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Sunday News and Notes from the NHRA Nevada Nationals

News, notes, quotes, photos, and videos from final eliminations at the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Updated throughout the day.
30 Oct 2022
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage

 

UPDATED THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Brittany Force earned the privilege of a first-round bye in the 15-car field by qualifying No. 1 with a blizzard of great passes — 3.711, 3.665, 3.673, and 3.691 — and automatically banked 20 crucial points as she attempts to chase down points leader Justin Ashley. Force accumulated 10 of 12 session-bonus points (Ashley earned just three) and earned eight points as the No. 1 qualifier (compared to sixth for third-ranked Ashley), netting her a nine-point gain before Sunday even started.

The bye also gave crew chief David Grubnic what amounted to a free test pass with the Flav-R-Pac dragster to get ready for round two, AND Grubnic looks ready after she pounded out a 3.671

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Antron Brown, who’s quietly been in the championship discussion despite all the focus on points leader Justin Ashley and past champ Brittany Force has a chance to make up some ground on second-place Force when they square off in round two. Force’s lead over Brown is just 18 points. Brown ran 3.709 to defeat Kalitta but will cede lane choice to Force.

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It didn’t take long to get the first major upset of the day as points leader Justin Ashley fell to Clay Millican. The loss was especially stunning as Millican’s Edelbrock Group dragster didn’t make it down the track on any of its four qualifying passes, charting a best of just 4.27 for the No. 14 spot, then had trouble starting for the opening round, but crew chief Jim Oberhofer got the ship righted with a stunning 3.695 for a huge upset.

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Ashley's loss was his second first-round loss of the Countdown — he also exited in the opening stanza in St. Louis — but, true to fashion, the second-generation nitro racer appeared unfazed and positive.

"Of course I'm disappointed," he said, "but I'm happy for Clay and his team. We knew coming into the Countdown that it wasn't going to be easy. this is the emotional rollercoaster, but we're not going to ride those waves. No matter what happens the rest of the day, we're going to be in it come to Pomona [the Auto Club NHRA Finals] and I'm super proud of our Phillips Connect team. We'll regroup and be back in Pomona and ready to rock."

With Ashley’s loss, his lead over Brittany Force is down to 53 points, but Force will need to win the race to pass him for the points lead. 

In other points moves, Austin Prock'a win moved him past Josh Hart from seventh to sixth while Shawn Langdon went from ninth to eighth past teammate Doug Kalitta with his first-round victory.

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Second-round Top Fuel pairings (lane choice first): Brittany Force vs. Antron Brown; Tony Schumacher vs. Shawn Langdon; Steve Torrence vs. Austin Prock; Mike Salinas vs. Clay Millican

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West Coast Funny Car favorite Jeff Arend, who appeared to get bumped from the field in Q4 by Terry Haddock, got a reprieve when Haddock’s run was disqualified due to a safety infraction involving the body-latching system. It’s a truly stunning turnaround for Arend and the Russo Racing team, who had been in line behind Haddock preparing to run only to discover a broken fuel lever that prevented them from trying to get back into the field. They towed off with their heads hung low only to be informed later that they were back in.

Arend’s fortune was truly an out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire situation as he was paired with low qualifier and points leader Robert Hight in round one and had no answer for Hight’s 3.88. Hight's win kept alive his amazing 21-race streak as the only Pro driver to not lose in round one this season.

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Matt Hagan doesn’t usually have to win races on holeshots, especially in the first round, but he needed one this time as his Dodge Power Brokers Charger dropped a cylinder early against Steven Densham.

Densham’s appearance in round one was testament alone to the team’s resilience as they suffered a major engine fire on the first qualifying pass and had to drive back to California to retrieve their spare body.

Hagan’s slim .089 to .094 reaction-time advantage earned him the win by just .003-second as Densham actually ran quicker, 4.121 to 4.123. 

"Some days you just need to be lucky, and that was definitely our lucky round," said Hagan. "We'll have to earn the rest of them. The car just wasn’t happy the whole run -- it put some cylinders out early down there -- and the pan pressure or the crew chief shut me off. When he came by me down there I didn’t think we got the win light, then I saw it on the wall. We have to keep digging to stay in this hunt and we need every round we can get."

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Chad Green has raced his mentor, Tim Wilkerson, five times this season and with Wilkerson’s son, Daniel, tuning Green’s car, it’s never the plan for them to face off, but they did in round one for the third straight race. 

Green beat Wilk in Charlotte then lost to him in Dallas, but won the rubber match this weekend by the slimmest of margins, just .001 second. Green got the better light, .082 to .095, and won the race with that holeshot, 3.944 to 3.932

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There wasn't any major shakeup in points in round one of Funny Car as seven of the top eight points runner advanced to round two, including second-place Ron Capps, who remains 21 points behind Hight. Wilkerson, who was seventh, was the only top-eight driver to lose, and lost that spot to J.R. Todd.

