Five things we learned at the 2022 Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals
1. Final-round engine swaps don't stress Greg Anderson and KB Racing. Going into the Sonoma final, and what could have been Greg Anderson’s 100th win, KB Racing performed a complete engine swap before the final round. The swap came off without a hitch, and we were wondering if the new engine was a next-level powerplant built for such an occasion as a final against Erica Enders. The 208-mph trap speed (same as every other round of eliminations) suggests it was just a replacement engine.
Enders, who was running her own Beast-of-Sonoma-engine combination had her DRCE engine expire in the final against Anderson, but her reaction time was enough to fend off her ultimate rival and give her the win.
2. You can outrun Alan Johnson, if you run his parts and know what to do with them. Mike Salinas is a customer of Alan Johnson Performance Engineering (AJPE) engine parts, but he used to be a customer of the full AJPE parts and tuning services. Now with Rob Flynn calling the shots and the same AJPE parts that Doug Kalitta is running, we witnessed Salinas outdo Kallita’s performance with Alan Johnson calling the shots in every round of eliminations in Sonoma. Clearly, Salinas learned a lot last year when he contracted Johnson to make the calls on his car, and one could argue it's taking some time for the Kalitta-Johnson dream team to mesh, but in Sonoma, Salinas proved it’s possible to outrun the master in the heat of battle.
3. Erica Enders’ mental toughness has reached a whole new level in 2022. After a failed 2021 championship chase that she says was a crushing blow to her and the Elite Motorsports crew, her 2022 Pro Stock campaign is shaping up to be a take-no-prisoners conquest. But even with five wins under her Sparco race suit in 2022, she still came to California knowing she’s never had success here. To add insult to injury, she came into Sonoma off a morale-busting first-round reaction-time loss in Denver to Mason McGaha.
Sonoma had been Enders' kryptonite even in her best seasons, and until this year, she'd only been past round two once (2011, a semifinal). That all changed this weekend when it seemed that nothing could shake her.
4. Bob Tasca III’s team has found their combination. Tasca confessed that coming into this race his team didn’t have a good handle on their setup, but he said Mike Neff told him “[he] was close.” On Saturday afternoon when the Funny Car ladder looked locked up, Team Tasca struck, and on a 118-degree, he ran a 3.87 at 331.04 mph when other teams were banking on their runs from Friday night and Saturday morning. It’s clear Tasca saw that qualifying session as proof that crew chief Mike Neff had the combination they have been working on all season figured out.
5. Women almost took all four No. 1 qualifier spots in Sonoma. On Saturday night, the yellow hats were being worn by Angelle Sampey, Erica Enders, and Leah Pruett, and after Bob Tasca III proved it was possible to make gains in the final Funny Car session, these three women all thought there was a chance Alexis DeJoria might join them for an all-female qualifying club. DeJoria came close, but that historic moment will have to wait for another race.