Pep Boys NHRA Nationals Saturday preview
Day one of the Countdown to the Championship is in the books, which means final qualifying is upon us at Maple Grove Raceway for this weekend’s Pep Boys NHRA Nationals. As we move towards eliminations, the intensity will continue to ratchet up as standouts in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle look to start the playoffs in fine fashion.
After one day at Maple Grove Raceway, it’s also a facility that has already drawn rave reviews this weekend. The classic track has always been a fan favorite, but the changes and improvements since the Koretsky family purchased the facility in April have been noticeable. It’s led to palpable energy and electricity at the track this weekend, which should carry over into an unbelievable final day of qualifying at the Grove.
In Top Fuel, Maple Grove Raceway serves as the home track for Justin Ashley and it’s been home sweet home thus far for the young standout. He was the runner-up a year ago to open the Countdown, which was his first career appearance in the playoffs, and Ashley is off and running this year with his run of 3.703-seconds at 330.55 mph last night. That sent Ashley, who opens the Countdown in third place, to the No. 1 spot, but the real question is if someone can get into the 3.60s on Saturday. That’s the goal for most teams at Reading, but nobody was able to get there on Friday.
Points leader Brittany Force struggled in her lone pass yesterday, and she’ll be a prime candidate to make a big move today. That goes for Antron Brown as well, as he’s currently 14th, but coming off a huge win in Indy. Mike Salinas is second with a 3.705, while Austin Prock enjoyed a strong turnaround run on Friday with his 3.706. Four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence showed he’s plenty playoff ready with his 3.711.
In Funny Car, it was business as usual for Robert Hight, who continued to display the steely focus that has made him a dominant driver in 2022. He went to the top on Friday with an outstanding 3.867 at 331.20, but like it’s been all year, Hight has plenty of star company right behind. John Force, looking to make a big move from the fifth spot to open the playoffs, went 3.890, and Ron Capps, the defending world champ, went 3.891.
Capps, of course, enjoyed his first U.S. Nationals win just two weeks ago and that momentum is still full speed ahead. The summer’s hottest team in Funny Car was Bob Tasca III and he’s fourth, while Matt Hagan, whose last win came in early June, is hunting for his fourth world title. He’ll start Saturday in fifth after going 3.906 on Friday.
The surprise provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday was certainly Bo Butner in Pro Stock, as a somewhat frustrating season swiftly turned around in Reading. His 6.523 at 210.08 led a massive group of 20 Pro Stock standouts as he’s after his first No. 1 qualifier of the season. He’s starting the Countdown to the Championship in 12th, but if he continues at this rate, Butner could make a major move in Reading, where he won in 2017.
The class favorite, Erica Enders, is lurking in second, hoping to pick up her first career win at Maple Grove Raceway, while Kyle Koretsky, who has done yeoman’s work with his family when it comes to the facility, was able to escape the frenetic part of owning a track for just a minute, going 6.534 to put him third. The other surprise entry on Friday was former Pro Stock world champ Tanner Gray, who is filling in for Deric Kramer this weekend. The car struggled in the opening session, but he’ll have two chances to turn that around today.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, it was Angie Smith leading the way as she looks to open the playoffs with a bang. Her husband, Matt, is the points leader thanks to his impressive performance and win in Indy, and he's also qualified second currently, but Friday belonged to Angie. She went 6.757 at 201.22 on her Suzuki, noting she also feels better mentally when it comes to the rigors of the Countdown.
That makes her one to watch the rest of the weekend, while defending event champ Steve Johnson and Angelle Sampey - two more championship hopefuls - are currently qualified third and fourth, respectively.
You can catch the action all weekend on FOX TV, FOX Sports 1, and NHRA.tv.
You can follow NHRA on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to get a closer look at the action.
2021 EVENT WINNERS
Billy Torrence, Top Fuel; Tommy Johnson Jr., Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, Steve Johnson, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
3.623 seconds by Brittany Force, Sept. 2019; 335.57 mph by Force, Sept. 2021
3.837 seconds by Ron Capps, Sept. 2019; 339.28 by Capps, Sept. 2019.
6.465 seconds by Erica Enders, Oct. 2014; 214.59 by Greg Anderson, Sept. 2015.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
6.728 seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. '12; 202.69 by Matt Smith, Sept. 21.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature the final two rounds on Saturday at 12:15 p.m. ET and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET on Sunday.
SUNDAY, FS1 will televise qualifying at 11 a.m. ET
SUNDAY, FOX will televise eliminations starting at 2 OR 4:30 p.m. ET (Check Local Listings for FOX time on Sunday)