 

Second-round Funny Car pairings (lane choice first): Robert Hight; vs. Alexis DeJoria John Force vs. J.R. Todd; Bob Tasca III; Chad Green vs. Matt Hagan; Bob Tasca III vs. Ron Capps

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Greg Anderson didn’t want to race teammate Dallas Glenn in round one and Glenn undoubtably felt the same way, but the silver lining is that one of them advanced to the quarterfinal round and that was Glenn, who quickly made up for his DNQ in Dallas with a 6.635 to 6.667 round win in his RAD Torque Systems Camaro. Anderson cut a great .011 light, but his HendrickCars.com Camaro made a move toward the centerline as soon as he dumped the clutch and that likely cost him enough elapsed time to hold off Glenn.

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The championship battle in Pro Stock is not nearly as dramatic as those in the other three NHRA classes, but that doesn’t make for any less race day drama, especially since the entire Pro Stock field was separated by just six hundredths of a second. The parity that exists in the Pro Stock class was on display early in eliminations as Cristian Cuadra defeated Matt Hartford on a holeshot, 6.654 to 6.644. Hartford wasn’t bad on the Tree with a .032 light but Cuadra was better with a .014.

Most fans will remember that Cuadra made the final round the last time we raced in Las Vegas at the Four Wide event in April. In fact, he was leading eventual champ Erica Enders in the final quad when his Corral Boots Camaro went silent. The point is that he’s a strong bet to become NHRA’s next first-time winner. Cuadra is now in tenth place following losses by Bo Butner and Camrie Caruso.

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Cristian wasn’t the only member of the Cuadra family to show off his driving skills in round one. Fernando Jr. took out Bo Butner on a holeshot when he got off the starting lien cleanly with a .005 light. Butner certainly wanted to have a longer stay in eliminations but he can now turn his attention to tomorrow, when he’ll marry his longtime fiancé, Randi Lyn Shipp in what has become the social event of the season in NHRA.

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Aaron Stanfield isn’t likely to win the Pro Stock championship, but the Nevada Nationals title is another matter entirely. The two-time Factory Stock Showdown champ took a step towards that goal when Fernando Cuadra Sr. red-lighted against him in round one. Stanfield would have been tough to beat regardless with a 6.629 in his Janac Bros. Camaro. Stanfield came into Sunday still in eliminations in Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers, but a hurt engine will prevent him from challenging for the title.

Second-round Funny Car pairings (lane choice first): Erica Enders vs. Dallas Glenn;  Kyle Koretsky vs. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; Aaron Stanfield vs. Cristian Caudra; Troy Coughlin Jr. vs Deric Kramer.

***
 

Chip Ellis was brought in by Matt Smith to help with the development of his fledgling Suzuki program but there’s nothing to prevent him from winning a round or two. Ellis did just that when he stopped Countdown rider Marc Ingwersen in round one. Ingwersen was comfortable ahead but his Buell V-twin went silent before the finish line, allowing Ellis to take the victory with a 6.915, setting up a match between Ellis and Matt Smith in round two.

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Joey Gladstone kept his title hopes alive when he stopped Gainesville winner Karen Stoffer in round one. Gladstone made a very competitive run with a .016 light and a 6.918 and needed most of it as Stoffer got off the starting line first with a .008 light. Stoffer’s Big St. Charles Suzuki fell off it’s earlier pace with a 6987.

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Steve Johnson’s title hopes are likely dashed after he lost on a holeshot against Ryan Oehler,  6.971 to 6.928. Oehler has struggled for much of the year, but scored a much needed round win by getting the clutch lever out on time. This was also the closed race of the round with a final margin of victory of just .0005-second.

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Dallas winner Hector Arana Jr. won his fifth-straight round when Angelle Sampey turned on the red-light in round one. Arana recently signed a sponsor in GETTRX for the final two events of the season. As for Sampey, her slim chances of winning a fourth title are also virtually over after another early loss.

Round two pairings: (lane choice first): Matt Smith vs. Chip Ellis; Jerry Savoie vs. Ryan Oehler; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Eddie Krawiec; Angie Smith vs. Joey Gladstone.

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Former Top Fuel world champs Tony Schumacher and Shawn Langdon locked up in a second-round battle worthy of their careers with Schumacher eking out the win by 003-second on a holeshot Schumacher left first by milliseconds, .050 to .055, but Langdon ran quicker, 3.762 to 3.764, to determine the scant distance at the finish.

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For the first time in their last six meetings this season, Brittany Force defeated Antron Brown and there couldn’t have been a more important time than now as the winner of their second-round race would second place in the standings and a bead on points leader Justin Ashley.

With the win, Force moved to within 33 points of leader Justin Ashley.

Mike Salinas’ second-round win over Clay Millican moved him into fourth place past Steve Torrence, who lost to Austin Prock.

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Semifinal Top Fuel pairings (lane choice first): Brittany Force vs. Tony Schumacher; Mike Salinas vs. Austin Prock.

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The Funny Car points race that was so tight took a hard left turn when second-place Ron Capps was upset by Bob Tasca III, 3.91 to 3.93. Points leader Robert Hight had already defeated Alexis DeJoria, 3.89 to 3.90, and the win and Capps’ loss expanded Hight’s lead to 41 points. No matter what happens – even if third-place Matt Hagan wins the race – Capps will remain in second place heading to the season finale in Pomona.

