it's an amazing start because I've struggled to get down the track on the right run, so I'm really excited about that," Sampey said. "I didn't shift perfectly, so there's more in it, but for the most part the momentum I feel going into qualifying on Saturday is great. I'm looking forward to the weekend."
Eddie Krawiec took the second spot in the pair following Sampey, making the first 200-mph run in class history at the track, going 6.763 at 201.67. The run also set the track speed record, leaving Krawiec in a great spot following his victory at Indy. Points leader and defending champ Matt Smith went 6.766 at 201.34 to round out qualifying, putting him in third. Scotty Pollacheck is fourth with a 6.829 at 198.52 and Cory Reed rounds out the top five with his pass of 6.867 at 194.24.