Robert Hight won his second straight Funny Car title of the season while Mike Salinas (Top Fuel) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) scored their first wins of the new season to close out an amazing weekend of racing at the NHRA Arizona Nationals.
Hight remained perfect through the first eight rounds of the season, backing up his Winternationals score with four straight 3.8-second blasts from his Jimmy Prock-tuned Auto Club Camaro. Hight ripped off his best pass of the event, a 3.831, to earn his 55th career win and deny fellow three-time world champ Matt Hagan the chance to present new team owner Tony Stewart with his first NHRA Wally.
"You have no idea what it's like to win one race in the Funny Car class," said Hight I still feel it's the toughest class out here. From top to bottom, it's stacked, and on any given weekend, somebody could step up and win. So to go and win two in a row, in this day and age. That is amazing.
"I'm very fortunate to get to drive this thing right now. It's what you dream about. And you know, it's not going to get any easier from here on out. You got big battles last weekend with [Ron] Capps and this weekend with Hagan, and you're going to see a lot of these battles all year long."
As he did in Pomona, Hight started from the No. 2 qualifying spot but ended up No. 1. Hight opened with a 3.864 to defeat Paul Lee and followed up with a 3.855 to trailer Bob Tasca III and a 3847 to best his boss, John Force, in the semifinals.
Hagan reached his 72nd career Funny Car final from the No. 1 qualifying spot, powering the Dodge Power Brokers Charger to runs of 3.850, 3,864, and 3,875 to defeat Terry Haddock, Alexis DeJoria, and Tim Wilkerson.
After losing hall of fame tuner Alan Johnson in the offseason, Salinas didn’t seem to miss a beat with new crew chief Rob Flynn as he collected his fourth career win in Top Fuel, denying opponent Clay Millican the same opportunity in a tight 3.751 to 3.769 battle. Millican led early before the Scrappers dragster powered past at the top end.
"We went we went through quite a bit to get the right synergy," said Salinas, who took over the points lead with the win. "NHRA racing, it's a tough game, and if you don't have all the parts and pieces and the people in place, you're not going to do very well.
"Rob is a brilliant man, very smart, very calm, relaxed, calculated. He told me he'll see me in the final, he knows he knows the way this car is running. You look at our runs and it was pretty crazy and I was blown away because it's running so good and not hurting anything. The bearings are like brand new steel. It's amazing."
Salinas reached his 10th career final and scored his first win since last year’s fall Bristol event after a flurry of 3.6-second passes, starting with a 3,671 to beat Jim Maroney, a 3.692 to stop Shawn Langdon, and a 3.693 to beat tire-smoking Steve Torrence in the semi’s, ending the Texas family’s three-year reign of terror at the event, with Steve winning in 2020 and 2018 and his father, Billy, winning in 2019. (The race was not contested here in 2021.)
The final round was Millican’s 19th and his first since back-to-back runner-ups in Topeka and Brainerd last summer. After a tough start in qualifying where he ranked just 13th, Millican’s Mike Kloeber-tuned Parts Plus dragster rolled to passes of 3.768, 3.752, and 3.693 to defeat Tripp Tatum, Tony Schumacher, and Josh Hart.
Stanfield rebounded from the disappointment of losing the Winternationals final to teammate Erica Enders due to an electrical glitch to score his fifth win in the category, beating another teammate, Troy Coughlin Jr., in the final. After a near-even start, Stanfield pulled away for the win, 6.526 to 6.539, to take over the points lead from Enders. In between the two races, he and wife Joleigh became parents for the first time with new arrival Oakleigh, making it a very special two weeks.
"I don't think you can write it any better than that," Stanfield said. "My wife sent me a picture today of Oakleigh with her little onesie on that said 'Daddy's No. 1 fan,' so definitely a lot of emotions and a lot of good memories crammed into a couple of weeks.
"I had a really good hot rod or all weekend and she bailed me out a couple of times today. It definitely wasn't my best day behind the wheel, but they say when it's your day, and today I guess I did just good enough as a driver to win. I can't thank the Elite guys enough for giving me a bad-to-the-bone hot rod."
Stanfield, the two-time reigning NHRA Factory Stock Showdown champ and 18-time Sportsman-class winner, reached his 24th career final and his eighth in Pro Stock from the No. 2 qualifying spot, opening raceday with a sizzling 6.503, the best run in 18 months in the class, to best Alan Prusiensky, and followed with passes of 6.534 and 6.538 to defeat world champ Greg Anderson and Mason McGaha.
Coughlin, like Stanfield a winner in multiple Sportsman classes, was gunning for his first Pro Stock win and the ninth of his career after working his way past Matt Hartford, Deric Kramer, and low qualifier Kyle Koretsky to reach his third Pro Stock final.