The Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, stop two of the 2023 Countdown to the Championship, further embued the reputation of zMAX Raceway as a place where cool things happen. Here's our five takeaways from this year's event.
DOUG KALITTA’S READING WIN WAS NO FLUKE
Sure, it took Doug Kalitta three years to go from win No. 49 to win No. 50 last weekend in Reading, and some people may have thought it might be a fluke. After all, the team had to haul their 2022 car out of the trailer after damaging their primary car, and sure, the weather was conducive to going fast, and we finished on a Monday with changing track conditions. Let’s just see what they do in Charlotte.
Well, they rolled out of the trouble and immediately added two more 3.6-second passes to the four they ran in Reading, then Alan Johnson and Bian Husen brilliantly adjusted to Sunday’s hotter weather and track conditions and looked flawless en route to the start of Kalitta’s second 50 wins.
“I think the momentum with my guys, their confidence along with my confidence in Alan Johnson tuning the thing with Brian, it's a hell of a combination,” Kalitta understated. “I'm hoping we just all settle in and get comfortable doing what we're doing and try to keep our heads down and just keep going rounds and just let it shake out where it does.”
IT’S GOING BE A FUNNY CAR DOGFIGHT TO THE FINISH
“Raise your hand here if anyone thought Bob Tasca III would be in second place one third of the way into the Countdown.”
The question is not mine but came from Tasca himself when he sat down in the media center to discuss his win. To be fair, the championship discussion the last four to five years has always centered around Robert Hight, Ron Capps, and Matt Hagan, but they all better make room for Tasca to be part of the championship discussion.
He freely admitted that, historically, he’s never had a car that could run in the “throwdown” conditions under which Jimmy Prock, Dean Antonelli, and Dickie Venables thrive in for that trio of drivers, but tuners Aaron Brooks and Todd Okuhara set a game plan in the spring to learn how to run in the fall, and it looks like the plan is paying off.
Tasca’s Motorcraft Quick lAne Ford was solidly in the 3.80s in qualifying and looked great even in Sunday’s warmer conditions. It looks like they’ve got an all-weather combination that can handle the four races coming down to the wire.
YES, GREG ANDERSON CAN STILL WIN
Greg Anderson was 10 kinds of humble in his victory speech, as self-deprecating as ever, but he knows he can still win, and now, so do we, which might have been a question mark based on his season to date.
"I probably lose focus to that once in a while, but you’ve got to get tough, you've got to tell yourself, 'You can do this,' ” he said. “You are not over the hill. You're not washed up. Sometimes, you want to think that way, and sometimes, it looks that way. But today, it didn't look that way, and I didn't think that way. I answer this question at least 20 times a weekend: ‘How much longer are you going to drive?” and the answer always is, ‘Until I can't win anymore,’ and this year, it's been, 'I've been thinking about it.' I'm thinking, ‘Can I not win anymore?’ So today proved I guess I’ve got to stick around a little bit longer, I guess I still can win.
"We didn't back into a win today, we earned a win today. We absolutely went out there, and we outran everybody. And we did a better job of racing to the end than everybody did, so, yes, we are, we're peaking at the right time without a doubt.”
GAIGE HERRERA IS UNFLAPPABLE
After dominating the regular season and then handing back a huge points lead at the Countdown reset, then losing it entirely to Matt Smith with an early exit in Reading, you’d think that Gaige Herrera, untested in the heat of a championship chase like the Countdown, might be gulping a little.
Just take a look at some of the things he said this weekend:
On losing up the points lead: “I’d rather be the chaser than the one being chased. It’s kind of lit a fire under me to where I’m only going to push harder.”
On the blockers teams have brought in to slow him: “I love it. I mean, just that feeling that teams are doing wherever they can, trying to stop me, is just, it's hard to put into words.”
In the expected starting-line games: “I'm ready. I know there's gonna be some games played on the Tree, especially if it's me against Matt. I'm actually very excited for that. It's gonna be fun.”
On the championship battle: “I'd rather it be me and Matt be in the final in Pomona to dictate the championship. That's just how I am as a racer. I'm very competitive.”
Yeah, the kid is ready.
NHRA’S INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR GROWS
Add Mexico to the list of countries that have produced an NHRA national event winner after Davd Cuadra took home the win in Top Sportsman. Earlier this year, his brother, Cristian, made history as the first Pro-class driver to qualify No. 1 when he led the Pro Stock field in Phoenix. Their father, Fernando Sr., even got a call from the Mexican president congratulating them.
Both Cristian and Fernando Jr. have been the odds-on favorites to be the first in the family to win, even though David had been to three previous finals. Cristian went to the final round of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals last year, and Fernando Jr. has been runner-up three times, including at this year's NHRA U.S. Nationals, so it seemed like the family was soon going to be visiting the winner’s circle.
Mexico joins Canada, Australia, Sweden, Qatar, and Japan on the NHRA worldwide tour, and it was also here in Charlotte where Sweden’s Jimmy Alund won Pro Stock while substituting for Greg Anderson in 2014.