NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


Force, Hight, Stanfield, and Smith, lead Friday qualifying in Las Vegas

After two rounds of professional qualifying at the NHRA Nevada Nationals, Brittany Force, Robert Hight, Aaron Stanfield, and Matt Smith are the provisional low qualifiers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
28 Oct 2022
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Robert Hight

There was plenty of action at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as qualifying got underway for the NHRA Nevada Nationals on Friday. After two of four runs, John Force Racing teammates Brittany Force and Robert Hight, Aaron Stanfield, and Matt Smith, are the leaders in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively.

As they have done so many times, Brittany Force and crew chief David Grubnic weren’t both to let the No. 1 qualifying position slip through their fingers, firing off an impressive 3.665 to take back the top spot they’d lost earlier in the session to defending world champ Steve Torrence. Force picked up six qualifying points, five more than points leader Justin Ashley, to cut his lead from 82 to 77.

“Just the feeling of that run, it was more through half-track that really throws you back into your seat, that continual pull.,” said Force, whose 337.24-mph speed was the 10th fastest in history. “They told me over the radio what we ran, but it's just pure static, and can't hear anything. But I could tell they were excited. I knew it was a good run. And I knew we definitely stepped it up.

"Today's been awesome. It's exactly what we've been wanting to do, we need to grab points where we can because this thing's going to come down to Pomona and it's going to come down just a number of points, so we need to grab them wherever we can. We need a long day on race day. and we're starting off good this week. And we're already in a good position to solid runs. That was our goal and picking up bonus points. So we're right on track.”

Mike Salinas also moved around Torrence, whose early-session 3.705 has surpassed Force’s Q1-leading 3.711, as Salinas’ Pep Boys dragster raced to a 3.697 for the No. 2 spot.

Ashley, who didn’t make it down the track in Q2, sits fourth with 3.716 from Q1, just ahead of Austin Prock (3.731), Shawn Langdon (3.739), Josh Hart( 3.741), and Antron Brown (3.742).

Ten years ago, the Funny Car championship was decided by just two points and if that happens again this year, it might be because of Hight’s Friday performance in Las Vegas. His Jimmy Prock- and Chris Cunningham-tuned Auto Club Camaro had low e.t. of both qualifying sessions with identical runs of 3.857 to grab six points and expanded his points lead over Ron Capps -– who earned one point as the third-best run of Q2 –- from 10 to 15 points.

"That was huge,” said Hight, who already has five No. 1 qualifiers this season. “We need every point we get. Because the way I look at it, we're even right now. You know, 10 points is nothing. So, it's basically a new Countdown for us. 

“We let Capps back in, in Dallas [when Hight’s car smoked the tires against him in the semifinals], and it was really painful to have a weekend off after that because you want to get right back at it. Jimmy Prock made some changes come in here, so I guarantee it in that week and a half, he spent that time focusing and thinking about this race car. He was irritated, and I mean, we came right out. and I was surprised to run that good the first run was.”

Ten Funny Cars ran in the three-second zone in the first qualifying session and two more breached the barrier in the afternoon to make for a very quick opening day.

Bob Tasca III sits second behind Hight with a 3.865, followed by J.R. Todd (3.870), and Capps (3.889). The other major championship contender, Matt Hagan sits fifth with a 3.892, with Tim Wilkerson (3.912), Alexis DeJoria (3.922), and Paul Lee (3.933) rounding out the top eight/

Chad Green (3.941), Blake Alexander (3.944), Cruz Pedregon (3.945), and Jim Campbell (3.972) also ran in the threes.

Sixteen-time world champ John Force struggled in his first two passes, recording a best of just 4.589, one position off the 4.596 bump spot currently being held by Terry Haddock.

