After two days of fencing in qualifying, the heavy blows will start landing as final eliminations race to life at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
The event is the first of six races in the Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship playoffs, and the first chance for drivers to earn some big separation between themselves and fellow challengers since the points were reset at the end of the regular season two weeks ago in Indianapolis.
There’s a saying in the pits that you can’t win the championship battle at the first event, but you could possibly lose your title hopes with a first-round exit, so all of the teams will be out for consistent runs and, hopefully, a race title and a points lead when the event roars to conclusion.
Top Fuel points leader Brittany Force only made one good run in three in qualifying but it was enough to put her Monster Energy dragster atop the field for the eighth time this season. Despite her inconsistent qualifying runs, she was able to increase her points lead over Mike Salinas by one point, to 21.
Force, who has just two first-round losses in the season’s first 16 races, will take on No. 16 qualifier Cameron Ferre in round one while Salinas will go to battle with rookie Jeff Chatterson.
Force’s John Force Racing Funny Car teammate and fellow top seed Robert Hight also will lead his field into battle and, like Force, incrementally increased his points lead over second-place Ron Capps, from 20 to 24. By qualifying No. 1 in the 15-car field, Hight will get a bye into the second round while Capps will square off with former John Force Racing teammate Phil Burkart Jr.
JFR team boss John Force will make his 800th raceday start with a first-round faceoff against Terry Haddock.
Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders was the lobe top seed to not lead qualifying in their respective fields, but the multi-time world champ nonetheless increased her lead over her second-place teammate, Aaron Stanfield, after picking up eight of nine available bonus points. The one she didn’t get went to Bo Butner, who qualified No. 1 on Friday, but Enders had two of Saturday’s best runs.
Enders will face off with newcomer Chris Sweeney while Stanfield who qualified sixth, will race rookie Camrie Caruso. Butner will take on Fernando Cuadra Sr.
Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Matt Smith will lead his field into Sunday’s shootout after supplanting his wife, Angie, Friday’s No. 1 qualifier, atop the field. Smith’s pole position and six qualifying bonus points increased his lead over second-place Joey Gladstone from 20 to 31 points over Gladstone, who qualified just eighth and earned no bonus points.
Smith will face off with Ryan Oehler in round one while Gladstone will tackle Ron Tornow.
FOX network will televise 3 hours of finals coverage at 3:30 p.m. (ET) in all markets except Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Tampa; networks for those markets can be found here.