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J.R. Todd, whose pink DHL Supra has looked racy throughout qualifying, continued to pound at great laps, defeating John Force in their second-round race to prevent an all-John Force Racing semifinal. Todd will have semifinal lane choice over Hight.

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Semifinal Funny Car pairings (lane choice first): J.R. Todd vs. Robert Hight; Matt Hagan vs. Bob Tasca III

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Kyle Koretsky is still looking for his first win of the season, but he’s now been to the semifinals ten times in 18 races after defeating Fernando Cuadra Jr. in the second round in a race that was decided by just five-thousandths at the finish line. Koretsky, in his Lucas Oil Products/Nitro Fish Camaro, powered to a 6.664 for the win, setting up a.  Koretsky has failed to win at least one round just twice this season, and he’s solidly in the Top 5 in the championship standings.

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Aaron Stanfied’s chances of winning the title went from slim to almost non-existent when he lost on a holeshot to Cristian Cuadra. Stanfield made a competitive run with a 6.647, but Cuadra got off the starting line first, .012 to .043. Cuadra started the Countdown to the Championshp as the No. 13 driver and he’s now in eighth with a chance to move up another spot or two before the end of the season.

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Erica Enders moved a step closer to clinching the with her quarterfinal win against Dallas Glenn. Neither driver killed the Tree and Enders simply won the race on horsepower, 6.645 to 6.663. Enders can officially put the wraps on the title by beating Kyle Koretsky in the semifinal round.

Semifinal pairings: (lane choice first): Erica Enders vs. Kyle Koretsky; Troy Coughlin Jr. vs. Cristian Cuadra

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Angie Smith did her husband Matt a solid by taking out championship contender Joey Gladstone in the quarterfinals. There was just six thousandths between the two riders off the starting line, but Smith’s Denso Buell had the horsepower to take a 6.910 to 6.928 victory.

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Matt Smith picked up another 20 points by beating teammate Chip Ellis to move his lead to 84 points. The outcome of the race seemed to be predictable, but Ellis did give it his best shot with a very competitive .016 light on the Denso Suzuki. At the finish line, Smith’s horsepower advantage took over as he won with a 6.870, the quickest pass of the round to earn lane choice over Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Suzuki.

Semifinal pairings: (lane choice first): Matt Smith vs. Jerry Savoie; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Angie Smith

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Brittany Force closed the gap even closer on points leader Justin Ashley, racing to a 3.712 victory over Tony Schumacher, who backfired the blower downtrack and slowed to a 4.07. The win pulled her to within 13 points of Ashley and she could pass him for the lead if she wins the final.

Schumacher’s semifinal finish moved him from 12th to 11th place, but he’s still in jeopardy of finishing outside the top 10. Discounting the 2021 season, which he sat out, Schumacher has finished in the Top 10 of Top Fuel standings for 21 straight seasons

Force will take on Mike Salinas, who caught a break when No. 2 qualifier Austin Prock, hoping to join teammate Brittany Force in the final, rode a fireball to the finish line but fell to Salinas’ Pep Boys entry, 3.72 to 3.80.

By reaching the final, Salinas has climbed past Antron Brown and Steve Torrence into third place. He’s 46 points behind Force and 59 back of Ashley.

The final is a rematch of their title bash in Sonoma, which was won by Force. It was her most recent win and salinas' most recent final.

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Matt Hagan scored his second holeshot win of the day to reach the final round, leaving on Bob Tasca III and holding on for a 3.924 to 3.904 victory by just .003-second, identical to the narrow finish he had in eking past Steven Densham in round one. It's been quite an unusual day for the three-time world champ more accustomed to winning on Dickie Venables' horsepower.

Points leader Robert Hight kept pace though, defeating J.R. Todd in a great 3.87 to 3.89 battle to reach his 96th career final round. If Hagan can win the final, he’ll be two points behind second-place Ron Capps. Either way, Hight will head to Pomona with a lead of more than 80 points.
 

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Erica Enders officially wrapped up her fifth Camping World NHRA Pro Stock championship when she defeated Kyle Koretsky in the semifinal round and now she’ll have an opportunity to win her tenth event of the season when she races teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. in the final round. Enders made the quickest pass of the day and earned lane choice for the final with a 6.639 in her Melling Camaro. Coughlin, who can tie Aaron Stanfield for second place with a win, is gunning for his third victory of the season after driving the JEGS.com Camaro past Cristian Cuadra in the final.

 

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Not that anyone thought Hector Arana Jr’s win in Dallas was a fluke, but just in case, the second-generation racer is now in his second final of the season after a 6.909 to 6.900 holeshot win over Angie Smith in the semifinals. Arana Jr. will face an even tougher test in the final round as he takes on runaway points leader Matt Smith, who demolished Jerry Savoie in the other half of the semi’s with a stout 6.867. Smith currently has a 104 point lead in pursuit of his sixth title, and can stretch that lead to 124 by beating Arana.