Aaron Stanfield is still mathematically in the running for the 2022 Pro Stock championship but realistically, he’s going to finish second. On Friday, Stanfield had the quickest car in Las Vegas as he drove his Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro to a 6.595 and a 6.596 to hold off Enders, who was second-quickest at 6.6597. Stanfield, who added six points to his score, has already qualified in the top spot four times this season, most recently at the Denver event in July and he hasn’t been ranked lower than sixth at any event this season.

“We just want to come out and do a good job. I know the title is a longshot,” said Stanfield. “The Elite team is having a great season and I’m thankful to be a part of it. Heck, I just want to win some races. We’ve got two to go and we’d like to win both of them. This was a good start. To come out in the first session and have a .965 sixty-foot time was really good. We made two good runs today and that sets us up for tomorrow and Sunday.”

While Stanfield is an extreme longshot to win the Pro Stock title, he is very much in the running for the championship in Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers. Stanfield came to Las Vegas in second place, trailing leader Jeremy Hancock by 65 points. Stanfield has qualified for the 32 car field and will race in eliminations on Saturday morning. Stanfield has already locked up a Top 10 finish in the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown.

“Finishing in the Top 10 in three classes is nice, but I’d rather win a championship,” Stanfield said. “No matter what, we’ve had a tremendous season and hopefully we’re not done yet. I just need to focus and do my job and we’ll see what happens.”

Although she doesn’t need them, Enders was able to add four bonus points to her score by making the second-quickest run in each session. She backed up her earlier 6.600 with a 6.597, trailing Stanfield by a thousandth of a second.

The Pro Stock field is typically close with less than six-hundredths of a second separating all 16 qualifiers. It takes a 6.616 to make the top half of the field and currently, the two non-qualifiers are Alan Prusiensky and Shane Tucker.

Championship leader Smith finished the day on Friday as the provisional leader in Pro Stock Motorcycle after posting an impressive 6.797 at over 201 mph aboard his Denso Buell. Smith, in pursuit of a record-tying sixth championship, missed the set-up during Friday’s first run with a 6.892, but improved by a tenth of a second to lead the way and add three bonus points to his score. Smith has been the top qualifier at four events this year, including the recent Countdown playoff races in Reading and St. Louis.

“This is a good start. We messed up in Q1 and blew the tire off it but we de-tuned it for Q2 and went to the top,” said Smith. “I’ve said this all along but to win a championship you’ve got to have no parts failures and not let anything stupid happen. It’s tough out here right now. Steve Johnson has a good bike. Jerry Savoie has a good bike, my wife [Angie] has a good bike and Joey definitely has a good bike.”

Smith came into Las Vegas with a 51-point lead over Joey Gladstone so he cannot clinch the title, this weekend, but should he gain ground during Sunday’s final eliminations, he can make it awfully difficult for anyone to catch him when the tour heads to Pomona for the final event of the season. Gladstone is the No. 8 qualifier with a best of 6.860 on his Fatheadz entry. If the qualifying order does not change prior to Sunday’s final eliminations, Gladstone could face a possible quarterfinal match against Smith that could go a long way toward deciding the title.

“My goal tomorrow is to get that lead over 60 points so it’s even harder for Joey to catch me,” Smith said. “If we raced in the second round, I’d be okay with that. That team seems to get better and better the more runs you give them, so I’d love to catch them early. I don’t think that [the qualifying order] will stay the same but if it did work out that way I’d be happy to take my chances.”

Angelle Sampey is also a longshot to win her fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, but she’s off to a solid start in Las Vegas with a competitive 6.807 on her Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki, that is good for the No. 2 spot. Sampey actually gained two points on Smith on Friday since she was the leader after Q1. If nothing else, the three-time champ has been consistently quick with two runs within .009-second of each other. Sampey has won twice in Las Vegas during her championships seasons in 2000 and 2002.

Steve Johnson was also quick and consistent with a pair of 6.832-second runs on his Suzuki to take the No. 3 spot while Jerry Savoie finished the day as the No. 4 qualifier after a 6.844 on his White Alligator entry.