The Texas NHRA FallNationals kicked off the second half of the six-race NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship at Texas Motorplex and brought us a little bit of clarity about the championship chases. Here’s five things we learned in Dallas.
ERICA ENDERS WILL CLINCH IN LAS VEGAS
You don’t have to be either a Pro Stock fan or a math genius to know that four-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders’ “Drive For Five” will be successful, and there’s little doubt that she will wrap up the title before the season finale in Pomona.
Her lead is more than 160 points, and even with points and a half in Pomona, pretty much all she really needs to do is go one round further than her second-place teammate Aaron Stanfield in Las Vegas. With three wins in four Countdown races, that looks to be a pretty good bet, especially in Las Vegas, where she has won eight times, including at this year’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
The car is so good, she is laser-focused, and championship-battle-tested. This one’s in the bank for EE.
DESPERATE MEN DO DESPERATE THINGS
The rival KB Racing team didn’t have much chance to slow the Enders juggernaut over the final three races unless they stopped her early, so they put their best starting-line gun, “Double Oh Dallas” Glenn, into blocking mode, hoping to qualify in the bottom half of the field to draw a first-round date with Enders. We’ve seen this before in this rivalry, and it doesn’t always work out even when it works out (see Greg Anderson, 2019).
Even though he’s a former Division 6 Summit Racing Series champion (2008), finding the sweet spot about when to lift and coasting to the finish line was a tough ask for Glenn.
After Enders went to No. 1 in the first session with a 6.544, Glenn was 14th with a shutoff 6.644. Enders improved in Q2 with a 6.524 and stayed No. 1, and Glenn again shut off early and recorded a 6.618 – good for No. 17. So close!
Incredibly, Glenn, needing a run better than No. 16 Fernando Cuadra Jr.’s 6.609 but not quicker than Shane Tucker’s 6.602, ran 6.618 again in Q3, but remained 17th.
At this point, what would you have done? They could gamble in Q4 that Glenn could hit that very narrow sweet spot, or race him into the field wherever he could land as another quiver in the KB arsenal hoping to take her out anywhere in eliminations.
The team went with the former, Glenn couldn’t muster a good run in the hot conditions and slowed to a 6.77 to post the first DNQ finish of his young career.
You gotta tip your hat to Glenn for willing to take one for the team, and sticking to the ride-or-die approach to the bitter end.
FUNNY CAR WILL COME DOWN TO THE LATE ROUNDS IN POMONA
Ten years ago, the Funny Car championship was decided by just two points, when Jack Beckman eked out the title over Ron Capps, and there’s every reason to believe that it could be a single-digit margin that decides this year’s title.
Capps’ win here pulled him to within 10 points of Robert Hight’s lead with his second win of the Countdown. It didn’t hurt that he was the one who took out Hight in the semifinals, so they didn’t race in the final as they had done the weekend prior in St. Louis (where Hight won).
Runner-up Matt Hagan also closed the gap, pulling to within 78 points of Hight, and even John Force (-137) and Bob Tasca III (-174) are mathematically still capable of grabbing the crown.
JUSTIN ASHLEY IS CHAMPIONSHIP-READY
You can just see and hear the composure of Justin Ashley, who extended what was a narrow 14-point Top Fuel lead into an 82-point gap after early exits by his closest rivals and another huge win.
Ashley was coming into the event off of what could have been a soul-crushing first-round loss in St. Louis, but he didn’t let it faze him.
After qualifying No. 1 in the first session in Dallas, Ashley’s Phillips Connect dragster stumbled in the next two qualifying passes (5.190 and 5.940), but, like all good drivers, he had the ultimate faith in his crew chiefs, in this case, veterans Mike Green and Tommy DeLago. They rebounded in with a 3.76 and qualified just 10th, costing them first-round lane choice.
Ashley still was as cool as a Dallas fall morning. He cut lights of .044, .038, .020, and .031 and rode the steady power of e.t.s of 3.67, two 3.68s, and a 3.69 to the victory.
With just 53 Pro races under his safety belts, there’s no doubt that Ashley is ready to wear the crown.
Don’t ever bet on bikes
Someday, you’ll probably be able to widely bet on drag racing, but when/if that time comes, don’t plunk any of your green down trying to pick a winner in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Coming into race day in Dallas, the smart money would have been on low qualifier Angelle Sampey, points leader Matt Smith or his fast-trending wife Angie, or roll-and-roller rider Joey Gladstone. Hector Arana Jr, appearing in just his fifth race of the season and nearly two years down the road from his last win, probably would have been a field bet.
So, what happens? Sampey and Matt Smith, two of the most experienced riders in the class, couldn’t control their two-wheeled missiles and veered towards the centerline – Sampey actually crossed – forcing them to lift. Same thing happened to Angie Smith. Gladstone went red against Steve Johnson in round two.
The only safe bet you could have made on bikes this weekend would be that Jerry Savoie would be in the final – as he had been in six of the seven previous years (three wins, three runner-ups) – and he got there again, but Arana defied the odds and walked away with the win.