After two days of dueling for position on the famed all-concrete zMAX Dragway strip, the intensity will ratchet up as final eliminations for the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals roar to life at the second of six events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
No. 1 qualifiers Justin Ashley (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) enter eliminations as the prohibitive favorites but with competitors breathing down their exhaust pipes.
Ashley and Force also were the low qualifiers the last time the NHRA cane to town for the Four-Wind Nationals in the spring and while Ashley fell in the semifinals, Force went all the way to the winner’s circle.
Ashley, runner-up last weekend in Reading to seize the points lead from Brittany Force, made three solid runs in the Phillips Connect dragster without a whisper of trouble, but seven other qualifiers all went three-for-three in the consistency department and Ashley’s fight for the pole was a tough one as six teams qualified in the 3.6-second zone.
Force finished No. 2, finally connecting on the run that has eluded her on her first two qualifying passes, no doubt giving her momentum and confidence heading into Sunday.
Ashley will open against Alex Laughlin while Force will face off with Spencer Massey, with both of those opponents only making it down the track once under power, one their final efforts.
John Force will have a bye run in the first round due to the short field which should help him close ground on the three drivers ahead of him in the standings: teammate Robert Hight, Matt Hagan, and Ron Capps.
The solo pass is surely good news for Force as, after his Friday night pole-earning 3.85 pass, he didn’t make it down the track under power Saturday, so he’ll get basically a free test run to make sure that the ship is righted.
Hagan will take on independent John Smith in run dine and will get a bye into the semifinals if he can turn on the win light. Hight draws Jim Campbell, whose team sat out Saturday after a 3.99 on Friday while Capps, fresh off a Q3 blower explosion, will face off with Blake Alexander.
Fans would do well to keep an eye on the Nos. 5 and 6 qualifiers, Bob Tasca III and J.R. Todd, who had the only two cars to make it down the track on all three passes.
Pro Stock did not complete here in the spring but Enders has two past wins at zMAX, in 2015 and 2018, and the consistency of her Elite Performance Camaro was awe-inspiring as she made three runs within .004-second under varying conditions.
The four-time world champ had no less than a hundredth of a second on her competition in all three runs and with her sharp starting-line skills and laser-like focus, it’s going to take a mistake or a holeshot to bring her down. She maxed out qualifying points to extend her points lead in her “Drive for Five title battle. She’ll kick off her pursuit of a second straight Countdown win against veteran Larry Morgan.
2021 EVENT WINNERS: Josh Hart, Top Fuel; Tim Wilkerson, Funny Car; Kyle Koretsky, Pro Stock Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Steve Torrence, 6, TF; Robert Hight, 6, FC; Jason Line, 4 PS; Andrew Hines, 8, PSM.
- NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series eliminations begin at noon
- FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 2 p.m. ET and three hours of finals coverage at 3 p.m. ET