Championship contenders and Friday qualifying leaders Brittany Force, Ron Capps, and Erica Enders will lead their respective pro classes into final eliminations while Eddie Krawiec took over the top spot following Saturday qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk.
The popular mid-summer classic featured four rounds of professional qualifying and the fans who packed Summit Motorsports Park certainly got their money’s worth.
Force set the track record on Friday night with a 3.666 and it would have taken an amazing turn of events for that run to be challenged as qualifying concluded with two more Saturday runs. Force topped the 21-car field to lead qualifying for the third time this season and 35th time in her career. On Sunday, the Monster Energy dragster will be paired with Kyle Wurtzel, who qualified on the bump spot with a competitive 3.900.
“We haven’t won at this track before and that’s our plan coming here,” said Force. “After I made that 3.83 run this morning we decided to push and see how far it would go and obviously it didn’t make it. So, we’ll pull it back for tomorrow a little bit.
“[Tuning for the heat] is definitely important. We all love those late-night runs, but that doesn’t help on race day. Today was really important. We wanted to make both runs but we didn’t but I’m still looking for a long race day tomorrow. Right now, Top Fuel is tough. I know I say that every year, but there have been a lot of changes this year. We have new teams and new crew chiefs and drivers coming back like [teammate] Austin Prock. I love having a second Top Fuel car but that’s competition and we’re all here to do one thing, which is win.”
During Saturday’s opening session, the best run came from four-time world champ Steve Torrence, who continues to zero in on his first win of the season. Torrence ran 3.815 while Mike Salinas (3.828) and Force (3.835) also earned qualifying bonus points. Later in the day, Tripp Tatum and Steve Torrence were quickest with 3.80-second runs while Force smoked the tires.
Ron Capps’ 3.901 from Friday might not have been as dominant as the runs made by Force or Enders, but it held up through both of Saturday’s sessions.
Capps didn’t get down the track during Q3 while Chad Green (3.979) and Robert Hight (3.984) logged the best runs of the round. Capps retuned for the final run and smoked the tires, but he remains optimistic about his chances for back-to-back victories.
"The new [Toyota Supra body] would have bene steep learning curve if not for help from Del [Worsham] and his team and the DHL team,” Capps said. “I said it was gonna take a while to figure this car out, but we made a lot of progress. Then, Bristol was about as demanding a race day as we’ve seen this year. It was probably the most difficult, demanding, and fun race we’ve seen but we adapted. Here [in Norwalk] the Safety Safari and the Bader family gave us a great track, but that being said it’s hot and humid so we have to adapt again.
“Tomorrow, there is supposed to be cloud cover and maybe cool off and we’re going to have to adapt to it one more time. It will definitely be faster," Capps said. "That [ability to adapt] is what won the championship for us last yar. Guido [Dean Antonelli] and [John Medlen] are the best and if I do my job like they do theirs, we’re gonna win some races."
While Capps ended up as the low qualifier, it was John Force who stole the show in Q4 with a 3.950 that was the only three-second run of the round. Force was head and shoulders above the rest of the field as he prepares to take on Houston runner-up Bobby Bode in round one.
Coming into Saturday's final day of qualifying, it was widely understood that nothing shot of a minor miracle would keep Erica Enders from claiming the top spot for the 25th time in her career. Enders dropped a bomb on the field on Friday with a 6.534 that was more than three-hundredths quicker than the next best car. Given the change in conditions, the low 6.6-second runs made by Matt Hartford, Aaron Stanfield, Dallas Glenn, and Kyle Koretsky, on Saturday compared favorably.
For her part, Enders shook the tires in round one on Saturday and then returned in Q4 to post the best run of the day with a 6.583 as her final tune-up run ahead of Sunday’s final eliminations. Enders will look to continue her hot start to the 2022 season when she races teammate Fernando Cuadra Jr., in round one.
“I think today’s conditions are similar to what we’ll have tomorrow so to go out and run a 6.58, which is two hundredths quicker than anyone else and was low for that session says a lot about our ability,” Enders said. “Now, we just need to maintain lane choice and go out and do our best.”
Enders wasn’t the only Elite driver to wound an engine last week. Troy Coughlin Jr. also hurt one of the team’s frontline powerplants but Enders was not the least bit concerned about the team’s status heading to Norwalk.
“We have something like 24 engines and all of them are within a few horsepower on the dyno,” said Enders. “Obviously, the one I have in my car right now it really good, but the one Aaron Stanfield has is even better. We swap from car to car all the time, so our teammates know what they’re getting. We have seven cars including the Cuadra family and every crew chief looks at every run. We don’t hide anything.”
“As for my car, [Crew chief] Mark Ingersoll has a really great handle on this thing,” Enders said. “Couldn’t be more proud of these guys and the way they rallied after that engine explosion last week.”
With just 14-hundredths separating the entire field in Pro Stock, there are several intriguing battles slated for Sunday’s opening round. Kyle Koretsky’s reward for qualifying No. 2 is a race against former world champ Bo Butner while Dallas Glenn is paired with Mason McGaha.
There was a fair among of movement in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class including the top spot where Eddie Krawiec took over from his Vance & Hines teammate, Angelle Sampey. Sampey ran a 6.80 on Friday and Krawiec was a tick quicker with a 6.798 during Saturday’s first session to grab the lead. Krawiec was also low of the second session with a 6.809.
Krawiec has now been the top qualifier 50 times in his career and will face Jianna Evaristo in Sunday’s opening round. The four-time champ is also chasing his 50th career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory. Three of Krawiec’s previous 49 wins have come in Norwalk.
“Fifty [low qualifiers], that makes me sound really old,” said Krawiec. “That’s a great accomplishment and it’s great to be one of the few people who can do that. I think we’ve turned the corner with my motorcycle, especially in the heat. We don’t really have data with my motorcycle as we do with [teammate Angelle Sampey’s]. Not everything correlates.
We took a big swing for Q3 and it worked. Then it repeated on the second lap. I’ve got a good motorcycle for tomorrow. We just need to keep it managed. If we can do that, I‘ve got a good chance. To get 50 [low qualifiers] and 50 wins in the same weekend would be something cool. There’s not many who can say they’ve done that and wins are a lot harder to come by these days. It’s a lot harder than 15 or 20 years ago.”
Sampey, looking to avenge last week’s final round red-light, will begin her quest for a victory with a round one race against Ron Tornow while the battle between Steve Johnson and Bristol winner Jerry Savoie is also one to watch closely.